Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) Butch Jones put the Vols through their final day of training camp on Monday. Team 118 will take two days off as classes in Knoxville start on Wednesday.
"This is our last practice of training camp," Jones said 18 days after the Vols opened camp on Aug. 1. "We have a team function tonight, and then we will take two days off. We will get ourselves ready to go academically but also to relax ourselves from all of the nagging injuries. We will get our minds right."
Jones says the Vols large group of freshmen in making progress at different rates, which is to be expected.
"Right now with the freshman, some continue to improve and others improve more slowly," said Jones. "Some are ahead of others, but now comes the maturation part. With the student body coming back on campus, players have to start managing their time with class and study table. We need to be a mature football team."
Maturity is a common theme for Jones, entering his second season at the helm of the Volunteers.
"We are still a working progress from the maturity standpoint," he said. "We knew this, and it wasn't any surprise to us. These are 17-year-old's going through their first training camp. It's having that mental toughness to fight through the conditioning and fatigue. We talk about having a relentless approach, but the mental approach is so much more important than the physical approach."
IN AZZANNI WE TRUST
Junior wide receiver Pig Howard isn't the only member of the wide receiver unit who has needed coaching along the way. Following a brief hiatus from the team this spring, Howard came into fall camp with a level head, a drive to be a better leader and a growing appreciation for Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
"Coach Azzanni brings it each and every day," said Howard. "There is no lack in his coaching and he's going to give it to you hard. He's going to be truthful to you and the only thing he wants to do is make you a great player."
Tasked with guiding one of the youngest groups in camp, Coach Azzanni has worked with each player individually while creating a `wide receiver corps' mentality, stressing the importance of working together for the betterment of each other and the team.
"We all care for each other and we just want to get better and push each other," added Howard. "When you push each other, you're making another man better. That's more important. You know, at the end of the day, we're playing to win so there's no selfishness among us."
Howard not only praises Azzanni for his coaching style and helping solidify a key component of the Vols offense, but he also thanks the coach for giving him and receivers the tools to mature, improve and go forward.
"He cares for us all around, truly, and I just think it's his challenge," said Howard. "If you take his coaching, then you'll be able to go to the next level."
Now, with an established starting quarterback in Justin Worleyand fall camp coming to an end, Howard looks forward to building off of Azzanni's principles and leading his receiver unit this season.
"I learned we can only control what we can control and that's running the routes and making plays," said Howard. "In general, we're happy that Worley got the job. He earned it and there hasn't been negative feedback after that so, we're just looking forward to making out and making plays."
OFFENSE CHEMISTRY SPARKS COMMUNICATION
With training camp ending, there has tons of progress across the team from individual success to team chemistry.
To freshman running back Jalen Hurd, the most noticeable growth that he has seen has been with the entire team, especially the offensive unit.
"I really think we've grown most as a team," Hurd said. "Not only me but I think I've grown closer to my teammates, got a better connection with them. I feel the offense is clicking. I think we're communicating a lot better."
With a fast moving offense that prides itself in a speedy tempo, the running back group and offensive line have come together as a unit.
"We have a great chemistry and we pride ourselves on that," Hurd said. "We say to each other every day the linemen are the running backs and the running backs are the linemen because if the linemen are doing stuff wrong then we're doing stuff wrong. If we're doing stuff wrong then the linemen are doing stuff wrong. We're together as a unit on that."
Leading the unit has been Justin Worley and with his leadership alongside the entire group of quarterbacks, communication has steadily improved.
"Justin Worley is an awesome quarterback along with all the other quarterbacks," Hurd said. "Whoever is in the game at the time, we look up to him and we look to that quarterback as the leader of that team at the moment. All of the quarterbacks play a significant role on this team."
TK's THUD FACTOR
Butch Jones often stresses the importance of coaching moments on the field with Volunteer freshmen this fall camp. Among those who stand out, freshman defensive back Todd Kelly Jr. is demonstrating the maturity and physicality that Jones was hoping to see from the Tennessee legacy.
"Part of the maturation process is that the game has been playing fast for a lot of these kids and the ones that are maturing and growing and developing, the game is slowing down," said Jones. "We talk 'see a little, see a lot'--the eye discipline--and Todd Kelly has been a sure tackler. He's played physical."
Despite his youth, Kelly adds that physicality has always been a part of his game. When visiting as a recruit and preparing for his first workouts last year, he already understood that Tennessee would expect him to take his tackling and physical presence on the field to the next level.
"The SEC is the most physical conference in the country so you have to bring it every day," said Kelly. "Practice is like a game. These practices are more intense than my high school games were, so it's just bringing it every day and having a mindset to be physical, play fast and make plays.
"I came as a recruit and got to see the tempo, so I knew what to expect," Kelly added. "But it's a lot different being out there and experiencing it for yourself. Once I got out there, I had to get a feel for it."
While discussing practice etiquette with his team and teaching the difference between a `thud' and `tag off' hit, Jones immediately recalls examples of Kelly's technique. Kelly is a `thud' tackler who hits with power and impact, and Jones is excited to monitor his continued development.
"We've pointed out practicing etiquette, how you thud, how you tag off. We give illustrations of how you thud and it's always TK," said Jones. "Every day is a new learning experience for these kids and unfortunately it's half of our new football team. It's what makes coaching and teaching exciting."
D-LINE PLAYING ON 'SECOND-LEVEL'
Having to replace all four starters from last year's defensive line, this fall camp has been huge for the development of Tennessee's defensive front.
Sophomore defensive lineman Danny O'Brien says the new defensive line has improved tremendously thanks to hard work, both on and off the field.
"We've come a long way, especially even just from last year," he said. "Coach Strip talks about playing `second-level football.' That's when you're really calling out the sets, all that kind of stuff.
"This group has really taken that step, especially practicing on into the film room, just calling out all the different formations and all that. We've been really focused on that as a defensive line."
Senior defensive tackle Jordan Williams also has seen improvement across the board from the defensive line, especially in the middle.
"We've done great," he said of his defensive tackle group. "We've made a lot of strides, and the most important part that we didn't have last camp and last spring, is consistency.
"We would have a good practice, then come back and have bad practice. Have a good practice, then come back and have bad practice. But we've had consistently good practices."
It's that consistent effort, along with increased athleticism among the front five, that Williams believes will create more sacks and big plays this season.
"The defensive line, as a whole, we are definitely a lot more athletic," said Williams. "A lot of movement, a lot of good hand technique, we've definitely improved with that. We're a little bit undersized, but we're moving around a lot. It's good. We're definitely going to be making plays in there."
Here are sound bites from #Team118:
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On the role of the tight ends in the offense)
"We want to be a tight end-oriented offense. It provides flexibility, scheme-wise. You have to be able to run and catch and block and pass protect. There's so much that goes into playing winning football at the tight end football. Now, we have depth and also a little competition, which has been great to see. That competition has elevated the play of individuals at the particular spot."
»(On players staff)
"That is a big part of your football team. You rely on your leaders. We talk about the standards and expectations. There is a difference between, 'do you love the Power T' or 'do you love the power of the T?' There is a standard and expectation that comes with being a member of this football team."
»(On trying athletes at different positions)
"It's an ongoing process, trying to put the players in the best position that they can possibly be in, but also to help the team as well."
FRESHMAN RUNNING BACK JALEN HURD
»(On focusing on the pass protection)
"Pass protection is not only the focus but it's one of the most important things in college football."
»(On getting game ready)
"You have to think about the game every single day. Every single time I wake up I'm thinking about Utah State and thinking about the season. You have to go into that with every practice knowing you're getting one day closer. You have to get your technique right, finish long runs. You got to do the little things."
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER ALTON `PIG' HOWARD
»(On the fan attendance at Saturday's Open Practice)
"No, I wasn't surprised. I knew how this fan base was before I committed to the University of Tennessee and they're loyal. So, I mean, I was looking forward to it. It was a great feeling with the intensity, the fan base, just being with my team. It was one of the best feelings."
»(On practicing and wanting to return kicks)
"Oh, I look forward to returning kicks. That's something I did in high school and you know, not too many people would kick to me in high school. You just have to zone [the distractions] out. Playing in front of 102,455 is going to be an uncontrollable environment so, we try to zone it out and focus on the ball."
»(On helping freshman Josh Malone)
"I helped him each and every day. Regardless, I think that players take more considerations when it's player-to-player rather than a coach going to a person. I see Josh Malone and he will to do it. One thing that I saw after that open practice is, he turned it on. That's something we're going to need from all the young guys, is to come out there and help us execute."
FRESHMAN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JASHON ROBERTSON
»(On offensive line compared to defensive line)
"Offensive line can be pretty tough because it is hard to stop someone from going forward while you're going backwards. I just have to work on some technical things like knee bends, stance and alignments; the technique aspects of it, but it will eventually become more natural to me."
»(On making the switch to offensive line)
"I started out with the defense the first couple of practices. Then Ihad a practice where i went with the offense and the defense. After that, they evaluated the situation, and me and Coach Jones sat down to talk about it. We felt like the best way I could help the team was by playing offensive line, so I made the switch."
JUNIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN KYLER KERBYSON
»(On how he feels at tackle)
" I feel good. I played last year behind Ja'Wuan James, and I played there in high school. I can easily play where ever they need me. I feel comfortable with wherever I am at."
»(On what position he likes more)
"I like guard more just because I have a better body for it. I am more stout than I am long, but either way, I am good with what I am doing."
FRESHMAN DEFENSIVE BACK TODD KELLY JR.
»(On getting help from senior Brian Randolph)
"He's awesome. He was actually my roommate in the hotel for this entire week. Any questions I had, any concerns, he would answer them for me. He's our main safety and our captain in the defensive back room so he made sure to support me. When I mess up, he makes sure to call me out on it so I'm getting things corrected every day."
»(On how his parents helped him prepare for collegiate athletics)
"I take pride in thanking both of my parents for helping me to become the man that I am today. It's staying encouraged and staying focused on taking one day at a time, and not to get so down on myself because I've seen them struggle. They've gone through it and they both had successful careers. I want to do the same."
SOPHOMORE LINEBACKER JALEN REEVES-MAYBIN
»(On getting ready for the season)
"We had a great camp, and today, we started working on a little bit for Utah State. Most of the camp stuff is over, but going into next week, we are going to keep preparing for them. All of our focus is on Utah State now."
»(On being a leader)
"We have a younger group with allof the guys who came in. I have been here for a year, and I am just trying to help them. I went through the same stuff as them last year. I am just trying to help and keep everyone motivated and working."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JORDAN WILLIAMS
»(On his biggest improvement)
"Definitely just my hands. I try to focus on it every day. The most important part, especially when you're undersized inside, is hand placement and getting your hands on that guard. I feel like I've definitely improved on that."
»(On Jashon Robertson)
"He's strong. He started out on D-line, and he's doing a great job at O-line. He came in there and stepped up - I didn't even know he played O-line. But he's been doing great - one of the best ones out there."
SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE LINEMAN DANNY O'BRIEN
»(On Jashon Robertson)
Jashon has literally improved every day. From the first time you hit him and did a pass rush move on him, until now, it's like he's a completely different player. And every day you kind of see little strides in his game and learning to play offensive line and their scheme. He improves every day. He gets harder and harder to get by every day.
»(On leading the freshmen)
"You know, it's actually kind of fun, because I saw myself in those guys the last two years, when that last week of camp, the last probably six or seven practices, you hit a wall. It's to get through it and your play kind of, you see it on film, you're like, `that just doesn't look how I looked at the beginning of camp. But we just try to talk to the guys, me, Jordan, Curt, and Corey Vereen, we all just bring them along."