Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
"Good afternoon. It's good to see everyone back in the game week. I thought we had a productive bye week - so many things we needed to get accomplished from continuing to develop this football program and our mentality, our style of play, our toughness, overall execution, our fundamentals, our fine attention to details but also getting our health back. When you've been through a grind like we've been through, there's only so much you can do to get your health back. Also, I thought our players needed a little break as well, mentally, to be able to get away for a little bit.
"They came back yesterday and we had a short, brief practice and I liked what I saw. I thought we accomplished some things. I thought we continued to grow and elevate our football with the bye week and I'm looking forward to getting back in the competition, playing another very talented football team that's coming in here with a tremendous amount of confidence, and very rightfully so - very, very good football team.
"When I watch them defensively, the first thing that comes to mind is their effort, overall strain, and their physicality. They're very talented in the back end of their defense. We played against a number of these individuals a couple years ago in the Liberty bowl. Very good secondary, very impressed, very well coached. Offensively, they do some things schematically that challenge you. They challenge your eye discipline with the wildcat sets. Jerron Seymour is playing at a very high level. I have a ton of respect for the Seymours. I coached his brother at Central Michigan. He probably goes in the top 3 or 4 best players I've ever had the privilege of coaching. I know a lot about him and his makeup, his family background.
"What can I say, Jordan Matthews is as good as any receiver in the country. They do a tremendous job of finding ways and creative ways to get him his catches and get him the football. They are very well coached and they believe in their system and they play exceptionally hard. I think one of the things that really stands out when you watch them play on defense is that they don't have missed tackles. I think it's a by-product of running to the football, the effort, but their back end is very talented. They don't give up big plays, they don't hurt themselves. Same thing offensively - they take care of the football and they've done a great job on special teams.
"It should be a great opportunity for our seniors on senior night in Neyland. This is a game you always remember - your last game at home. You always guard against the emotional factor as a coach. We don't want an emotional football team, we want a passionate, energetic football team. I think sometimes seniors plan their last home game forgetting the task at hand. They'll be able to reflect back when it comes February. So right now, we have a great challenge ahead of us."
(On developing a relationship with James Franklin at the Liberty Bowl)
"We did. Anytime you go to a bowl game you get a chance to spend some time with the other team's staff and I have known Coach Franklin for a while. That was a time when we spent a lot of time together. There is one particular individual on their staff, Herb Hand, that we coached together at West Virginia and I consider him a very good friend. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Franklin and what he has done at Vanderbilt."
(On Vanderbilt's ability to create turnovers)
"They have been very opportunistic. Kentucky goes down and scores, they create an opportunity for themselves and boom they block an extra point and it's two points going the other way. Generating turnovers, especially in terms of fumbles, usually is created by physicality. The overall physicality of your style of play. They give great effort. Their secondary are sure tacklers, they are physical, they are aggressive. I think you see that. They have done a great job down the stretch of really turning those turnovers into points and scoring touchdowns."
(On quarterback depth)
"As of right now and where we are at, obviously you always take into consideration the circumstances by which they occur, but if it was a couple plays, or the question that you guys ask me every week, if Josh Dobbs' helmet comes off, who is the quarterback, it would be Nate Peterman. Nate continues to progress, I would say he is probably 98 percent back to full strength, so he would be the quarterback."
(On the ability of Joshua Dobbs to run the football)
"You saw a little bit more of some called run plays for him a couple weeks ago. As he continues to progress mentally and physically we would like to involve him more in the quarterback run game."
(On Ja'Wuan James about to tie the school record for amount of games started)
"I think it speaks volumes about him, his competitive character, his overall character. He has been a tremendous resource. Ja'Wuan is one of those individuals I gravitate towards. Every opportunity I get, every minute I get, we probably text every night. He has, at times, given me the pulse of the football team. When I go to training table I kind of gravitate towards his table. We have really developed a very strong bond. He has a great future ahead of him. We really challenged him this year to really improve in some areas, some deficiencies and he has done a great job. We talk about consistency in performance and I think that is defined in Ja'Wuan James."
(On generating more explosive plays)
"Explosive plays are critical to winning. You look at when we have had success moving the football, when we have been effective offensively, usually there is a byproduct of explosive plays and when we have struggled we haven't had the explosive or what I call the big splash plays. That is the strength of Vanderbilt's defense, they don't allow you to have big splash plays. They haven't given up big plays. They are skill in the backend. They are a senior dominated backend, they have played a lot of football, they have seen everything, they have played the best of the best. They play with great technique and they tackle. They have played a lot of football and they have a lot of experience and a lot of confidence. Again, we have to do a great job offensively, when we get one-on-one matchups we have to try and make them miss in space. We are going to have to complete some deep passes. We are going to have to have the ability to make the defender miss at the second level. Against them it is a great challenge."
(On the offense being patient)
"You have to be efficient but it is extremely difficult in today's world of football to play perfect. It is extremely difficult to methodically move the ball down the field four yards, five yards, at some point in time you need a big chunk play. You need a 20-yard gain, you need a 30-yard gain, you need a 15-yard game. Effective offenses usually 65 to 75 percent of their first downs are generated on first and second down, those are byproducts of staying on schedule, getting four yards at a time but also explosive plays as well."
(On the importance of this game)
"It is a big game, it is a critical game because it is the next game on our schedule. We are working to get to win number five. That is the way we approach it. It is big because it is the next game. Obviously there are some other factors that go involved with that, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what they have been able to accomplish and Coach Franklin. Like I have said, I have been able to watch it from a far, I have been able to compete against them and some friends on that staff. For us, it is just another opportunity to compete and go out there and work to play our best football game, which we have yet to play to date. They are a good football team."
(On the emotion of senior day)
"I do. That is part of your job as a football coach to make sure your team is mentally and physically prepared. We talked about the mental conditioning of it. You are dealing with human emotions. These seniors have been through a lot, I talk to them all the time about their experiences here, some good, some bad, some indifferent. It has been a resilient group of young mean. They have been through a lot. But like I have told them they are laying the foundation for the future successes of Tennessee Football. We will talk about it, just focus on the task at hand. We talked about playing meaningful games in November and we are still playing meaningful games in November. We need them to play their best football and not get caught up in the clutter and the external factors and all that that go into making up that emotional state of mind."
(On Pig Howard’s and Marquez North's improvement)
"You start off with Alton Howard, he is not even the same type of player. He still has a long way to go in terms of the day-to-day intensity that is takes, the mental intensity that it takes from a preparation standpoint. Even the intensity that it takes to take care of your body on a day-to-day basis, the eight hours of sleep, the drinking of water, getting the fluids into your system, getting the extra treatments. Not just showing up to the training room when you are injured. We talk about preventative medicine. That is maturation. That is what we demand, that is what we expect in our football program. Just the little nuances, the small details, the technical details of playing winning football at the receiver position. I think Alton continues to get better and better.
"Marquez North, again same thing, he was basically a high school running back coming in here. So much of being a great player regardless of the position is playing with great instincts. We have really had to work on that. The games we have won, both individuals, especially Marquez, have really stepped up and made some big plays for us. I have been really encouraged about both of their development. The thing about Marquez is, we talk about that competitive drive to be the best at everything that you do and he holds on to every word that the coaches say to him. He wants to be the very best at everything that he does. He takes the hard critiques, he just wants to know. He probably puts more stress and pressure on himself than anyone to do well. When you have an individual like that, that wants to be great, he can do anything he puts his mind to. I have been very encouraged by both individuals."
(On what going to a bowl game would mean to him in his first year)
"I have really stepped back and had a time to really evaluate everything in our football program in this last week, there are no off days, not on a bye week, that is a work week. It is a time now to dig in and really self-evaluate, self-evaluate the program, everything that is going on. Are we a better football program right now than we were December 7, August 1, and kind of really go into that. The big thing, you may not want to say it, I am going back to what we originally talked about, focus on the process. We have taken monumental strides of where we are at right now than when we walked in here on December 7. Sometimes the progress isn't measured in wins but I see the small victories each and every day.
"As the leader, sometimes you have to step back, we are all emotional, we get emotional after wins, we get emotional after losses. I have tried to step back and take all the emotion out of it. I am as hard on myself as anyone, no one can be harder on myself and where we are at with getting this program back to where it belongs. It is going to take hard work, it doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't change like that. I see the strides and I am as encouraged and optimistic as I have ever been. We have talked about Alton Howard. We have played 25 freshmen this year, the development that they have made. Now the challenge for them moving forward is are they better next year or are they just one year older. That is the accountability that we take about constant and never ending improvement.
"I have to step back and take all the emotion out of it and we are getting better each and every day. We are getting better in our mindset, our culture. So in success, yes, we need to get back to a bowl game. But I said the number one goal in moving forward is our culture, our standard of excellence had to be in place after year one. Our players understanding, team meetings - they start 15 to 20 minutes early, where we sit in class, our style of play, the effort, the energy, the mental effort that it takes to prepare, the toughness, the grind that it takes, not just showing up on game day and the Vol Walk and just playing the game. You win the game through your effort, your energy, your focus, your small details, your detailed excellence throughout the course of the week. And toughness. Those are all things that develop. We aren't dealing with robots, we are dealing with 17 to 22 year old individuals.
"I talked about it, sometimes you become institutionalized. I talked about it a couple weeks ago. There are reference points, some of them, they are all negative. You have to work to change that, you have to build confidence, you have to build belief, you have to build trust. I know that is a long winded answer to your question but I am as excited and optimistic as I have ever been."
(On going to a bowl game a gauge on success)
"I think it is superficial, it is where we are at. Our first year at Cincinnati we finished 4 and 8. It was the most miserable year I have ever had. Looking back on that journey to get that program back, to get that program to where it is right now, that needed to happen. That was the foundation, that was what led us to that standard of excellence. I think right now they are 8 and 2. You look at after that, we had double digit victories in both seasons and two championships and two bowl victories. I think that all of that, that was painful, but looking back on it, that was probably the best year we had in coaching in terms of learning about our program, where we need to go.
"Also a lot about us as coaches, we found out about our resiliency, we found our who was really in with us and who wasn't. We talk about love being conditional, I like unconditional love. So all of that goes hand and hand. Yeah a bowl game is one of our big goals but we can't get to six until you get to five. We are playing a very talented and a hungry football team that obviously wants to come in here and win the football game."
"Well, we have a lot of momentum and recruiting is going exceptionally well right now. I think people can see, again it gets back to the small wins sometimes they don't show up on game day, but I think people see the culture that's in place now, standard of excellence but also the people. Also, what this place will be in the near future and what it has been. So, I think the big thing is obviously, any coaching staff will tell you this, is maintaining but also building upon that recruiting class as well."
(On tight end production this season)
"Well, I think we've been set back a little bit just because of depth and injuries at that position. The tight-end, we've always wanted to have that be a weapon in our offense and I like to play with a tight-end. Again, our last year at Cincinnati we had Travis Kelce, who I believe was a third round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs and he was dynamic. More so than that, his toughness, he brought a-whole-nother level of toughness to our football team there. So, he was more involved in the run game. Prior to that, we were more receiver oriented. So, I think it's more playing to the strengths of your football team. Right now we don't have a lot of depth at that position, but we're trying to create depth through the recruiting process at that spot."
(On Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews)
"He's explosive and he can do it all. He can play in the slot, he can play outside the numbers, he can adjust to the ball in the air, and he's a playmaker. All you have to do is get the ball anywhere around him and he's going to make a play for them. He has great confidence. I think they feed off of him. Like I said, we experienced him early in the Liberty Bowl a couple years ago. He gained our attention immediately."
(On if they will prepare for both Vanderbilt quarterbacks)
"We prepare for him (Carta-Samuels). We'll prepare for both quarterbacks, but he was their starter until he had an injury and he played the full game. We fully anticipate him being their starting quarterback, but we will be prepared for both quarterbacks."
(On if he remains in touch with players/coaches at Cincinnati)
"Well, it's difficult because we're kind of going through the grind of the season. So, the contact is minimal. I've been so focused on Tennessee that I, shoot I don't even have time, probably shouldn't tell you this, to even return my mother's phone calls sometimes, so let alone them. You build relationships and we're in a relationship business. There's a lot of support personnel and people there that you forge relationships and mutual respect that will call me and leave me a message or text message or I'll get messages periodically. Like I said, all my effort and focus has been on Tennessee and trying to make this the best football program and best football team that we can possibly be at this stage of the game."
(On how to get more defensive line production)
"I think just explosiveness of coming off the football, playing technique, using our hands more, and the effort and strain. We've really been set back, in terms of our overall rotation and our depth at the position. So, now we have individuals playing more snaps, more repetitions than they have in the past. We talk about owning your conditioning. I just think the overall relentlessness, the mindset, the swarming to the football. Most sacks occur on second and third efforts. I think just going back to the fine details, holding your point. There's a number of times we've put stress on our entire defense because we've been a gap short because our three technique doesn't hold his gap or doesn't strain to get off a block. So, just the overall effort and intensity that we talk about each and every day in our program.
(On Riyahd Jones and Malik Foreman's development)
"Pretty much the same. The individual that continues to grow and get better and better is Cameron Sutton. For a true freshman, and obviously he's going to be challenged again Saturday with another great challenge and another great wide receiver, but just his overall maturity, his overall confidence has really been great to see. Really excited for what he brings to the back end of our defense."
(On why he is successful after open weeks)
"I think, just been fortunate. To me, no two bye weeks are ever the same. I think for me personally, I always step back and say, `Okay, what does this particular team need?' Our bye week at Cincinnati, or our bye week earlier in the year, may have been different than this bye week just based on what this football team needs. It's a chance to go back and redefine the small details, hold everyone accountable. It's a balancing act of where you're at in your football program, how much hitting you do, how much practice time, how much film study, how much lifting, getting bigger and stronger. I just think it's been trying to really look at what that particular team needs at that particular moment in time."
(On giving Antonio Richardson the days off last week)
"Yes, Tiny's played a ton of football for us. He practiced every rep yesterday and he'll be in there all this week. The grind, we played such a grueling schedule. The level of competition, it takes its toll on you mentally and physically. So, to be able to go back and get the extra treatments, get your extra time in the weight room, get your body back, get your mind back I thought was big not only for Tiny, but our entire football team."
(On if Marlon Walls will play against Vanderbilt)
"Yeah we fully anticipate him, he was out with injury last week, in the previous game, but again you talk about your depth. There's three defensive tackles that our football team has been down with Trevarris Saulsberry, Mo Couch, and then Marlon Walls we move him from d-tackle to defensive end. So, you take three individuals that were sharing reps and you take them out of your front, there's a lot of teams, which we're one of them, that have a hard time recovering from that."
(On what part of the team benefitted the most from the bye week)
"I think everyone. Again, just the fine details, the details of what it takes to play winning football. Our special teams, we spoke about that. That's unacceptable here at Tennessee. So, maybe getting some different individuals involved on special teams. Getting A.J. Johnson some reps on special teams, getting Sapp a little more repetitions on special teams, but then it becomes a balancing act of their number of repetitions defensively as well."
"I think it was needed by everyone. Just to go back and work on the small details at your position. We always talk about power the position and what are you bring to the table? So, I think going back and trying to develop those fundamentals and it's hard to do. Everyone thinks a bye week is a long period of time, but it's really not. You're only gaining two or three extra practices. It's a balancing act of trying to get everything combined in those short of days."
(On if he is looking at shaking up the special teams units)
"Well, it's a combination of both. The thing you don't want to do is have individuals that have taken those repetitions and trained for those positions all year long and you panic and you make wholesale changes, and now you go out there and they haven't been through the nuances of playing that position and live game speed repetitions. So, it's a balancing act. On the flip side of it, you're always trying to find the best eleven to put on the field. It's an eleven man mission. So, you're trying to find the best eleven to put on the football field that execute that assignment. It's been a balancing act."
(On if he is going to add more defensive starters to special teams)
"We do, but it also becomes a cumulative effect of snaps. It's where we're at in the program. I've said it; I'm not going to hide it. We have zero depth and A.J. Johnson is playing too much. Dontavis Sapp is playing too much but that's where we're at. How do you correct it? You recruit, that's bottom line. So, we're going to try to get and extract every ounce of value in every individual in our football program. That's why we have some individuals that are taking reps on special teams and they may only get four to seven reps a game or eight or nine. Those have got to be the best reps that they have. That's part of that IRU. That indisputable role understanding, do your job, own your technique. We're giving you a role to help this football team win, now go do it. Build your football identity."
"Up until the Auburn game, we've been pretty good on special teams. I think it was a combination, like I told you, two or three players getting outside their lanes, not winning their one-on-one matchups, and with a team speed like Auburn, we saw it this past Saturday, they'll expose you. Again, a lot of those individuals have played winning football for us on special teams, there were just breakdowns that occurred in the same game and it's unfortunate because those are catastrophic to winning football games. A mistake on special teams can be catastrophic."
(On the importance of this year's seniors)
"Well, they mean everything and we always talk about in our football program and here at Tennessee, it's very special to be a senior. You only get the opportunity one time in your life to be a senior. So, they've been a great reference, like I said, to me. They've done anything and everything that we've asked of them, and they've been through a lot: good, bad, and indifferent. They've experienced a lot in their careers. I meet with them on a regular basis and there has not been one individual who's been resistant. They've been locked in and they want to do well. That's the thing. Now, it's being able, how do we handle adversity? What type of resiliency do we have? They have been extremely resilient, but these last two games, there's going to be adversity."
"The hour glass has turned over for a lot of these individuals. They will never play the game of football game again. This is what I told them, `Football is unlike any other sport in the world because when you're done playing basketball, you can still go play basketball in the pickup leagues. You can still go play basketball with your sons. When you're done playing golf, or tennis, or even baseball, you can always go play those games. When you're done playing football, you're done playing football. You'll never usually put the cleats on and the helmet on. Maybe for a welcome back game or an alumni game, but usually you're done. It's over with for you. So, you only have so many snaps left in you and you need to take advantage of those snaps and you need to enjoy your time because it is the hour glass turned over.'"
SENIOR KICKER/PUNTER MICHAEL PALARDY
(On the emotions of Senior Night)
"I'm not really looking at it as my last home game. I'll worry about that after the season and worry about those emotions and feelings. Right now we're trying to get win No. 5, and we're just focused on beating Vandy and preparing for them this week. We know we've got a nice test ahead of us, but right now we're focusing on preparing for them and going out on Saturday and getting win No. 5."
(On the loss to Vanderbilt last year)
"I think they just outplayed us. I think that was kind of evident. We don't look at this game and compare it to last year's game because it's different teams, different seasons. We know Vandy is a very good team. They've had some success with wins this year. We're just trying to make sure we play our best game. We haven't played our best game yet this year, so we're hoping to get win #5 and play our best game against them."
(On a change in the rivalry with Vanderbilt)
"Well, I mean, playing in the SEC, every SEC team is your rival. Every game is a rivalry game, no matter who you're playing, no matter where you're playing or what time of the year you're playing. We've just got to take it one game at a time. The biggest thing is not worrying about past years or what people have said, the results that have come in past years like I said. We've just got to take this game as the only game and get win #5."
(On having his most consistent year)
"I feel a lot more confidence in myself. The coaches have built a lot more confidence in me, and it kind of shows. It shows in practice, putting me in situations where I'm under pressure to kind of simulate those game time plays where I have to perform to my capabilities. That's kind of been the biggest thing for me, just going out there and being as consistent as possible, and just making sure that I make plays whether it's punting, changing field position, pinning them deep, or putting points up on the board in field goals."
(On handling all kicking duties)
"It's kind of unconventional. Going into spring, that was my goal to be the starter at all three and to be as competitive as possible because there were guys behind me, younger than me, whatever the situation may be that wanted to come in and take my spot. I had to do my best to make sure that I didn't allow that, whatever I had to do to make sure that didn't happen. I just wanted to go out and perform the best way that I could ever since Coach Jones got here in the spring, and it kind of worked out for the best."
(On bowl game being the focus of the program)
"We know that one of our program goals is to make it to a bowl game and win a bowl game. That's ultimately what every team in college football wants is to make it to a bowl game and win a bowl game. We can't get to a bowl game if we don't win game No. 5, and that's kind of the biggest focus right now is taking it one game. We obviously have an ultimate goal and we want to reach that goal, but there's different steps you have to take to get there.
"That's kind of the biggest thing that we're focusing on. Coach Jones always says, "You can't get to six if you don't get to five first," so that's kind of been the biggest thing. Like I said, ultimately yes, we have that goal of going to a bowl game, but we have to make sure that we play our best football for the next two games."
(On his thoughts after the Vandy game last year)
"To be honest with you, I don't remember much. I try not to remember it. It was kind of a disappointing season on all accounts. For me personally, I just wanted to make sure that something like that never happened ever again. On national television getting beat like that, it's something that you don't want to happen. I just remember being upset, but at the same time telling myself to do everything I possibly can to make sure something like that ever happened again."
(On coaching rumors being a distraction during last season loss)
"No, not at all. For me personally, I don't know about other guys on the team but I can speak for myself when I say that there was no distraction. We just had to go out and play the way we knew we had to, but we didn't come out successful."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JAMES STONE
(On playing his final home game Saturday)
"I have tried to not think about it. I am trying to approach this like I have approached every other game. I can think about it after the game, but right now, I am focusing on being prepared for the football game."
(On senior night being a distraction)
"It can be when you are off campus, but once you get into the complex, you see everyone else focused on the game. This makes it easier for me to get focused when I am around the team. I am trying to speed as much of my time in the complex and school to keep myself busy and be ready to go."
(On viewing Vanderbilt as a different team now)
"I feel like they have a great program right now. They play hard. They play for each other. They have obtained a lot of respect for that."
(On accepting that the senior class was a rebuilding class)
"It is not as tough as it seems because when you see someone leading you like Coach Jones, you see what he is trying to institute into a program that you love. You take pride in that, and you take pride in trying to build what he is trying to build. It is something special."
(On cadence issues since Joshua Dobbs has taken over)
"It has just been a guy not hearing or something like that. We have been working and trying to eliminate those issues."
(On pre-snap issues being a problem now)
"It is something that you just have to eliminate. We have been doing extra stuff after practice with Dobbs to work on timing and making sure everything is happening at the same time. We have to make sure that it doesn't happen again in a game."
(On how offensive line has done this year)
"I feel like guys have been hungry. Everyone has been trying to work and improve as the year has gone on. We have been trying to address our inefficiencies as we move forward."
(On importance of eliminating pre-snap penalties)
"It is extremely important because we are supposed to be a discipline football team. Pre-snap errors do nothing but kill drives and kill series. They keep us from putting points on the board, and they keep us from winning."
(On the difficulty of starting nearly every game since freshman year)
"You get banged up along the way, but you get a lot of experience and a better appreciation of the game and the work you put in. As you get older, you start to realize the importance of recovery and keeping your body in shape at an early age. After a while, you learn to go to the training room after getting tired."
(On this game being more significant because he's from Nashville)
"It probably will after the game, but right now, I am trying to approach this as I normally would every game. The whole team is taking this very serious because of the rivalry that it is. We are not trying to let any emotion affect the impact of this game. We are focused on doing our jobs to execute."
(On three offensive linemen being from Nashville)
"We have talked about this game, but we are just focused on this game because it is the next game up. We have to win in order to get this team to a bowl game."
(On importance of getting to a bowl game)
"It is extremely important to go to a bowl game. It is important for Coach Jones, the team, and the senior class. We need to do anything that we can to make a bowl game."
(On the Vanderbilt game last year)
"It was bad, and I just tried to erase that. It was a letdown and a disappointment."
(On comparing off weeks)
"I think we had a good off week. I feel like guys are really focused when coming in for the practices. I feel good about the off week."
(On what a player needs to see from a coach during off weeks)
"We look for him to stay on us and keep us focused on things we need to improve on. He lets guys know what they need to improve. He gives you encouragement when you are doing good."