Knoxville, Tenn. (WVLT/AP) -- The Tennessee football team was in Neyland Stadium today and dressed in full pads. No game, however, just alot of questions and answers, as the program held its annual picture day.
Lane Kiffin's promise to recruits that they'll get a chance to play early isn't a recruiting ploy.
The new Tennessee coach wants to find out if there are championship caliber players among his freshman Volunteers.
Several of the freshman Vols say the promise of an early shot at playing helped lure them to Tennessee, and they want to prove they deserve the chance.
Tailback Bryce Brown and defensive back Janzen Jackson -- both players who have practiced with the first team at times in the first week of fall camp -- say learning the playbook has been the hardest thing to adjust to in college.
Tailback David Oku says he loves the speed of the college game.
Kiffin says he likes the competition the freshmen bring to the team because it also makes the veterans play better.
Click on the video link above to see some of Sunday's interviews. Below is Lane Kiffin's comments from Tennessee's media day:
"We’ve had five practices and it’s been extremely competitive. Everyone wants to talk about how many spots are open. Everyone wants to talk about starters. It’s about the depth chart on offense, defense and special teams.
“As far as Saturday’s practice, I thought it was extremely competitive. I thought it was a game-like atmosphere. We put them in that mind-set. We brought them out there early just like it was game day, got warmed up, came back into the locker room and brought them back out the same way that we would for a game. The offense had very good success, especially early on. To see the explosive plays was really good for us. In the spring on offense, I did not think we were very explosive. So to see some big plays was very good. I think it’s very good for our team. Our team, when we got here, found itself as a defensive team. You could see that just by the interaction of the defensive players and the offensive players. The defense was up here and the offense was down here. So even though we want to see our defense play great -- we’re never happy when we give up big plays – we’re happy to see our offense playing extremely well.”
On how the freshmen have an equal shot to play
“From Day 1 I’ve talked about in recruiting that our freshmen will get their shot to play and play early. That’s not a recruiting ploy. That’s a chance to find out who are our championship players – which guys can be good. As you saw on offense Saturday, a lot of skill position freshmen touched the ball a lot and it was really interesting to see the film and watch how they kind of showed up. We kept seeing that almost every other play a freshman was involved. Offensively, you’d see them play a little more, but some defensive guys played well, especially in the secondary. Our freshmen have already made an impact early, and it’s creating competition. It’s making our veterans understand that these guys are here to take their spots. We’re a team, but these guys are here to take their spots so they better strap it up.”
On how much the offensive line has improved
“Two years ago, our offensive line led the nation in the least sacks given up. We don’t watch much of that film because it’s not our system and it really doesn’t do us much good to watch it. We’ve got our style and our system. But we did watch some stuff from last year. But it doesn’t really matter. Our defense was third in the country last year, but it doesn’t help us now. We didn’t look like the third-best defense in the country Saturday. We’re not really worried about where we were ranked before. We’ve got to come to play every day. We expect our guys to play extremely well and be successful.
“I would say it would be a fair assessment to say our offensive line has improved the most of any group since the spring. We’ve had a great offseason. Aaron Ausmus has done a great job with our strength program, especially for our guys who needed to lose weight. Guys have dropped a bunch of weight. I just scrambled over here from a team meeting where we were watching clips of guys. The day I got here I talked about our linemen being too fat. There’s a reason for that. We have to be able to play extremely athletic and extremely quick. We saw it Saturday. For a guy like Jarrod Shaw, who’s lost more than 24 pounds since we got here – Saturday there was a 47-yard touchdown run and he’s on the backside and I promise you in the spring he wouldn’t have gotten that cut. He wouldn’t have been able to do it. So that’s a seven-point play just from losing that weight. I’m extremely excited about improving our offensive line.”
On having his father, Monte Kiffin, on staff
“I’ve said it before; it’s exciting to have him here. But it’s really exciting to have him here because he’s such a phenomenal teacher and coach. Our coaches and players know his great success with players and all the great defenses he had at Tampa. But he coaches our coaches so well. Our position coaches, our GAs, they get better every day. They come in and have a list of notes ready. They get there at 6 in the morning and have a list of stuff on how they can get better as coaches. It’s great to have him for our players, but also for our coaches.”
On the linebackers and their play
“Speaking of linebackers, Savion Frazier played great and we needed to see that. Rico McCoy was out and Frazier had an up-and-down spring, and for him to come out and make a number of significant plays was really good to see. LaMarcus Thompson made a number of plays, too. The whole time we’ve been here, we’ve shuffled guys around and tried to find the best scenario to get them in the right spot. When you have three different linebackers, we need different guys to play those spots. It’s not like we can pick a guy to play both. A lot of them can only play one. It’s such a complicated defense as far as doing things right. We’ve got to continue to improve our linebackers.”
On the quarterbacks and if one has emerged more than the other
“We need our quarterback to lead our group and make plays and make some hard decisions. They both played extremely well Saturday. I think Jonathan was 12-of-16 with one throwaway, so he only had three incompletions. Nick played well, too. Both guys have played really well. Everyone wants to know who the starter is, but most importantly is for both guys to play well. Whoever is the starter, the other guy is going to end up playing at some point. Having both guys play well is a lot better than having one guy play well and one guy not.”
On veterans not being guaranteed a starting spot
“Josh McNeil is a good example. He’s made 35 straight starts, but it doesn’t matter what happened before. It doesn’t. He’s in a big-time competition. He came in Saturday, sat down and thanked us for doing that because he wasn’t playing at the highest level that he could play at because he had become comfortable. He was the guy and he could just show up on game day. It was neat to see him come into our office and thank us for putting him into a competition. He’s gained about 12 pounds because he knew if he didn’t gain and hit the weight room then he would be sitting on the bench. It’s great to see that happening.”
On Gerald Jones and his practice performances
“Gerald has been phenomenal. He’s had a cast on his hand but he’s been making plays. A lot of times he has to catch it with one hand. He made a big play Saturday for 60-some yards down the middle. We really looked for Gerald to come in and say, ‘You know what, I can’t really catch. Maybe I should take off part of practice.’ He’s worked harder than anybody out there.”
On having a staff that has a lot of NFL coaching experience
“I think the players believe in what we’re doing with so much success that we’ve had on our staff. I think that makes it natural to want to buy into what we’re doing. Somebody should do a story and follow us around for a day and see what it’s like. They’re going non-stop. Half of them sleep in there. It’s just a competitive atmosphere. We’re always trying to find a way to be better than somebody else and we challenge them with that all the time: Your job as a position coach is to have the best position group on this whole team. I’ve been so impressed with our staff.
“In the NFL – I don’t think anybody can argue – it’s the highest level of Xs and Os. You do it all day long. You don’t go on the road recruiting. You don’t spend time on recruiting weekends. You’re not on the Big Orange Caravan. You’re doing ball all the time. So the level of Xs and Os is so competitive that a lot of times you see guys have great success coming back from the NFL schematically going back to college. It’s different. If you’re a college coach your whole career, half the year you haven’t done football. You spend half the year recruiting and half the year coaching. After 10 years, add that up. That’s 60 months of ball. So there is a difference.”