Jones still searching for playmakers

KNOXVILLE Tenn. (release) -- A day after practicing in front of 39,000 at Neyland Stadium, it was back to the cozy confines of Haslam Field on Sunday. Head Coach Butch Jones continues to emphasize to the Vols that his methods and experience will help mold the team into winners.

"I thought it was a productive day," Jones said after a two-hour practice on Sunday. "We had a lot of special teams work. I wanted to see how our guys respond after last night.

"We're still trying to establish who our playmakers are right now. We'll come back tomorrow with a full padded practice. ... Every rep is a valuable. Every practice is valuable. These practices are critical. We have some individuals that need to push through.

"We're looking for consistency in performance in everything that we do. We can't have the ups and downs."

Despite the inconsistency, Jones is staying true to his word and pushing the Vols hard every day in demanding the standard he has established while building his championship-winning resume.

"It's a grind," said Jones. "That's where you have to rely on your older players to really teach them, but you know what, the older players are also learning a new way. It's kind of a double-edged sword, but there's no excuse. We have a standard and expectation for the way we're going to practice around here and it will never be compromised."


As the Vols near the end of fall training camp, Jones pointed out several players that he has seen take the next stride in helping to build Team 117.

"I see Corey Miller stepping up with the defensive front," said Jones. "Offensively, Ja'Wuan James, James Stone. I think Alex Bullard has as well. I see some guys stepping up, but we need more and we'll continue to progress, but kind of, what you want to avoid happen is becoming in survivor mode. We don't want them to get through the practice. We want them to attack the practice, and so, it's an ongoing process."

Bullard has really caught Jones' attention.

"(Alex's) consistency, level of toughness," said Jones. We got him some reps today at center, just getting him comfortable snapping the ball, but I've liked his camp."


In the past two seasons, the Vols have watched a player go down with an ACL injury--Justin Hunter and Brian Randolph. Both were sidelined in the third game of the season, both against the Florida Gators.

Hunter's injury occurred in "The Swamp" in the 2011 season. As a junior, Hunter returned to lead the Vols with 73 receptions for a collective 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns.

After watching Randolph fall the same way one year later, Hunter guided Randolph through his rehabilitation.

"I talked to Justin Hunter about it," Randolph said. "He would always joke with me about it, try to keep me up and keep my spirits up in the training room. It was good talking to him. He told me everything would be fine and just to relax and be patient."

Now with the 2013 season less than two weeks away, Butch Jones is impressed with the improvements Randolph has made and the redshirt sophomore is ready to get back into game action.

"I don't even notice my knee when I'm out there," said Randolph. "If I try to do testing on it I can tell, but otherwise on the field I don't feel it."

Hunter went on to get drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.


The Vols linebacker corps is one of the most experienced and deep on the squad. Junior leader A.J. Johnson is quick to point out the quality at the positions as all three of the projected starters have at least two full years in the program. Those starters will be backed up by similarly experienced LBs.

"All of the linebackers in the room we are getting the schemes down and getting our mistakes fixed," said Johnson. "We are pretty deep. We have [John] Propst, Brew [Brent Brewer], [Dontavis] Sapp, and a couple more guys that are right behind us. We are all making plays and are being where we are supposed to be in our gaps and stuff. If you are doing what you are supposed to, you are getting the job done."

The player Johnson mentioned first is one that may catch Vols' fans by surprise. But senior John Propst has had a strong camp backing up Johnson since the departure of Channing Fugate.

"He is just doing the right thing," Johnson said of the Hoover, Ala., native. " He is getting his job done and I know if I start messing up he is right behind me to take my spot. He is doing really good at linebacker."

Propst is even drawing attention from players on the other side of the ball.

"He's a thumper," said offensive lineman Zach Fulton. "When I get on the second level blocking, he hits pretty hard and he's still making plays too. He's working with the twos right now, I believe, but he's making plays."

Johnson's classmate Curt Maggitt continues to work his way back from injury, but his return to full action is still unknown.

"I wouldn't say he is frustrated," said Johnson. "He is just working each day to get better and hopefully he will be out there."


The offensive line, one of the most veteran groups on Team 117, is also one of the most prideful.

So much so that they can be seen walking around on campus in tank tops with OLP in neon letters.

O-Line Pride.

When they come to practice every day, they know they need to do things right.

"We are a prideful group," said redshirt senior offensive lineman Alex Bullard. "We want to do things right. We want to be the group that doesn't let up any sacks. We want to be the offensive line that gets the most rushing yards. We take pride in that. Things are going to happen. We are not going to play perfect, no one ever plays perfect, we just snap and clear and bounce back."

The offensive line, which let up just eight sacks last season, are trying to use their abilities to help the Vols in 2013.

"We have a lot of experience up front," said Bullard. "We have to lead this team and this offense and when we don't do something right we expect them to get after us because we want to do things right."

"We are just trying to win games," continued Bullard. "We gave up very few sacks last year and had a productive year but at the end of the day we went 5-7. We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say `what can we do to improve this team.' At the end of the day we can give up no sacks and rush for however many yards but what matters is whether you win or lose."


Coach Jones has said repeatedly that youth will play a major role on Team 117 and that we're likely to see anywhere from 13-17 true freshmen on the field this season.

Through 18 practices, two rookies have really stood out in the defensive backfield, cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman.

"They're very athletic," said free safety Brian Randolph. "Both are extremely athletic with quick feet, good agility, good balance, and good out of breaks. We just have to make sure they learn the playbook and they'll be good."

Sophomore strong safety LaDarrell McNeil has also seen progress in the two rookies and is proud of what they've done in their first camp.

"They have amazing talent; I am proud of them, especially the stuff they have done," said McNeil. "I hope they can help us through the season.

"It's just the athleticism of both of them. I feel like they are very athletic and can make good plays."

Randolph went further into some of the specifics on Sutton's game.

"You can tell he's a confident guy," Randolph said. "You can trust him in 1-on-1s on the backside. You don't have to worry about him or shade over his way because you know he's going to lock him down. He's very quick and always trying to make a physical play. He's pretty much the all-around corner."

McNeil believes the team's new defensive scheme and the veterans already in the secondary will help the young Vols settle in quicker.

"I feel like they are much more comfortable in this defense," McNeil said. "We help them out and we support them on the field and off the field. I feel like that builds more comfort in them to make them ready to play."

As for Coach Jones, he reiterated that the rookies better grow up fast.

"They have no choice," said Jones. "They have to be game ready. They're progressing. They're going to find out what it's like, but Cam Sutton is doing a great job. You know, Malik, I can see that the daily grind is kind of getting to him a little bit, but Justin (Coleman) is trying to mentor them. It is what it is and we just have to keep pushing them as coaches."


Junior tailback Marlin Lane continues to be limited in practice by an ailment. But Jones says Lane is actually progressing nicely.

"You know what, he's good," said Jones. "We've held him out a couple days just precautionary and we expect him back.

"He was at practice today, so we're still waiting, but he practiced."

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