KNOXVILLE - When Derek Dooley was hired as the head coach of the Tennessee football team, he instituted a “Vol For Life” program designed to further UT football’s student-athletes personal growth outside of the game. When junior defensive back Janzen Jackson met with the media following Monday’s practice for the first time since returning to the program in July, the benefits of being a “VFL” were evident.
“It feels great to be back,” Jackson said. “It feels great to be back out here with my teammates, my friends and back playing a sport I love. As you know, I had some personal issues and a lot of family problems. I just want to thank Tennessee for the support. I’m happy to be back out here on the field. That’s where I’m at right now.”
Jackson left the team earlier this year to deal with personal matters, causing him to miss spring practice. The team, however, never left him.
“I hope (the support) made a difference for him,” Dooley said. “I think our whole organization has been good from a support standpoint. I’m not the only one who has supported Janzen. We’ve had guys in the weight room that have done an incredible job being around him a lot. Our coaching staff has done an incredible job. It’s hard for one guy to fix somebody. That’s why we have so many people in our program.
“I tell every recruit this, ‘It’s going to get hard and you’re going to need some support. It gets hard in life. You can’t do it alone and you need people to help bring you through it.’ I like to think that because of the way our organization is structured and the people we have in it, that’s been a real benefit to Janzen.”
Jackson was grateful for the support, which included frequent meetings with Dooley throughout the entire process.
“I think it showed his concern,” Jackson said. “He would do that for anybody on this team. I really appreciate Coach Dooley and the school for supporting me through my troubled times. That meant a lot to me. For all of the coaching changes, for Coach Dooley to stay there and be able to meet with me every week and make sure I’m doing all right, that meant a lot to me.”
While the program has meant a lot to Jackson, the preseason All-SEC selection means a lot to Tennessee’s success. Jackson led the Vols in 2010 with 11 passes defended and 154 interception return yards, while ranking third with 69 tackles. The Lake Charles, La., native owns UT’s highest streak of consecutive starts heading into 2011 with 15.
“He seems, like he said, he’s in a good place right now,” Dooley said. “And I hope he stays in that place because that place is pretty good for Tennessee. Time will tell. Janzen loves playing ball so when he’s back out here on the grass he’s just a different person. He really is. I hope he continues to stay on the path he’s on. If he will, he’s certainly going to benefit and we all will.”
VOLS ADJUST IN MULTIPLE WAYS MONDAY
UT began Monday’s workout at Neyland-Thompson Sports Center with inclement weather holding them indoors. The sun came out less than midway through, allowing the Vols to complete their session at Haslam Field. That wasn’t the only adjustment the Big Orange made.
“This was the first day we got the coaches off the field and we did our move-the-field script,” Dooley said. “It was a noticeable difference. Guys going out there and they have to do it on their own. They have to get the call, break the huddle, adjust and they don’t have coaches screaming at them telling them what to do.
“There were a lot of mistakes. We have a long way to go. The youth really showed up today when you do that. I think it’s important to do that before we scrimmage because they get a feel for what it’s really like.”
The Vols will scrimmage for the first time this fall on Tuesday , which should give the coaching staff a better idea of where they may see their best return on investment.
“It has a big impact in who we start investing our time in personnel-wise and then who we can start shaping the plays around,” Dooley said. “It’s not just one day. It’s a body of work. I’ve said that since I’ve been here, but it does carry a little more weight. We certainly want our guys who have been productive in the past to play well. We need some of these young guys to go out there and say, ‘Hey, coach me up. I’ll be ready for the first game.’ And that’s what we’re hoping.”
COUCH ADJUSTING TO LIFE AT ROCKY TOP
A transfer from Garden City (Kansas) Community College where he posted 45 tackles and three sacks, redshirt sophomore Maurice Couch has gotten a quick indoctrination into life as a defensive lineman in the SEC. At 6-2, 305, he hopes to provide the Vols with a big body that can be a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line.
“It’s been kind of tough, learning different plays, the fast tempo and playing against big guys,” Couch said. “It was really difficult, but I’m learning from some of the other guys like Malik (Jackson) and Marlon (Walls). They keep me motivated and I’m just working to get better every day. (The first few days) were really tough, but that’s what the SEC is all about, hard work.
“(Working at both nose tackle and three-technique) was another adjustment I had to make. I’m used to playing on the outside, so playing on the inside against Zach Fulton, (James) Stone and the other guys is tough, but I’m getting better. I’m blessed and very excited to be here. Here it is every day, all day. Even when you have time off, you need to hit the books and get in there and learn both nose and tackle.
“I’m still getting used to the atmosphere here (in Knoxville). It’s kind of crazy out here and I have bad allergies, but I love it. I love Knoxville and the people here. That was one of the reasons I came here.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On the new field)
“Big progress today with the grass. That was huge. I complained about it for 18 months. It would rain and it would be just like this and we couldn’t practice because the fields were wet. We stepped up big departmentally and put a new field in.”
(On Ben Martin)
“I see a big defensive end that we haven’t had since I’ve been here and that’s going to help us. When those big two-back running teams run power, iso and toss sweep, I think he’s going to give us a good presence out at the end that we haven’t had yet. We’re still babystepping him.”
Junior defensive back Janzen Jackson
(On the secondary)
“I expect a lot of interceptions. I expect us not to get beat as much as we did last year. I demand that out of myself and all the other DBs. That’s how we feel. We feel we are the best unit on the team. Other units might feel they are the best, but we are partial to (the secondary).”
(On playing nickelback)
“I love the nickel position. I love it. I get to blitz. I get to be in the action. I get to cover, I get to blitz and I get to tackle. I like being down at nickel because as my phrase (goes), ‘I can trick it out.’ I am really going to enjoy that this year.”
Sophomore defensive back Izauea Lanier
(On knocking off the rust after not playing last year)
“(The biggest challenge) was trying to get into football shape to make sure I could stay out there as long as I need to. I thought I was a little bit behind when I got here, but it’s starting to fall back to where I need to be. It was a matter of me getting back into condition and making the transition from safety to corner.”
(On transitioning to the corner position)
“Playing safety, I used to be a little higher with my back pedal. Playing corner now, I have to get a little lower and learn how to flip my hips real quick. So far I’m getting into it and everything is starting to fall into place.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Maurice Couch
(On the depth at defensive line)
“We just have a rotation. Nothing is really settled like a depth chart. We are all just working as one unit to get better every day. We’re still going through the whole process of camp. Nothing is really set until camp is over.”
(On D-Line Coach Lance Thompson)
“Coach Thompson and I have a great relationship. He’s like another father figure to me.”
Sophomore defensive back Byron Moore
(On the adjustment from junior college to Tennessee)
“It is a real big difference from junior college. It’s almost like taking a year off once you leave from a D-I program going to a junior college. It’s just getting back into D-I style of play with temp and stuff like that. It’s been fun so far. It was having the right mindset making sure that I was going to stay in shape, practicing my craft and making sure I was ready when I got back to this level.”
(On which position in the secondary he prefers)
“Either one I prefer. I always make sure I can play both to be versatile for situations like this, being able to play corner and safety. Whichever one I get on the field the fastest is the one I prefer.”