Azzanni on Jason Croom and injuries at WR: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni confirmed that redshirt sophomore Jason Croom is out for the TaxSlayer Bowl with what he said was a knee/patella injury. That makes four-season ending injuries for the receivers as Croom joins Marquez North, Cody Blanc and Josh Smith.
“We can kind of wallow in our misery having four season-ending surgeries or we can go next man up and coach them real hard and it’s a good opportunity for some guys to step up,” Azzanni said. … “We’re never going to have any excuses in our room. It’s reality what happened, but nobody cares, Iowa doesn’t care, fans don’t care, we know what the deal is, we know what the problems are. We’re just going to have to find some solutions and, like I said, next guy up.”
John Jancek on keeping Berry on defense: We asked defensive coordinator John Jancek about Evan Berry’s positional future with the talented true freshman getting some reps at running back during the bowl practices. Jancek was, in a humerous way, very adamant about keeping Berry on the defensive side of the ball, saying that is long-term future is at safety and calling his reps on offense a “contingency” plan at this point with UT’s lack of depth and injury issues there. When asked a follow-up question about Berry’s positional future, he leaned into the recorder and gave a very emphatic “yes” as if to let anybody who would want him on offense know that he will be playing on defense long-term.
Jancek on the development and competition at linebacker: Defensive coordinator John Jancek talked about the linebacker situation, saying he was looking forward to seeing the development of Chris Weatherd, Cortez McDowell and Elliott Berry at the outside spot, but he also said the inside spot will be an open competition between Jakob Johnson and Kenny Bynum.
“They’re competing each week and Kenny does a good job when his number is called and we’ll make a determination as we enter bowl practice, who is going to get the starting job,” he said.
Don’t expect anybody to move inside or for them to consider pulling the redshirt off Gavin Bryant or anything along those lines.
“The numbers are so low, until we can get some new guys in here, it’s really those two (Jakob Johnson and Bynum).”
Stripling on Scherff vs. Barnett: One of the matchups generating the most buzz for the TaxSlayer Bowl is Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff against Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett, who generally plays on the right side of the defensive line.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling discussed how Barnett is getting ready for that matchup.
“Derek doesn’t get excited about many things – that’s probably his best attribute,” Stripling said. “He’s very even-keeled and steady, so this will be a great challenge, but he’s a tremendous competitor, so it will be a fun day.
Bajakian on what he sees in Iowa’s defense: When asked about his thoughts on the challenges that Iowa’s defense would present for his offense, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian had an interesting compliment for his next opponent.
“Iowa is pretty unique, schematically,” Bajakian said. “Unique in that they are incredibly simple, but also extremely well coached and disciplined. All of their players know exactly where to be and what to do on every play. They are a lot like Ole Miss as far as their philosophy.”
Receiver injuries lead to progress: Bajakian also had some high praise for two young receivers who have stepped up in absence of Marquez North, and now Jason Croom. He said that both true freshman Vic Wharton and redshirt freshman Ryan Jenkins have responded well during the second half of the season and are in line to see increased roles in the TaxSlayer Bowl. This was echoed praise from what Zach Azzanni said about the same players earlier in the day. Azzanni complimented Wharton’s performance in the game against Vanderbilt and also said that he has been pleased with the effort of both players in recent weeks.
Jancek explains the challenge of Iowa’s offense: Defensive coordinator John Jancek said he knows exactly what to expect from Iowa’s offense in the bowl game, but that it doesn’t necessarily make his job any easier.
“They don’t make any bones about it, do they,” A smiling Jancek said. “Iowa runs the ball right at you for four quarters. They have an Outland Trophy winner, they are patient and have good discipline. They are a downhill type of team. We will have to be very consistent on each and every play.”
Coaches loose as bowl prep continues: The Vol coaching staff – especially the offensive and defensive coordinators – seemed particularly calm and loose during today’s media session. John Jancek playfully joked with media members about Iowa’s offensive plan and that Evan Berry’s move to running back was strictly a “contingency plan.” Janice said that he thinks Evan can be a “ great safety” and that he planned to have him back full-time at safety after the bowl game.
Mike Bajakian also got in on the action when asked about his offensive gameplay for Iowa’s defense.
“Yes. We will do a lot of different things,” Bajakian laughed. “I hope a copy of this makes it to Iowa’s staff, because we are switching philosophies and will be running the Wishbone. Go tell them that.”