NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brian Schwenke wants to turn question marks into periods or possibly even exclamation points.
The second-year center is growing into the role of the offensive line's communications commander when changes need to be made in protections to give a play a better chance to be effective. Schwenke said he saw more exotic pre-snap looks as a rookie than he did in college and that has continued this offseason as Tennessee is installing a new defense under coordinator Ray Horton.
Defenses, he said, are trying to create confusion for an offense and possibly a degree of indecisiveness [a la typing a question mark into a teleprompter, "I'm Ron Burgundy?"].
"When we first put in the defense and did our first walk-through, everyone is out there and we don't fully understand the offense yet, so it's like more of a question, 'Uh, go there?' " Schwenke said. "Now, we're all confident and know exactly what we're doing because we've had some time with the offense."
Veteran left tackle Michael Roos said Schwenke is "way more confident" this season despite a new offensive system under coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Jason Michael. Roos said it's better to be decisive and wrong from time to time than have moments of indecisiveness.
"You're going to be wrong at times. That's fine, as long as we're all on the same page and all wrong together, we can help ourselves," Roos said. "It's when he's indecisive or anybody like that is indecisive, then you have other guys that aren't sure what's happening, so as long as he can be decisive and is confident about what he's doing, then it will help all of us and make the cohesiveness happen quicker.
"If the quarterback is uncertain or the defense is moving around and everybody is trying to figure out what we should be doing, what do you want us to do, he just says, 'This is what we're doing. Go with it,' " Roos added. "And then the quarterback hears the same thing, he knows what we're doing, he can still change it if he wants, but he knows what we're doing. It's decisive, and we can roll with it."
A fourth-round pick in 2013, Schwenke's progression to the starting role was delayed by injuries that caused him to miss part of training camp and seven games last season, but after surgery this offseason, he is gaining comfort with every repetition.
"We're getting to the point where defenses are doing some crazy things across the league," Schwenke said. "They have some very exotic blitzes, so I don't think they were dealing with that a decade ago. It was pretty cut and dried: defenses lined up and brought standard blitzes, but you've got these hybrid guys who can play multiple positions, so it definitely takes a lot more time to get comfortable, so I'm feeling really good. You don't really deal with that stuff too much in college, but our defense is doing a great job of giving us a lot of looks. They're doing everything from across the spectrum so it's working out."
Roos, who is preparing for his 10th NFL season, can vouch for the increase in varying pre-snap looks, "especially when we're on the road because it creates a lot of confusion, and you can't talk and hear each other. The more confusion you can create for an offense, the better chance you have."
"Our new defense is doing a lot of movement, which has made it tougher on us, but that's good because we're going to see it during the season," Roos said. "The more we can see it now and make the mistakes now in May and June, hopefully we won't be making them in September and October."
Whisenhunt recently said during a media session that Horton stresses giving an opponent multiple looks "as much as anything."
"We're building a defense that's being forced to learn a lot of different things so hopefully we'll have some flexibility and be able to play it well," Whisenhunt said. "That's the number one thing. He demands that out of our guys, that even though we're throwing a lot at them, if we play with good discipline and play our scheme correctly, together, and these guys are working at it. They've bought in. We've got some good leaders on that side of the ball, and they're working very hard at it."
Schwenke said the offensive line uses a set of rules to guide them through the different looks and does some alterations during practices but will do more in the regular season after studying opponents to try to maximize the opportunities for success.
"For certain teams, because of their personnel, you'll tweak those rules and game plan," Schwenke said. "We're not doing that for our defense. A couple of things, here and there, we'll do a little bit because you're not going to be able to pick it up otherwise. You have to tweak it, but for the most part, it's like we're game planning for all teams so we're sticking with our basic rules.
"There's a couple of things where you have to game plan and tweak a little bit to adjust to our defense because of what they're doing, and if we stayed with our base, we'd get beat every time because we'd not be in the right spot, so we've adjusted a couple of things," he continued. "Usually it happens and then comes up, but when you're game planning for a team that you're playing, you can watch the film and see their tendencies." Tennessee is scheduled to complete its offseason workout program with a mandatory minicamp Tuesday through Thursday before breaking until training camp opens near the end of July.