March 11, 2009
(If you're wondering, yes: Slowest. Day. Ever.)
Say you're coming off a disappointing year -- maybe, for example, you dropped from a slightly above average offense to one of the bottom five offenses in the country in just one season, as Tennessee did last year. Where does the rehab begin?
Faced with a similar question, LSU had the answer last week for its proud but wounded defense: The Tigers are going to simplify to give their talent some breathing room. And the Vols, as they opened up their first spring practice under a new offense on Tuesday? If you hadn't guessed, they're going to simplify ($):
As in, players insist a much simpler system of football has been set before them to learn as they prepare for the 2009 season -- the first of head coach Lane Kiffin.
"Compared to last year, it's way simpler. It's not complicated at all," said junior wideout Gerald Jones. "It's straight to the point -- a lot of tags and reads and all that. It puts you in a lot of positions to make great plays, like USC did. We've watched a lot of film of them ...
"So yeah, it's a lot simpler. It puts you in great positions."
That sounds like generic spring-speak until you consider the 2008 edition of the UT offense, aka the "Clawfense," which was immediately described by players last preseason as "really complicated," "a whole lot harder than [ex-coordinator David] Cutcliffe's offense" and generally like nothing some players had ever encountered. The results: No identity, rotating quarterbacks, seven games of 14 points or less in an eight-game span, a lame duck coordinator and, finally, the boss' head on a platter forged from no fewer than six opponent touchdowns off Vol turnovers. It's fair to say it was the worst offense in school history.
So, short of holding up big crayon-scrawled placards before the snap, it may not even be possible for Kiffin and new coordinator Jim Chaney to get too simple: No matter what they run, even when it's Jonathan Crompton running it, there's nowhere to go but up. If they can consistently execute basic handoffs, the offense is automatically improved; if Crompton (or whoever's playing quarterback) actually understands the system well enough to improve to merely "average," from where he's starting, the new staff will be worth the initial investment.
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On a somewhat related note, you may have read Eric Berry's description of new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin as "the Google of football" around the way. Did Berry actually say this? He did not (fast-forward to 1:05 or so if you're not interested in hilarious anecdotes about Ed Orgeron's Red Bull-fueled, wee-hours insanity):
Does it matter? It does not: Misquotes of that high fashion are not to be ignored for such trifling inconveniences as "accuracy." So Monte Kiffin, Guru of Defense, shall be henceforth christened, "Sir Monte, Google of Football." That is all.