That’s what Tennessee’s defense is determined to be this season. The Vols accomplished as much when their defensive players handled their offensive counterparts in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. So who won the scrimmage?
“Defense,” linebacker Quart’e Sapp said flatly.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones wasn’t willing to go that far – at least publicly.
“I’m going to go back and recalculate,” Jones said with a smile.
Tennessee’s offense wasn’t willing to wilt. Jones said the offensive players asked for more scrimmage plays to even the score, which included an interception by rising senior cornerback Cameron Sutton. However, extra time didn’t change Sapp’s evaluation of the full-contact portion of practice.
“It was defense,” the rising sophomore said. “Even after they got two more reps, it was defense.”
It’s not uncommon for a defense to be ahead of an offense in spring practice. However, the Vols have a new defensive coordinator in Bob Shoop and a long list of injured defensive players. One of those is rising senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who was recently ruled out of the remainder of spring practice with a shoulder injury.
Sapp, who is one of the many Tennessee linebackers who has been moved from safety to linebacker under Jones, said Reeves-Maybin still has an effect on the Vols even while wearing a sling and standing on the sideline during practice.
“We stay in the film room after practice, after film,” Sapp said. “He’s helped me a lot personally.”
There’s little time to adapt to Tennessee’s new defense under Shoop with so many expectations for the upcoming season at hand. Shoop has had to adjust as much as anyone.
“To Bob’s credit, he’s come in and he’s really learned the terminology, so the learning curve has really not been much as far as schematics for the defense because we’ve kept the same terminology,” Jones said. “Coach Shoop has brought some different things, some different elements.
“I think also a mentality. The players are constantly in his office. He meets with every position group on his own so he’s really built those one-on-one relationships. The players really have that confidence in him.”
Shoop was hired from Penn State, in part, because of his defense’s aggressiveness. At Penn State, his defense had 106 tackles for a loss last season. Meanwhile, the Vols had 75.
“He’s really aggressive, really aggressive,” Sapp said. “He has a lot of different packages that were putting in this year. A lot of different people at certain times. I like how aggressive he is.”
Jones said a primary goal this spring and, ultimately, this season is to create more takeaways with Shoop at the helm.
“You need to generate turnovers,” Jones said. “That’s an area we need to continue to improve on from last year. We didn’t take the ball away much last year. That’s been a point of emphasis. We’ve got to continue to work on ball disruptions and taking the ball away.”
Sutton did so on Saturday with an interception. If Jones and Shoop have their way, that’s just the beginning.