Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) After Butch Jones announced on Monday that Tennessee's quarterback position was open for competition, one of the biggest questions going into Saturday's game is who will be starting against the Florida Gators?
On Jones' radio show 'Vol Calls,' Wednesday night, the coach made it clear it might go all the way until the teams take the field on Saturday to know who will start under center.
"We will probably pick a quarterback starter at the conclusion of pregame warm-ups on Saturday," Jones said.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian echoed Jones when he spoke earlier in the day.
"The guys are competing every day," Bajakian said. "The process could go all the way into pregame warm ups."
Throughout the week, Bajakian believes that it has been business as usual. Each quarterback is approaching practice as they always have and are competing and improving their personal play every day.
"Embracing competition," said Bajakian. "Again, I feel like a broken record but we always talk about the process, but part of the process is improving on a daily basis and part of that is competing on a daily basis. Everyone has approached it with a mentality that they are going to compete and improve every day.
"There is a little more energy, that is for sure," said Bajakian.
After Tennessee's loss to Oregon this past Saturday, the Volunteers coaching staff has worked to instill one thing in their players' minds--look forward and not backward. Team 117 travels to Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday and as this week has progressed, it is evident that they are looking forward to their next competition --the Florida Gators.
One of Tennessee's newest mottos, "snap and clear," has caught on quickly with the Volunteer defense.
"I think we're fine," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "I think we recognize that we didn't play very well. The guys, I thought, really hurt coming in on Sunday -- seeing them around, it's disheartening, but we have to snap and clear. We have to move on."
Starting Monday, the 'Orange Swarm' switched their focus from a fast- tempo offense to a more up-front and physical offense.
"Florida, they want to knock you off the ball and get moving, so that will be challenging--great skill all over the field," said Jancek." We know we have our hands full."
Due to multiple injuries, defensive depth has been a major question for the Vols this season , so Jancek and staff have looked to other players to step up in the respective roles.
True freshman Jason Carr and redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien are two players that are working hard to improve each week to fill in for defensive players, such as Trevarris Saulsberry, who was injured in Saturday's game against Oregon. Carr and O'Brien have both spent extra time getting work in after practice, both on the field and in the weight room.
"They're doing everything right, said Jancek. " It's just a matter of time before we start to see those fruits of the labor."
While a main focus for the Tennessee defense will be containing Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel this Saturday, that's not exactly what defensive backs Coach Willie Martinez is stressing to his men.
"We call it a plaster technique. Nobody should be coming out of coverage," Martinez said. "We continue to practice that every day and we have to do a better job at it. Obviously, we paid for it last week and we have to do a much better job with our eyes. We didn't have very good eye discipline and we have to do a better job this week."
A former defensive back and National Champion with the Miami Hurricanes, Martinez continues to preach the No. 1 rule in the defensive backfield.
"A secondary player should never come out of their coverage until [the ball carrier] crosses the line of scrimmage," said Martinez.
"Anytime you have a mobile quarterback, obviously that's more of a threat to the defense. Whether it's Driskel or anybody playing QB, if you're mobile, that's high stress on the defense. That's never going to change and it's been like that for a long, long time.
With three starting underclassmen across the secondary, Martinez is keeping it simple.
"Inexperience does hurt, but again, you just have to keep on coaching, help them with their eye discipline and execute the defense," Martinez said. "Do your job. That's what we've been saying since we've been here. If you just do your job, I think the outcome will be a lot different. That's what we've been working on all week."
A member of the Georgia coaching staff from 2001-09, Martinez knows how dominant the Florida Gators have been in the SEC East, and insists Coach Jones fully understands the importance of this rivalry.
"I think he knows," said Martinez. "He knew right from the get-go, he knew the importance of the rivalry and the tradition. He knew it."
A VERSATILE FRONT
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling knows what he is doing.
A 37-year coaching veteran, Stripling prepares for everything.
This season, he made sure his defensive linemen were versatile, and with the early season injuries to his players. It was just one of many smart decisions Stripling has made over his career.
With the loss of Trevarris Saulsberry, who injured himself at Oregon, Stripling is looking for a few players to step it up.
"[Jason Carr] and I would throw in Greg Clark," said Stripling. He is another guy that has been taking reps. I think at this point we are talking about developing the D Line, playing a lot of people, and we have been able to do that."
A couple of other veterans could be ready to make the move inside, a move possible because Stripling made sure each and every one of his players knew every position on the line.
"You talk about cross training early," said Stripling. "Marlon [Walls], Corey [Miller], those young men are very comfortable to go inside and play."
Early into fall camp Stripling lost ends Jacques Smith and Corey Vereen to injuries.
Smith returned last week against Oregon, but still has a little bit to go before being his normal, explosive self.
"Rusty," said Stripling. "I know that is a famous word for coaches saying that, but it is just knocking off the rust. That is a great thing. This week he is better. That is the key. We keep bringing him along, as well as everybody else. I know he is excited to be out there. He brings a little juice, a little snap, a little energy so that is good."
Stripling will also likely have Vereen back this week against Florida, the freshman's home state.
"The room is filling back up," said Stripling. I am excited."
On Vol Calls, Jones gave an update of the Vols' injury situation:
· Sophomore wide receiver Pig Howard has practiced and will play.
· Freshman defensive lineman Corey Vereen is expected to make his college debut after being out since early in training camp.
· Sophomore offensive lineman Mack Crowder will be a gametime decision.
· Junior linebacker Curt Maggitt will not play.
· Sophomore defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry will be out 3-6 weeks.
· Junior wide receiver Devrin Young is about three weeks away.
Here are sound bites from Coach Stripling, Coach Jancek, Coach Bajakian and Coach Martinez:
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH STEVE STRIPLING
»(On what was learned from Oregon)
"I think this is our first loss and the message is that it is not okay to lose. Everybody took it very seriously, took it professionally, and my group has been a very mature group and they have handled it the right way. They have been very business-like they have taken constructive criticism, I think they have been self-motivated this week and they are striving to build the culture."
»(On Florida vs. Oregon)
"This is fist-fight football this weekend versus fast-paced football last weekend. It is a change for us. But I think the chaos and all of those things that we practice. There is a different tempo this week, they are huddling, we are going to get a chance to put ourselves in a better position. We are looking forward to it."
»(On this being a physical game for the D-Line)
"This is it. Today was double-team Wednesday. We are going to get it. That was the emphasis for today."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
»(On the competition changing the QB's mentality)
"Business as usual. These guys are professional in their approach to the daily activity that they go through. That hasn't changed."
»(On how the offense can be successful)
"It doesn't change. We have to play the pitch and catch plays. We have to execute the pitch and catch plays. When they are there we have to make sure we execute them. Same old things, we have to create separation and breaking points, we need to vary up our concepts. As much as anything we have to have execution in ball location."
»(On Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane)
"Those guys have done a good job. I have said before they have similar skill sets. They come out and compete. They complement one another very well, they work well together. They are excited to see the other have success, they are always pushing each other. They are always in each other's ear. I am happy with where they are. We just as an offense as a whole it comes down to blocking on the perimeter, blocking by the tight end position, the quarterbacks taking the proper footwork. All 11 hats have to be on the same page in order for us to execute offensively."
»(On the importance of running the ball)
"As a former math teacher I look at stats like that. That is an impressive stat. 22 of the last 23 years, the team that has rushed for more yardage has won the football game. The Tennessee versus Florida game. Stats don't lie, so we have to do a good job running the football."
»(On Florida's defense)
"They are very good. All across the board, from the defensive front all the way back to the secondary. They have at least eight or nine guys that are going to play in the NFL."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
»(On Florida's Trey Burton)
"He's a great athlete. He does a lot of things with the ball in his hand. He has great size -- he's 6-feet-2 inches, 225-pounds, can run well, great hands. They ask him to do a lot of different things. They give him the ball in a variety of ways. We know he's going to be very challenging. We just have to do a good job of tackling because he is a bigger guy and when he's down the field he does a good job of getting his body on you, kind of getting you out of the way and going up for the ball, so we know he's a challenge. We need to know where he is and be aware of him at all times."
»(On the Florida passing game)
"Jeff Driskel does a good job of getting out of the pocket when he has to. He's innovative at the right times, throws the ball really well down the field, so he's a great quarterback."
"With Florida, you'll have time to substitute. With Oregon, we really didn't have time to substitute, but we plan on rolling as many guys in there as you possibly can to keep fresh bodies on the field."
»(On Brian Randolph)
"Brian is playing at a very consistent level - great knowledge of what we're doing. He really sets the demeanor for our back end. I'm pleased with the way he's been playing so far. We just have to keep fine tuning some things, with fundamentals and techniques, so that's really the focus."
»(On Cameron Sutton)
"I'm really proud of Cam. He's just very focused. You can't rattle him. He comes every day with the same level of intensity, same demeanor. He's not an up and down guy--very consistent, so obviously, he's a true freshman. There's a lot, pick on what he needs to work on. It's really everything, but I'm real pleased with him. He just focuses and does everything that we ask him to do."
ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/DBs COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
»(On the mood at practice)
"There's been a sense of urgency and an eagerness to play better. We know that we did not play well - not to take anything away from Oregon - but we know we can play and execute better. That's been the main focus all week."
»(On how he coaches after a loss)
"I don't change the style I coach. We just try to focus on the things that we can correct, what did we do and what could we have done better. You start right there as a coach. How can the guys pick it up a little bit better to improve? That's been the main focus. We know our guys made a ton of mistakes. We're not making any excuses for that. We're just going back to work and going to keep on working on the things that are going to help us be successful and execute on defense."
"It all starts with your eyes. That's the hardest thing about defense. You can't have wandering eyes. You have to put your eyes on your key, do your job and don't try to do someone else's job. That happened also in the last ballgame. It's happened in every ballgame, where a guy is trying to do too much and overcompensate for something. We've been stressing that all week and we'll continue to each and every week."
»(On how preparing for this Florida team is different)
"It's different... They create a lot of formations, different formations and personnel groupings. They stress a defense from the standpoint of leveraging. It all starts with stopping the run and they're very physical. They like to run the football. That's really the main thing they want to do, and they do a great job of play-action with it. It's a different style, a lot more formations than the past, but they still have another great athlete at the quarterback position; someone that can run the football and also throw it. That's very similar to what they had in the past."