Q and A With Mark Elder
Editor’s Note: The following is an installment of interviews with Tennessee’s football and basketball from Tennessee Sports Radio and tnsportsradio.com.
Tennessee tight end/special teams coach Mark Elder’s name became prominent last year as former coach Derek Dooley attempted to salvage in-state recruiting. As strange as it may seem, Elder’s name came up almost as often as any coach from Dooley’s staff even though Elder was an assistant coach at Cincinnati last year. Elder was well-known in Tennessee, particularly in Memphis.
Those preexisting relationships should only help the Vols close the border on the Volunteer State. It already has four highly rated commitments from Tennessee.
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Dave Hooker: How long have you recruited Tennessee and what do you think of the talent evolution in the state over the past couple of years?
Mark Elder: I think Tennessee football is very good football. Through and through, coast to coast, I think it’s a really good state. There’s a lot of talent in-state and I think there are a lot of players that can help you win SEC championships in the state.
I’ve been recruiting it for a handful of years. I started recruiting Tennessee at Cincinnati (in 2010). I just looked at the map and saw that Tennessee wasn’t too far from Cincinnati so I just started to dabble down here. That year, in particular Memphis, was heavy with talent so I ended up spending a lot of my time in Memphis. I spent time in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Murfreesboro, quite a bit of the state. Right now I’m focusing on part of Nashville and Memphis.
DH: How different is Vanderbilt as competition now that they’re respectable compared to where they were a few years ago?
ME: They do a nice job in recruiting. I have a lot of respect for those guys as far as they do a nice job with building rapport with kids. I think that they’ve been able to get some guys not just in the state but in the country that they were not able to get a few years ago.
DH: How much do early in-state commitments help you secure other in-state guys down the road?
ME: I think we’ve done a very nice job in recruiting. We target guys that we think fit what we’re looking for. We’re looking for high-character guys. It’s important to us that we get the complete package.
As far as having early success, I really do believe that recruits that commit and end up recruiting for their university can be extremely beneficial for their class. Hearing from your peer the reasons why Tennessee is such a great place to be and why we’re going to be successful in the future can go a long way. Guys will listen more to their peers quite a bit more, often times, than coaches calling them.
DH: As tight ends coach, how would you describe the tight end in your offense?
ME: We expect a lot of our tight ends. They have to be just like the receivers. They have to be able to flex out and run routes. Yet they have to be like an offensive tackle. They’re going to have their hand in the dirt, lined up next to an offensive tackle and blocking a defensive end. And everything in between. We use our guy like an H-back (too).
In recruiting, it’s difficult to find those guys. You’re not just simply looking for a guy that can grind it out and beat a defensive end or simply be a big receiver. You’re trying to find a guy that has both skill sets. I think we have a great group of guys that are excited about the position and how we use the tight end in our offense. It’s a position that is truly a threat in our offense. We use them as playmakers. We’re going to throw them the football.
DH: Tennessee struggled in place kicking last year. Do you feel like they’ve improved in the offseason?
ME: I think guys have done a nice job, absolutely. Michael Palardy had a really nice spring. We put those guys in as many pressure situations as we possible could as far as gathering the team around them and putting them on a clock so they had to perform without taking their time. We put them in situations in the spring game where they had to kick and they had one opportunity.
I think Mike Palardy had a really nice spring and George [Bullock] and [Derrick] Brodus had their moments where they were doing a pretty nice job. I think we’ve got a good group of guys that we’ll be successful with.
DH: What’s your take on the punter position?
ME: We had a couple of guys this spring. We wanted to put the punters and the punt returners in positions of pressure. Between Palardy and [Matt] Darr, I think both had nice springs. We’re going to see how things go in fall camp and see who ends up taking that job.
DH: Do you have the athletic depth to be consistently successful on coverage and return teams?
ME: We’ve got a great blue print for what we’re looking for on special teams. We try to be extremely specific with what we’re looking for. We don’t try to have a million different schemes. We’re going to be very simple with what we’re going to do.
We expect that the technique and the executing is going to be at a very high rate. We’re going to use our best personnel on our special teams…whether they’re a starter, second team, third team, it doesn’t matter. Coach [Butch] Jones’ philosophy is we’re going to win with special teams and have the best players on the field.
They’re going to know what they’re doing. Often times, if you have 45 different schemes and guys get confused, that can really lead to slowing down and not playing well on special teams. We’re going to be simple with what we do. Sometimes our opponent is going to know what we’re doing. We’re just going to out perform them and perform better than them. That’s been successful for us in the past.
We have guys that are very good football players that are playing hard and know how important special teams are to winning ball games. They know what they’re doing. They know their technique and they can execute it well. We’ve been successful in the past and we will be again this year.