KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Butch Jones believes his method of "controlled chaos" can help the Volunteers start wreaking havoc in the Southeastern Conference again.
"The way we practice, I call it controlled chaos because a football game is controlled chaos," Jones said Friday on the eve of his first spring practice session at Tennessee. "You never know what's expected."
Jones said one of his major statistical concerns is how a team fares in "sudden-change" situations after turning the ball over deep on its own end of the field. He believes top teams can avoid giving up touchdowns in those situations.
He plans to introduce some creative ways of making sure the Vols can react well to unexpected situations.
"Things (are) flying everywhere, but we're in control," Jones said. "You may see in the middle of practice, we're in team periods and the noise comes on. It may be annoying noises. It may be a baby crying. It may be glass breaking. It may be trying to break their intensity, trying to break their focus. Great teams, especially in this conference, have to go on the road and win. (Amid) all the clutter and distractions, it's really getting them to focus on the bull's eye, focus on the task at hand and eliminate the clutter."
The Vols have plenty of holes to fill after going 5-7 last year for their third straight losing season, the first time that's happened at Tennessee since 1909-11. For the moment, though, Jones is more concerned with making sure the Vols develop a winning attitude, improve their chemistry and establish a team identity.
Jones said he would have a scoreboard on the field at each practice and would award a point to the offense or defense based on who wins each one-on-one battle during every rep. All the players will gather at the 50-yard line and shake hands at the end of each practice to foster team unity.
"Last year we didn't finish games well," Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley said. "Certain things happened that we weren't expecting to happen. We all thought we had a great football team going into last year. ... This year we just need to focus on attention to details and little things that added up to losses last year."
Worley and Nathan Peterman are battling for the right to replace Tyler Bray, who entered the draft after throwing for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns in his junior season. Incoming freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson will join the competition this summer.
The receiving corps must replace potential first-round draft picks Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter.
"We have playmakers," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "We just need to identify them and figure out what they do well."
But the biggest concerns may be on defense.
Tennessee gave up the most points (35.7) and yards (471.3) per game of any SEC team last year and statistically had one of the worst defenses in school history. The Vols must dramatically improve those totals while switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme.
"I know it will be less complicated than the 3-4," said linebacker A.J. Johnson, who ranked fourth in the nation with 11.5 tackles per game last season. "This year we're communicating really fine starting off. We're all on the same page and learning the same thing at the same time."
Jones praised the accountability that players have shown since the new staff's arrival. For instance, the offensive line returns four starters and is the clear strength of this team. Yet when Jones asked some linemen to lose weight, they eagerly complied.
Offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said that work ethic has carried over to every position.
"Like Coach Jones keeps saying, there's no depth chart," James said. "We're trying to find our playmakers. I feel like it's great. Everybody can start over, get a clean slate."
As Jones and his staff search for playmakers, they already have made position switches on both sides of the ball.
Devrin Young, a backup running back last year, is now at slot receiver. Brent Brewer, who started 16 games at safety over the last three seasons, has moved to linebacker. Corey Vereen, a freshman who enrolled in January as a linebacker, has switched to defensive end. Jacques Smith, an outside linebacker in Tennessee's 3-4 defense last season, also is now on the defensive line. Justin King, a backup fullback last year, has moved to tight end.
All these changes with a new staff could create some uncertainty in the first few days of spring practice.
"I told all our players, 'Tomorrow, when the horn blows, if you don't know where you're going, just run in place and follow your position group,' " Jones said. "You may see a lot of guys running in place" Saturday.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)