There was a ton of hype surrounding Tennessee’s addition of former Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop last offseason. The thinking around Knoxville was that the highly regarded assistant coach could take a solid unit and make them elite in order to make a run at the SEC championship. Needless to say, things didn’t pan out that way for the Volunteer defense in 2016.

In fact, the defense went the opposite way, as the Vols regressed in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, and passing defense in Shoop’s first season with the team.

While injuries played a significant hand in hampering Tennessee’s defense a season ago — the unit was not only hit with a high volume of injuries but lost several elite contributors — the results by the end of the end of the regular season were borderline disastrous.

Now in his second spring on Rocky Top, Shoop cites not only his familiarity with the program but the players’ comfort to his coaching style as a reason for optimism moving forward.

“It just feels different,” Shoop said following Thursday’s practice. “Last year we had a lot of d-linemen injured, not that we don’t this year but it just feels different. I feel like I’m taking better ownership of it and I feel more comfortable, and I think the players feel more comfortable with me. We walk into the room they kind of know what to expect. I know what to expect, so therefore maybe there’s a comfort level.”

“We are doing a good job of fixing the issues that hurt us last year and playing to our individual strengths. We are trying to identify who those players are and place them in a position that they can be successful.”

In addition to the overall comfort level improving on the defensive side of the ball for the program, Shoop mentioned his connection with the team’s new accomplished defensive line coach Brady Hoke as another huge positive for the team. It stands to reason that Shoop had significant input in assembling the new defensive staff on Rocky Top, and so far, the coordinator has found Hoke to be an invaluable resource considering not only his many successes but strangely enough, because of his failures, too.

“Brady has been awesome,” Shoop continued. “Brady to me is a guy who’s been a head coach, not only that but a coach of the year in the MAC, the Mountain West, and the Big Ten. Think about that. He’s been a coordinator at Oregon, where they struggled last year. He’s seen the good and the bad in the profession.”

Having to face a high level of adversity this offseason after arriving as somewhat of a savior a season ago has to be a humbling experience — something Hoke can certainly relate with in his current role. Now with the ability to seek out help from an experienced staff member, Shoop sounds very willing to reach out to his new assistant for advice. That’s something that could prove to be invaluable for the Vols heading into a big 2017 season.

“For me personally, he’s been a great ally,” Shoop admitted.

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