Tennessee football post-practice report: Coaches focused on youngsters

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Offensive line coach Don Mahoney inherited a unit full of veterans. Receivers coach Zach Azzanni is working largely with inexperienced youngsters.

Even so, the two coaches have some overlapping goals for this year’s spring session.

Azzanni is working on molding his unit to be ready in 2013. Mahoney wants his youngsters to know that the battle for 2014 is on right now.

All nine assistant coaches spoke to the media after Thursday’s practice, the third of the season but the first in full pads.

Read some quick observations from Practice No. 3 here.

Generally speaking, the first three practices have gone well, coaches said.

“I love working with these guys,” said defensive coordinator John Jancek.

Azzanni said the same, although he emphasized there was a “long way to go.” In fact, he repeated the phrase three times.

The route-running skills in his current crop of receivers are “below average,” he said. The good news? He gets to mold them from scratch.

Azzanni said running-back-turned-receiver Devrin Young had done well and was eager to learn.

“I had to kick him out of office last night,” Azanni joked. “I was ready to go home.”

Azzanni also said that while freshman Paul Harris was enduring plenty of hard coaching this spring, he would be “laughing” at all the other freshmen come August when he knows what to do.

Tennessee returns four of five starting offensive linemen, and although Mahoney has emphasized that no one is guaranteed a job, his group has some of the fewest questions on the roster.

But while coaches often focus only on the present, Mahoney admitted he thinks about 2014 “every day.” That’s when Tennessee could have nearly 100 percent turnover on its starting line.

Mahoney said he gathered current second-teamers like Kyler Kerbyson, Mack Crowder and Marques Pair in the meeting room in order to emphasize the importance of a strong spring.

Check back later this afternoon for compelling practice video and some video interviews with assistant coaches.

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