From the vault, one year ago today:
The coaches have learned not to over-praise players. The Tennessee coaching staff is apparently not taking the bait when reporters repeatedly ask them which players have impressed. New offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe recently answered such a question by saying that nobody was stepping up, which, of course, does not sound good at all. But he followed that statement up by saying that they were trying to develop accountability, and I take the statement as an acknowledgement that pedestaling certain players last year had a negative impact on their own performance and on team chemistry.
The team is focusing on . . . the team. Coaches are requiring the players stand with their respective unit during team periods. "Individual expressions of style are mostly gone" from team apparel. (I don't exactly know what that means, but it has a nice ring.) Cutcliffe has said, "If somebody messes up, then everybody's going to pay for it." I'm Remembering the Titans here. Coach Carter. A host of other sports flicks in which the team gels as a result of coach-imposed team accountability.
It's an all-the-time thing. That's Cutcliffe talking again. "Winning takes an effort that's an all-the-time thing." Good, good. More please.
It's all about the little things. More Cutcliffe: "Little things. Attention to detail. Break the huddle. Listen in the huddle. Line up right. All the little details. We haven't been as good as we need to be." I like it. When was the last time the team was told to break the huddle? Oh, and the players now have to tuck in their jerseys. No big deal, you say? Are you sure? One foot in front of the other gets you where you're going.
It's all about discipline. Offensive players were recently barked at for not lining up correctly, and they had to do extra calisthenics. Wide receivers are being punished for dropping passes. Both the offensive line and the wide receiver corps have been told to drop weight. What better way to both improve the speed and performance of players and instill a little disipline in the process? If you've ever lost a significant amount of weight, then you know that it's a day-by-day thing, focused discipline over time.
Unminced words. Cutcliffe on his quarterbacks: "Consistency is not good. We didn't throw the ball as well as we can throw the football. That better not be our best effort."
The Tennessee coaching staff is leaving nothing to chance. If any player was left unbroken and unhumbled by last year's disappointing season, he will be broken and humbled this spring. The team, and the players, are being reduced to their most fundamental components so that those building blocks can be properly reassembled as a team whose whole exceeds the sum of its parts.
The injured Phoenix just slaps its crippled wings against the pavement; it must die before it can rise from the ash.
The team needed that last year. To be honest, every team probably needs that every year. Are we hearing the right things this spring?