What a Return to Fundamentals Tells Us

Usually, bye weeks are a welcome respite from the rigors of the conference season. The last half of that sentence certainly is true this season.

I can’t remember a season where the conference, in both divisions, has been better balanced. In the West, four teams are ranked in the APs top 12: Auburn (#7), Alabama (#8), LSU (#9), and Arkansas (#12). In the East, arguably weaker than its counterpart, Florida is no longer the feared monster; Georgia has been less than impressive but still dangerous; South Carolina, although looking like the best team at present, is peering toward late October and early November when they always seem to falter; and Kentucky can’t be overlooked. Those four teams as a group are hard to disassemble at present. Only Tennessee and Vandy are likely the Doormats of the South.

tennessee-volunteers-practice But, the first part of that sentence – bye weeks are a welcome respite – doesn’t really seem to ring true with me this week.

Vol practices this week have focused on fundamentals, resembling more of a pre-season training camp rather than a mid-season going-through-the-motions-get-together.

A sign of the times. It’s where we are. It is what it is. It is a signal, among others, that we are staring directly into the abyss – the bottom of a long cyclic decline of Vol football.

Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox said:

“… the majority of the time is spent on fundamentals and getting better at the things we need to get better at. I wish we had a bye week between every game, because that’s what is important about continuing to develop as a player. Once you get into the season, it’s game plan after game plan. And you can never forget the fundamentals of the game, because that’s what is going to win and lose in the end. We’ve got to continue to improve on those fundamentals for us to be successful.”

Tackling fundamentals has been a primary focus this week. Vol LB LaMarcus Thompson said:

“The more you practice tackling, the better you get at it. The more you practice form tackling, the better and better that you get in a game. In certain situations, you learn how to make a certain tackle, so you just have to get better and better at it.”

Tackling fundamentals (a lack of) was a main issue during the 1977 season, the worst season in the history of Tennessee football when measured by the number of losses – seven. I remember Head Coach Johnny Majors’ continual harping on that point every Sunday during his TV highlights show.

That season was the bottom of a former long cyclic decline of Vol football. It took years for the Vols to climb out of that deep abysmal pit. But, they eventually did. Slowly. Step by step, but, only before going back to the basic fundamentals, week after week, during that dreadful season.

That is why this week renders me numb – a reminder of what was, which is where we are today, a very long way from where we want to be.

We will get there, eventually, but slowly, step by step. This week’s pre-season practices in the heart of October are one of those steps.


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