KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) - Saturday is a big day for the Tennessee football program as it gets ready to play in the DISH Orange & White. For Butch Jones, his staff and all of Team 117, it will be their first opportunity to showcase themselves in front of the Volunteer faithful, who they hope will show up in droves to Neyland Stadium.
“First and foremost, we do have the best fan base in the country and the most passionate fan base in the country,” Jones said. “We need to continue to make Neyland Stadium a home-field advantage. Anytime we get to compete in that venue, it is special. I know our players are really looking forward to playing in front of our fans. We need everyone to come out and continue to support. This is really the first public display of Team 117 and it is all about first impressions. That is the mentality we have taken this week in practice.”
Wednesday’s practice was the last in full pads for the Vols before the spring game, which will feature an offense versus defense format similar to what the team has used in previous scrimmages this spring.
“Obviously, we would like to have a draft, we would like to draft teams but that is where we are at with our program right now,” Jones said. “We don’t have much depth so it is going to be offense versus defense. We will have a scoring system so there are numerous opportunities for the defense to manufacture points with three-and-outs, turnovers, tackles for a loss. It is the same formula that we have been using throughout the course of the spring so our players are used to it.”
The spring game isn’t just a test for the players though, as Jones will be evaluating how he and his staff perform as well.
“I want this to be game day for our coaches. It is game day for us. There are little things that maybe people take for granted, from the way you do pregame in your locker room, the way you do pregame in warmups, the way your team takes the field, areas on the field for pregame, all of those little things. This is basically a dress rehearsal for Austin Peay, so we also think it is important that we have our coaches connecting in the press box. We’ll be on the sidelines and we understand that communication is critical.”
In addition to providing the Vols one last chance to see where this year’s team is at on the field, Saturday’s spring game also gives them the opportunity to showcase the program all weekend. To go along with the game, UT is also hosting a lettermen’s golf event on Friday with nearly 200 Vols For Life set to participate.
“You look at all of the events going on with a record number of lettermen coming back for a golf outing on Friday, a record number of former players, VFL players, coming back, that is going to be exciting,” Jones said. “[Then Saturday’s game] is an opportunity to compete, it’s another evaluation tool for us as coaches, and, obviously, it is a chance to play on national television. That is a great opportunity and everything is about recruiting as well so it is all about a great weekend and it is a chance for us to continue to prove that there is no better place than Tennessee.”
NO TIME FOR REST IN SUMMER
The Vols will officially finish their spring season on Saturday with the DISH Orange & White Game. But that means the work will just continue during the summer months. Jones is adamant that Team 117 continues to grow both mentally and physically before the official start of fall training camp in August.
"We need to finish having a mindset of physicality and being able to transition," said Jones. "When we get into the summer now it's about really moving forward as a football team. We still have a long way to go but, again, our players keep coming out and working. We keep demanding and the big thing moving forward is having the foundation to where we can make the summer extremely productive.
"It is all player-led meetings and player-led workouts and we have to have a great foundation moving into the summer. That is really the next phase when your team is really developed and born. I am a firm believer that is where your overall leadership takes place, is in the summer."
The players know the summer is an important time to refine their games in preparation of the regular-season. They also believe in what Jones and the staff are preaching.
"(In summer), I will be getting my techniques down, getting plays down, and being more consistent," said senior lineman Zach Fulton. "I love the staff, they're very competitive, just like we are. I love everything about them."
Fulton is expected to be one of the leaders of the team, which is an area Jones is hoping the players focus on as the weather gets warmer.
"The big thing is leadership, having that foundation of a standard and expectation, our style of play, pride in our performance and moving forward into the summer," said Jones. "This summer will probably be the most critical summer we have had here in a long period of time because we have to get better. I've seen teams go from having a very average spring to having a tremendous offseason in the summer, where coming into training camp they are ready to go and take off. We need to start fast in everything that we do."
GET YOUR MIND RIGHT
Coming off an All-American season, junior offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson has been limited by a knee injury to mostly mental reps in the first spring season under Butch Jones.
"I think playing tackle it's a lot of mental," said Richardson. "I'm getting a lot of mental reps right now and that's the biggest thing. Watching other guys, critiquing what they are doing and just trying to be a leader."
Having heard a lot about his 6-foot-6 left tackle's abilities on the field, Jones has demanded a lot from the Nashville native off of it.
"He's very eager. We have challenged him from a mental standpoint," said Jones. "We've demanded a lot from him when he is not taking the mental reps. It's time to get him on the field and see what he can do."
With four starters returning from a squad which allowed the SEC's fewest sacks (8) last season, Richardson believes the group has come a long way, but still has work to do.
"Two years ago, no one would expect us to be where we're at, but the past doesn't matter," said Richardson. "It's all about continuous improvement and that's where we're going right now."
NEVER FAST ENOUGH
Since the moment Jones arrived at Rocky Top, he has stressed the need for tempo and speed on the offensive side of the ball.
While he knows that they will need to balance that full-speed ahead philosophy with the skill sets of the players currently on the roster to some degree, Vol fans should still expect to see a high-octane offense this fall.
“We’ve proven over the years that we are an offense that likes to push the ball down the field, but we also need to play to the strengths of our players and I think that is critical,” Jones said. “If you do the research, over the last six years we like to push the ball down the field.”
Jones’ offense isn’t where he would like it to be just yet, but he is confident that a summer with Coach Lawson will help to remedy that.
“I'd like to go faster but you know these players are going to have a summer with what I feel is the best strength and conditioning staff in the country and I firmly believe that,” Jones said. “They are going to have a full summer of training with them and I think our players understand that type of physical shape, mental conditioning, mental and physical endurance that they are going to need to play in our offense, which I would like to be much, much faster and it's going to be much faster.”
RAY LEWIS-LIKE WORK ETHIC
Heading into his final season donning the Orange & White, senior defensive lineman Corey Miller has stepped up his intensity and determination this spring.
"It's a little bit of everything," Miller said. "Mostly, it's the last go around. You don't have another opportunity. Secondly, there was a film we watched about Ray Lewis and at the end he says, `Effort is between you and you.'”
Miller and the team watched "A Football Life: Ray Lewis" and the one thing has stuck with the South Carolina native is work ethic.
"It was that one thing at the end," Miller said. "He basically said throughout the film the way he made it to the NFL for 14, 15 years was the fact that he gave effort. He was the one running to the ball all the time. At the end, he said `Effort is between you and you.' That's the thing Coach Jones has been preaching to us so it really hit home."
The defensive lineman has been spending his Sundays watching extra film with Coach Stripling and constantly looking for ways to improve.
"I've been taking in everything Coach Stripling has been talking as far as down blocks, stretches, all that type of stuff," Miller said. "More attention to detail and a harder work ethic. I've been trying to get in position, make plays and stand out on film."
LANE RETURN A POSSIBILITY
Running back Marlin Lane missed practice once again on Wednesday, but Jones was not ready to rule him out of Saturday’s spring game just yet.
“There's still an opportunity,” Jones said. “He has some criteria that has to be met. He's meeting that criteria but as of right now he's still out and that's all I'll comment.”
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
(On the importance of Wednesday’s practice)
"“Going through the spring they are all very, very important but the last day of full pads until the Orange and White game. Not playing since Saturday, I thought we were a little rusty. We needed a little bit of time to get going. We need to finish having a mindset of physicality and being able to transition.”
(On Saturday’s spring game)
“It is big in all regards, not just in recruiting. Every day is important in recruiting. You win with the players. It is important for everything. We still have a number of concerns that need to be addressed going into this spring and August camp. Who are our punt returners going to be? Can they catch the ball consistently? Obviously, everyone wants to know about the quarterback but I am more concerned about who is number six on the offensive line, who is number seven? Who is number five and number six on our defensive front, heck, who is two and three? Then obviously our secondary, so there are still so many [questions] that need to be addressed. A lot of those won’t be answered until Austin Peay, but it gives us a better gauge moving forward.”
(On which individuals have impressed him this spring)
“I see a level of consistency and I see players continue to progress and get better and better. I think Alden Hill has had a tremendous spring. He continues to get better and better. He has the mentality that we expect and demand. I think Rajion Neal has developed a lot, especially from a pass protection standpoint and the interior running game. Dontavis Sapp I love. He is valuable. He is starting on kickoff, he is starting on kickoff return, he is starting on punt, he would start on punt return but also he is one of our starting linebackers. I think he has come a long way. I think Justin Coleman has had a very quiet spring. He has just been very, very consistent. James Stone has had a great spring. Zack Fulton, I like Ja’Wuan James’ confidence. I think he has done a great job. I think both of our quarterbacks continue to roll their sleeves up and work each and every day. We still need some individuals to step up at the receiver position. I’m not anywhere near satisfied and we are not where we need to be to play winning football at that position yet.”
(On what he learns during of spring practice)
“These 15 practices will be a gauge. Like I told our players when we got here in December, they are responsible for building their identity. We have identity files and they are responsible for it. Now we bring the other freshmen in and we promised every freshman that he would have the opportunity to compete for playing time and you will see that when they get here in June and August.”
(On Daniel McCullers’ responding to being called out over the microphone)
“He has responded every day. He has that quiet look but when I get him to smile, he responds, he is respectful. He is an individual who has, you look at this big body, he is working exceptionally hard. He is the strongest person we have on our football. But it is an effort, it is a mentality, it is the ability for individuals to be able to play 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 plays in a row. In the first play to the 10th play, it is at the same intensity level, the same endurance level. That is what we are working through. He has been able and he has been willing.”
SAFETY LADARRELL MCNEIL
(On today’s practice)
“Today was kind of like a final in class just going over everything, reviewing everything and making sure we have all the corrections and all the errors out. I would give myself an A.”
(On what he has improved on this spring)
“My intelligence of the game. My strength which is my work ethic. I believe my work ethic gained a lot and my intelligence of the game. I learned a lot from Coach Martinez and Coach Jancek. I think that’s overall what is making me a better player right now.”
(On not having depth)
“There’s definitely some problems with depth at the defensive backs, but with safety, I’m just going to keep competing and making sure I do all the right things. So when I do get in the game, I’ll be ready.”
KICKER MICHAEL PALARDY
(On how his spring has gone)
“It’s been going really well. I’ve definitely made a lot of strides this off-season, and I think it’s shown in spring. There’s still a lot of work to do, and I’m trying to keep the consistency going.”
(On feedback from coaches)
“It’s positive feedback. Coach Jones and Coach Elder are on us every day, but it’s only because they want us to work hard and be consistent at what we do and master our craft.”
(On what he’s doing best right now)
“I would say place kicking. That was in my main focus in the offseason. I’ve made a lot of improvement and been a lot more consistent this spring. It’s been a big emphasis for me.”
LINEBACKER BRENT BREWER
(On keys as an older player for summer)
“Getting everybody on the same page. Getting in and watching film. Coming to work every day and keep grinding. Everybody else in the country is doing the same thing. We’re looking for a championship so we’re working hard.”
(On moving to linebacker from safety)
“I have to be quicker and learn to read certain assignments. Pulling, things like that. It’s a lot faster. You have to be patient instead of reacting so fast.”
(On what his top priority is going into the summer offseason)
“Getting my legs under me. Going out and practicing. They’re still not where I want to be. I still get a little winded, but I’ll just keep working all summer. Working hard.”
LINEBACKER A.J. JOHNSON
(On getting four turnovers in the last scrimmage)
“Like coach said, we've been stressing to get turnovers and make fumbles and interceptions and stuff like that, so we stressed it and we came out strong and forced those at the beginning of the scrimmage.”
(On what Herman Lathers has meant to him as a mentor)
“I know when I first got here, Herman wasn't playing because he was hurt, but he still was a good leader to me. Then in our second year I was able to play beside him, and just learning little things from him depth of backs and stuff like that and our coach teaches us that so when somebody tells you the same thing over again, it's got to mean something, so he taught me a lot and just playing with him I feel good. I love playing with Herman. He's like a brother.”
(On if he's excited to get out in front of the fans on Saturday)
“We're just excited to get out there and perform. I know we've been working hard this whole spring and we're ready to perform for the fans and show them that we're ready to come back.”
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN COREY MILLER
(On watching Dan McCullers’ play on film)
“I told him straight up, ‘Look at yourself on film. Look at what you can do. If you just give effort, you can cause fumbles.’ It’s always the guys you don’t see. He made a big play and I was proud of him.”
(On having McCullers in the middle)
“I’m a lot more comfortable. I look at him like ‘Alright, Dan, let’s go.’ When you see him giving effort and going as hard as he can, it makes you a lot more comfortable in the position you’re in because you know he’s taking care of his spot and you can take care of yours.”
(On watching tape of Oregon)
“I watch a lot of tape on different teams on our schedule. I started watching Oregon to see the pace they’re running plays, what type of plays they’re running and steps they’re taking. It’s all about studying your opponent so I feel like if you get a jump on it, you’ll be successful.”
SAFETY BYRON MOORE
(On the importance of fan support at the Orange and White game)
“Just so we can show the passion for this program and being able to fill Neyland Stadium as much as we can. I just think it will go a long way toward showing everyone around the program that with this new coaching staff everyone has bought in and is believing. It also shows the recruits how big of an importance our fans put on the spring game”.
(On if Moore will in fact sign off Twitter if fans don’t come out to the Orange and White game)
“That’s my challenge to the fans. If we don’t break the record, I’m getting off Twitter (laughs). We’ll see what happens. I think Johnny Manziel went like 17 days without Twitter so we’ll see”.
(On where the team is at with “buying in” to the new coaching staff)
“I think we have a good foundation set right now. We weren’t really able to get all the things in that we wanted to in the spring, but we have a good handle on our base packages and base coverages on defense. We feel good that we can go into the summer and go into film reviews on our own. So I think we have a good handle on everything going into the summer. Now it’s just up to us players and our leaders to make sure we keep everyone together all summer while the coaches are away”.
(On the confidence level of this team)
“It is definitely high. We put last season behind us and we are just focused to moving forward with Team 117 and the Orange Swarm. We are looking to show the fans on Saturday what our Orange Swarm can look like”.
WIDE RECEIVER DEVRIN YOUNG
(On working on route-running)
“I just come in and practice the details of my route. We’re blessed to hear Peyton [Manning] speak to us about how important route-running is to him, and that defines how important it is to get your route right. So I’m trying to work on that. I’ve got ways to go.”
(On his hopes for the season)
“Coaches like versatility, and getting the ball in different people’s hands. Hopefully, the more I can show, the more potential I have to get the ball.”
(On his role in game situations)
“That’s entirely up to me and what I show the coaches in the offseason. Then it’s up to the coaches, whether they’re happy with me or not. I’m not focused on the offseason. I’m trying to think about right now and taking everything a day at a time.”
RUNNING BACK RAJION NEAL
(On what filling Neyland would do for the team)
“I definitely think it would give the guys a little more encouragement [to see fans] come out and show what we’ve been working so hard for. There’s nothing like that Tennessee support. I can’t lie, there’s nothing like playing in Neyland Stadium.”
(On what he’s done to take a step forward this spring)
“I’ve just answered the adversity. The one thing that our coach does is put us in very live situations as far as being one-on-one with a backer, one-on-one with a backer running the ball on the one yard line; maybe I’m on the island pass protecting. He puts us in those situations to show the team can we depend on this guy, can he carry us when we need him, is he going to be dependable, can guys learn to trust him, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job at stepping up and owning those situations. And that’s all a player really wants is to earn the trust and respect of his teammates.
(On getting ready for his senior season)
“There’s nothing like what you go through with these guys. Once my time is over, I’m going to really sit back and miss the locker room of the Tennessee football team and these guys I’ve built a relationship with. The ball is just fun within itself. I think that’s just a little extra credit or something you don’t ask for, but it’s given to you. It’s something you can’t complain about.”
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JA’WUAN JAMES
(On this new, faster offensive scheme)
“We did it last year, it was a little bit similar, but I feel like this year is a lot faster. We just have to go out there and listen and buy in. We're buying in to what the coaches are saying and it really helps us. You can tell when a defensive lineman gets tired and the d-line is exhausted by play six or seven on a drive so I feel like it's in our favor.”
(On if he's excited to get out in front of the fans on Saturday)
“Definitely. I miss it. I think I only have seven more games left in Neyland, and this one will be number eight so I hope a lot of fans come. I want it to be a great atmosphere. I know Coach Jones is going to make it a great atmosphere. I just want to go out there and compete with the guys in front of everybody.”
(On if he's going to approach this summer differently than the ones in the past)
“This summer I really want to work on a lot of technical things that I feel like I need a lot of work on and to come out here as a group and keep everybody together as an offense and a team and do a lot of things together. We're going to be the only ones here on campus together so we want to build team chemistry and personally, I just want to work on the technical things that I feel I need to work on so I can be as best as I can in the fall.”
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ANTONIO RICHARDSON
(On if he's trying to be vocal with his linemen when he is not on the sideline)
"Oh yeah, most definitely being vocal and like during walk-throughs just watching the left tackles. Watching guys like Marques Pair, Alex Bullard who really is not a tackle, he's more of a guard. Just helping him with his sets and things of that nature, making sure that he's getting better. Basically just observing everything that's going on, getting extra film study, and that's the biggest thing for me right now. But I'll be getting acclimated back into the system."
(On if this has been a frustrating spring due to the fact that he is limited in what he can do)
"At first it was but I had to do some talking to myself. Do some talking to the coaches and just knowing everything's going to be fine. I'm going to be one hundred percent when I get back, so I'm all right."
(On what he said to himself)
"The thing about me is that I struggle with being patient sometimes. So really I just had to calm myself down, slow my heart rate down, and say "Hey, everything's going to be okay. Continue to get mental reps, continue to stay in the weight room, stay in shape, and things will work out.""
TIGHT END JUSTIN KING
(On what it would mean to see a big crowd on Saturday)
"It would mean so much. Fans here, they love us. Win or lose they're always there to support us and that's what we need. Right now we've got Coach Jones and Coach Jones has done a great job. So we just want a big show out, give these fans what they want to see."
(On if he thinks playing quarterback helped him with his hands)
"Yeah, I feel like it's a good thing playing quarterback. Just got to get used to the contact. That's one thing that a lot of guys, when they make that transition, come to college and they were the quarterback in high school, you've got to get used to that contact. You know, I'm not saying I'm a soft player but at first in high school I'm behind center so I'm not used to getting hit. So, when I first got up here my freshman year it was kind of like a shock to me. It was like, "Oh snap, I'm getting hit hard." Right now I'm getting used to it. Going against C-Mill (Corey Miller), Marlon Walls, all these great defensive ends we have here, and Corey Vereen we have here as a freshman is really showing his toughness. He's working me and I'm working him so it's paying off for the good."
(On how tough it was to learn to be a blocker and be physical)
"It's different. It's a real difference just always going against a defensive end. Great defensive ends we got here, we've got some great guys here playing defensive end, outside linebacker too. We're just really helping each other getting better, you know? We may slip up here and there but at the same time you knowing you're learning techniques. I just got done talking to C-Mill (Corey Miller) asking him about different little things about techniques. How can I get my hands in the place where I'll be able to block the defender better? He tells me that and he asks me the same question. We're just working together and when we get on the field it's a competition."