Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel is 100 percent an offensive coach.
Heupel has never coached on the defensive side of the ball. He spent most of his assistant coaching career as a quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator. It’s all about scoring points for Heupel.
But despite Heupel’s lack of experience on the defensive side of the ball, I still believe Tennessee’s defense can be great in the coming years.
That’s because I think folks tend to forget that while Heupel is an offensive-minded head coach, he’s still the CEO of the entire football program. What happens on the defensive side of the ball ultimately falls on Heupel.
And even if Tennessee’s offense scores a ton of points under Heupel, the defense is still going to need to perform at a high level to win in the SEC. It’s hard to imagine the Vols winning shootouts against Florida and Georgia (at least in the early years of the Heupel era).
I think there’s a misconception that Heupel spends all of his time on the offensive side of the ball and is completely hands-off when it comes to the defense. There’s no doubt he spends more time with the offense, but he’s still very involved when it comes to the defense.
And that was evidenced by some of Heupel’s comments about the defense on Saturday after Tennessee’s second scrimmage of the spring.
“One of the things we track is just turnovers early in training camp, early in spring ball,” said Heupel while discussing the Vols’ defensive backs on Saturday. “I thought they had some opportunities to make some plays on the ball that they didn’t finish the play on. The last few days here, they’ve done a great job of turning those into turnovers. It’s a physical group as well. Highly competitive.”
Heupel also discussed Tennessee’s defensive line.
“I think some of the things that we’re asking them to do might be a little bit different than what they had been accustomed to,” explained Heupel. “Getting kids to buy in, see a guy or two guys making some strides that are really buying into the process and in taking the coaching and implementing it into their game.”
“The communication up front has been better, where they’re able to get themselves in alignment early and be able to come off of the football,” added Heupel. “You watch those guys in combo drills or team run and some team situations, they’ve made huge strides here over the last three days.”
Previous Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt was a defensive-minded coach, but I actually think Tennessee could have a better defense under Heupel.
That’s because Heupel likely won’t be “meddling” in the defense like Pruitt had a tendency to do. Heupel is going to let his defensive coaches coach. He’s not going to micro-manage them.
The Vols have a solid staff of defensive coaches. And as long as they’re allowed to do their job (and as long as they do their job well), Tennessee’s defense has the potential to be great.
If the Vols’ defense performs at a high level, and the offense under Heupel is as advertised, then it won’t be long before Tennessee is near the top of the SEC again.
Featured image via Tennessee Athletic Communications