KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Bob Shoop is six months into his new job at Tennessee, and the Vols’ defensive coordinator can’t wait for the seventh.
“We have a nice blend of talent and maturity in the program, speaking from my side of the building (defensive),” said Shoop, eager to dial in the UT defense when the team opens fall camp in August.
Shoop, hired in January on a $1.15 million annual salary basis, said he saw what he was looking for in the Tennessee’s limited workouts last month.
“The four skill development sessions we had in June, I was very impressed with our efforts and recall,” Shoop said. “That was my first real opportunity to work with the whole group.
“This is a group of guys that are confident, but at the same time, they have remained humble and taking it a day at the time.”
Tennessee fans, meanwhile, are having a hard time not to getting ahead of themselves. The Vols are a preseason top 10 fixture and clear-cut SEC East Division favorite.
The so-called “Orange Swarm” defense returns eight starters from a unit that allowed 20 points and 362 yards per game last season.
“I’ll be honest, a lot of the heavy lifting here has already been done,” Shoop said, crediting former defensive coordinator John Jancek. “This transition has been really different; I’m not inheriting a defense or staff that did not have success.
“You as leader want to put your stamp on things, but you check your ego and say they did some things really well.”
The Vols defense was second-best in the nation on third downs, limiting opponents to a 27.6-percent conversion rate.
Shoop said his defense will be “aggressive” and loaded up to stop the run, looking to improve on last season’s 151.6 yards per game allowed (45th in the country).
The Yale graduate has produced defensive units at Vanderbilt (2011-13) and Penn State (2014-15) that have finished in the nation’s top 25 in total defense each of the past five seasons.
“Bob does a great job of disguising his blitzes; we could never really get a read on them,” Michigan State co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “He does a really good job with his personnel.”
Former Ohio State offensive coordinator and current Spartans’ co-coordinator Jim Bollman agreed.
“They (Shoop’s Penn State defense) do a lot of things well with their safeties and do some things up front on the line to create problems,” Bollman said. “Well-coached; you’re not going to get them out of sorts with motions, formations.”
Shoop said his scheme will be predicated on the strength of his personnel, but also, an element of unpredictability.
“I like thinking outside of the box,” Shoop said, “but I don’t want to go one step back to go two steps forward.”
The Vols finished last season riding a six-game win streak but painful fourth quarter collapses remain fresh in the minds of many.
“It has been well-documented, I don’t need to rehash, Florida, Alabama and Oklahoma,” Shoop said, referring to UT’s difficult fourth-quarter losses last season. “We’ll create a closer’s mentality, and a key to that is the chemistry we have in our defensive staff room.
“It’s a diverse room, and we all bring a different skill set to the table and our own unique things.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and is based in Knoxville.