KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- With the depth chart laid out on Monday, the Volunteer football team went to work with one mission: beat Austin Peay.
It's the first game preparation week in Knoxville for head coach Butch Jones who described it as the "next step" in getting the Vols ready for success on Saturday.
"You know I think the next phase in the evolution of this football team is now this football team is learning how to prepare for game week and really learning how to invest in victory," said Jones. "The intensity, the effort that it takes and really you know Saturday night we put our resume on film and what type of players are we going to be."
Jones mentioned that he felt the team slowed during practice and that the game won't slow down on Saturday and has been stressing the importance of leadership to his older group of players.
"We have a veteran group you know a little bit in term of offensive line wise but we're relying on a lot of freshmen and the leaders that we do have, they have to be powerful leaders," said Jones. "They have to step up and they have to own their football team."
As the Vols look forward to Austin Peay, they see a similar situation to the one they're in. A new coach, a new staff, and a new mentality make Saturday that much more intriguing.
But in Jones' mind, Saturday is all about the players. It's the coaches chance to sit back and hopefully reap what they've sown.
"I'll know a little bit more about where this football team is Saturday night after the game," said Jones. "I'm still learning them as we go. We haven't had very many opportunities. In terms of game situations to really know, to see how our freshmen are going to react so you know so you try to put them in game like positions but you never really know until the pressure situations and you're playing for real which we're going to find out in a hurry."
SECOND NATURE FOR THE SECONDARY
Throughout camp questions were raised regarding the Vols' secondary. And with five underclassmen, including three starters, listed on the two-deep for this Saturday's season opener against Austin Peay, you can't blame the skeptics.
However, despite having just one upperclassmen in the starting secondary - junior corner Justin Coleman - the Vols actually return 31 combined starts between Coleman, redshirt sophomore Brian Randolph and sophomore LaDarrell McNeil.
Given the depth situation in the secondary, all three have been forced into the leadership role.
"I feel like I have to help these guys prepare themselves, and kind of take a leading role to prepare the freshmen to play," said Coleman.
"I've mentioned everything I've been through. Corners get beat. I've told them that it's going to happen, and what's expected of the defensive backs. The mistakes I've made, I tell them not to make, or show them how not to make the same mistakes."
McNeil, the Vols' starting free safety, believes the work this group has put in off the field will pay off on Saturday.
"We are young, but we are in the playbooks and we are in the coaches' offices every day," McNeil said. "We are trying to get prepared for Saturday and I think we will be."
Back on the gridiron, the trio believes the new defensive system made it much easier to prepare and build confidence, especially among young guys like freshmen Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman.
"The scheme is simpler; we are playing fast," said McNeil. "You can tell it out on the field while we're playing. Our chemistry is better in the secondary and in the defense. I feel like we are playing very fast."
Randolph echoed the sentiments of his fellow safety.
"I think we are going to be sound on defense," Randolph said. "We aren't going to blow any coverages. You will just see us flying to the ball and giving it a lot of effort. Everybody we play against, we just want to get 11 heads to the ball and make sure nothing breaks out of there. It's all about the effort."
Coleman elaborated on his leadership role this season, explaining his first experience of playing in front of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium to the newcomers.
"I remember running out through the T, playing that first down and thinking in my head don't mess up and to make a big play," said Coleman. It was amazing... I've never played in an atmosphere like that. I'm experienced now. It's a big deal and something I look forward to.
"They should be prepared. They seem confident every time they come up to me. They say they're ready to play in Neyland Stadium. They've been preparing for this for a long time so they should be ready."
IT'S GAME WEEK
Saturday marks the first game of the Butch Jones era. And Team 117 is ready.
Toe meets leather at 6 p.m. as Tennessee takes on Austin Peay with their fast and furious pace.
The Governors come into the meeting with a 2-9 2012 record and a new head coach.
But the Vols know not to take them lightly.
"My father always told me that the most dangerous people in the world are the ones who do not care and don't have anything to lose," said senior running back Rajion Neal. "They are going to lay it on the line. Honestly if they come in here and lose by less than six then they have won. At the end of day we have to stay humble with our technique, mentally locked in and do what we are supposed to do."
Tennessee has been practicing with a fast and furious pace thanks to their new head coach Butch Jones.
And they are ready.
"We had a great practice today," said junior linebacker A.J. Johnson. "Everybody did their responsibility. We're just ready to come out for another practice and sharpen everything up and get out there and play."
The Vols have been looking for some trickery from Austin Peay this Saturday.
"I expect to see a lot of trick plays and going for it all with some deep shots thrown," said defensive back Brian Randolph. "They told us to act like we are going through a jungle. We have to be very caution. We don't know what they are going to throw at us because they have a new offensive coordinator. We just expect a lot of deep shots and trickery."
The film has been watched. The scout teams are ready. The practices have begun. And there are just three days left until game day.
"Game week's a game week," said Johnson. "We're preparing just like we did last year. We're preparing each week, preparing for the team, watching a lot of film, going over the plays, we've got our scouts--they're doing a good job. We're just preparing like a regular game week."
"It feels real good. It's football time, so we're all excited," continued Johnson. "Everybody's been waiting. I know the fans have been waiting. We're ready to play. We're ready to get out there Saturday."
PETERMAN CONTINUES WITH STARTER'S APPROACH
Even though Nathan Peterman is being listed as the second-string quarterback heading into the 2013 season, he has his mind right. He will continue to prepare for every game with the starter's mentality.
"I feel like I've reacted as best I could, said Peterman. "(I'm) really just try to give my best, approach every day like I am the starter, and that's what you got to do, and just trying to do that and be consistent."
His coach agrees.
"It was business as usual with Nate Peterman, said Butch Jones. "He is mentally tough, has the desire, the work ethic. He's very consistent."
Peterman knows he will continue to give maximum effort and has continued to arrive bright and early for practice showing his drive and passion for the game.
"I know I'm going to give my best regardless," said the redshirt freshman. "Whatever the coaches see, whenever their decision is, is not up to me, but I'm going to give my best and go out there and perform like I am the starter every day."
Coach Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian were up front and honest with Peterman when telling him of their decision to start Justin Worley.
"They were really positive," Peterman said. "I only know about me, but (Jones) came in, sat me down and told me the reasons, and just you know. Frankly, told me to keep working, and you never know what can happen, and it was a positive conversation. So, I'm happy with it and I'm going to keep working every day."
Peterman was upset about not being named the starter, but continues to strive for playing time and holding himself to high standard.
"It was definitely a disappointment," he said. "There was high expectations. I have high expectations for myself, and still a dream of mine and goal of mine. I feel a reachable goal. So, there's definitely disappointment, but at the same time I couldn't stay down too long, and I had to get up and get ready for the next day of practice."
On possibly playing vs. Austin Peay, Peterman is hopeful of making his college debut and has an open mind.
"You know, I don't know (if I will play), he said. "It's all up to the coaches. You know, we'll see how the game goes. These things are never, I guess, set in stone of how it's going to go. So, football is a crazy game. You never know how it's going to go, and I'm going to be ready regardless."
A DIFFERENT PRACTICE ENVIRONMENT
Though Coach Jones has placed more of an emphasis on special teams, there are still periods where they specialists are inside the practice facility working on their techniques.
Today however, and on other days throughout camp, the specialists have taken their snaps in a more unique location.
"I just got back from kicking in the stadium," said Michael Palardy. "We have been doing that all throughout camp. It has helped tremendously. It isn't something we have done much in years past."
"The specialist went over and kicked in the stadium because that is where we are going to spend most of our time kicking," continued Palardy. "We are just trying to get acclimated to the surroundings."
Jones prepares his athletes in every way possible and for the kickers, it's about reps, no matter where they are taking them.
"I talk about having efficient reps and not having a lot of reps," said Palardy. "I think I have had a lot of efficient reps. Coach Jones knows that when you are going all three you have to tone it down a little bit. When you go out and you kick or punt you have to make sure those reps count."
With the help of Neyland Stadium and his head coach, Palardy has taken some reps with a game day mentality.
"I think just putting yourself mentally in that game day situation," said Palardy. "Coach Jones loves doing game length field goals in practice. Even though you don't have the fans or the stadium at the end of day it is the same kick."
"Mentally you have to tell yourself what to expect in the game," continued Palardy. "You have to expect crowd noises and distractions. Coach Jones loves tapping you and saying your name trying to get you to focus or unfocus at the task at hand."
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