KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT release) -- Three days into training camp, it is apparent that Butch Jones is challenging the Vols to play at a higher level each day. On Sunday evening, the Volunteers donned the shells for the first time and Jones made sure to push them harder and ask more of them.
"I challenged them today," said Jones, who continues to work through a sore throat from all his coaching during practice. "I challenged our leadership by putting them in stressful situations. For the most part, they responded.
"We continued to progress on Day 3. We maintained our focus and intensity through practice. We took a step in the right direction."
Jones is known for putting his players into individual battles during practice. This is something the Vols are clamoring for just days into practice.
"The guys are coming up to me and asking to be put in one-on-one competitive situations," he said.
NORTH TURNING HEADS
With a new season comes a new tradition and this year, head coach Butch Jones has implemented the black stripe on newcomers' helmets. Freshman wide receiver Marquez North is proving to his coaches and teammates that he wants to earn that traditional orange stripe.
After just three days, North has the sidelines buzzing and his head coach talking.
"In three very short practices, and in a very small time, (Marquez) has proven he is going to be one of our play makers," said Jones. "He is dynamic, he is strong, he is physical, he can run, and we need him offensively. What you see is when your players bring him up, it is a level of respect right now that they have for him. He is extremely intelligent; he knows every single receiver position on the field already. We are very excited about him."
From the opposing side of the ball, North's performance has been noted.
"He's a big receiver with a lot of speed, so I'm pretty impressed with him," senior linebacker Brent Brewer said, "He's doing big things out there."
On the offense, his teammates are gushing after just three days of action.
"Marquez has done really, really well, especially his first," said tight end Alex Ellis. "We watched the one-on-ones with the wide receivers the last two days and he did really well. He kind of stuck out a lot."
With progression such as North and other freshmen have shown, it won't be long before orange is the new black.
THE TWO-DEEP... IS DEEP
There is one thing for certain on the defensive line this season. It is full of seniors.
Six defensive linemen are in their final go around on Rocky Top. And all six of them are listed on the two-deep heading into fall camp.
But every senior knows that their job is not safe.
"We are going to fight for that starting spot," said redshirt senior Marlon Walls. "The depth chart is nothing right now we just have to compete and do what you can to stay here. I have to watch the film because I know I have a great guy behind me in Corey Miller, he is pretty good guy and he is fighting."
The competition doesn't bring animosity to the defensive linemen of Team 117. Thought they are competing every day, they are still a family.
"We work hard each and every single day," said senior Jacques Smith. "It is not a competition, it is a brotherhood. We watch film together, we eat together, at night we are going over plays before we go to bed to make sure that all of us know it. You never know what happens and if one of us goes down, whether it be me, Marlon, Corey, the next guy has to step up. We all want to win, don't we?"
The linemen are raring to go. After taking more of a blocking role last season, the line is ready to get out there and attack. With that they have the scheme they are comfortable with (4-3) and a great leader in Steve Stripling.
"We believe in Coach Strip, his numbers prove themselves," said Walls. "He is allowing us to cut loose a little bit. As long as you are in the right spot he will let it go if that is what you are comfortable doing. We have the right personnel for the 4-3. Guys are a lot more comfortable. And for us it is effort. [Coach Strip] preaches effort. Pushing yourself at the end of the play. 63. Six seconds, three great strains. That is something you can control as a player, what you can do. We are excited."
Coach Stripling wants his players in the backfield attacking the quarterback. And for an edge rusher like Smith, that is music to his ears.
His pinned back ears.
"Being able to pin our ears back and go is something that this defense allows you to do. We lost confidence as a defense, being in the 3-4 on the D-Line. Going back to the 4-3 we knew we were a great defensive line. We know the scheme; we are all great football players. Being able to attack the offense like that in the spring and get at them it boosted our confidence. That is something that we try and get better at each and every day. Those little things boost our confidence going into this season."
"I just have to keep consistent with my play and go out each and every single day and continue to be the leader that I am for this team and give my all as a Vol."