KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Head coach Butch Jones and his staff are ready to kick off spring football practice on Saturday.
Butch Jones addressed the media Friday from Neyland Stadium and announced several position changes on the roster. Jones complete transcripts are included.
"I think I speak for everyone at Tennessee - we're looking forward to our first practice tomorrow. To kind of push the rewind button a little bit, we just concluded our winter off-season strength and conditioning program. I thought we took great strides, but we still have a long way to go in terms of getting our strength levels to where they need to be and our endurance to where we can play to the tempo for the style of football that we want to play. Our kids have done a great job. Dave Lawson, Mike Szerszen, Brandon Myles and our entire strength staff did an excellent job preparing our players. That's the big thing - that they've now handed them over to us. We've had limited, brief interactions with our players, but every opportunity that we've had from a compliance standpoint to work with them with our football team, we have. I think the big question is, 'what do you want to accomplish in spring football?' There's a number of areas that we want to accomplish and I think the big thing is developing our overall standard of play. You can't take anything for granted. Like today, we just walked around the practice field and so when our players hit the ground running tomorrow, they know where we're at for the individual periods, transitions, the standards and expectations in which we're going to develop this football team. That all begins on the practice field. I think the mental and physical preparation that it takes to prepare yourself for 15 practices is going to be critical. Pride in our performance, standard in our performance - we're looking for individuals who consistently perform at a championship level and I think that's a big word: "consistency," in everything we do. From the way we meet, to the way we lift, the way we practice, in the way we play the game. I think a team-togetherness, team-building, team chemistry is all relative to winning. It's the coach that uses this that makes it. It's going to be the team that buys into this, the team that believes in themselves. We talk about that it's better to be a player-coached team than a coach-coached team in terms of team togetherness. We're developing that brotherhood, that family each and every day. It's our overall identity, our style in which we're going to play. We've graduated a lot of production on the offensive side of the ball. Who's going to be our playmakers? Again, you can never take anything for granted; it's a style of play. It's the way in which we're going to play. And then you get into your schemes. Before we throw a lot at them, we're going to teach them how to practice, we're going to teach them how they want to play and then the schemes will come. I believe in execution; it doesn't matter that anyone in their offense has covered two meters, four meters, one meters, every defense has great schemes and special teams has schemes, but do your players execute, do they know it, what do they own? By the end of practice 15, I want to know what we own in all three phases; in the development and the mental toughness that it takes to play football and the style that we're going to play here at Tennessee."
(On quarterback competition)
"Not just the quarterback position, but in every position, it will be a grade every day - a plus or minus. Everyone will be charted and everything will be detail-oriented. I know I talked about it before, but it's all about consistency. Your performance every day, especially in the quarterback position. The individual who manages the football the best and makes the least amount of mistakes, but really, it's the individual that gives us the best opportunity to win come Saturdays will be our starting quarterback."
(On position changes in the roster)
"Devrin Young, who was a running back in the past will be moved to slot receiver and so he will get some repetitions in the slot and we'll move him, you might see him at running back as well, but right now he's getting full repetitions that he needs to learn the slot position. We moved Brent Brewer to linebacker. Brent has done a great job, he's had a tremendous spring. Another individual who we've made a change in positions is a true freshman, Corey Vereen. We moved him to our defensive end position. We need some disruptive, quick playmakers on the edge of our defense and so we look to him. Also, Jacques Smith will be more in our LEO defensive line position, Justin King at tight end, just to name a few. I'm very encouraged so far with what I've seen from Brent (Brewer), he's doing a great job."
(On Jones' experience helping him to manage spring camp)
"I walked out and you learn by trial and error. Like today, we went out to walk through practice structure and format to have the (players) understand where they will be going. Also, our coaches have been there and have worked with each other for so many years, so it's like riding a bike and I think that's why the transition is seamless. They've done a great job with our players. Our players' skill development, they've done a great job and they know that tomorrow when the horn blows, if you don't know where you're going, just run in place and follow your position groups. We may see a lot of guys running in place tomorrow, but I feel a sense of energy, and we should, this is what we're here to do. We're here to be student-athletes, we're here to go to class, to get a degree and to play football. The weight room is critical in the evolution of our team in each and every player, but when we play football, there should be a passion about it and an energy there that you can feel on the practice field. But I think our goal and our challenge is that everyone is going to be excited for tomorrow, but where are we at in our leadership that at practice number nine, 10, 11 and the other thing is our overall depth. Everyone wants to crown our offensive line, but they haven't done anything yet in my opinion. All we've seen is them running around in shorts. We've had a lot of individuals lose weight and they've done that. They're extremely prideful and competitive, but I want to know who our number six is, who our number seven is. That's more of the storyline than anything - that we have to identify as coaches, is our overall depth in all three phases."
(On players coming back from injuries)
Everyone you mentioned, (Christian Harris, LaTroy Lewis, Curt Maggitt) except Curt Maggitt will be participating in spring football. Maggitt will be out and gain a lot of mental reps and he will continue working his body, so he will have a lot of work with Coach Lawson in the weight room. Tiny Richardson will be able to pick our spots in practice, so he will practice a little bit. Curt and then Jalen Reeves are two individuals who will not participate in spring football."
(On if playing slowly was because of players' fitness or misunderstanding plays)
"I think it's a little bit of both of those. We use the term that we can't let the mind tie the feet up. That's why I say that we're going to have an execution-based system. You have to learn to walk before you can run. That's why we're going to take our time with the installations. We're going to teach our style of play and we're going to build that confidence. We'll continue to grow, but it's all what our players can do. We're not going to ask our players to go and perform something that they can't do. But, make no mistake about it, we're competing in the fastest conference in all of college football. We do have to improve our overall team speed in all positions. You try to improve that in the offseason, but also in recruiting."
(On an evaluation of quarterbacks' fit)
"It's extremely hard right now because even in our skill-development sessions, you're not allowed to use a football. So I'll know more after practice, but it will still be a work in progress from practice one to practice 15. It's like I told our team today, even in pass drills, I'm not a big fan of it. It's like going to play golf at the driving range. At the driving range, you hit them right down the fairway and then you play a round of golf and you might be in the woods a little bit. That's similar to pass drills. There's no pass rush, but they know we're passing. They know they have all day and then all of a sudden, you put in an offensive line and they have to find the throwing windows, they have to move their feet in the pocket. We will do an inordinate amount of team repetitions this spring to identify not only who the quarterback is, but who can make plays when we rush the passer as well. We talk about team speed and everyone wants to talk about the secondary, but really, the by-product of a good secondary is winning up front and impacting the quarterback."
(On if the players have bought in yet)
"I think buying in is a direct correlation of what your commitment level to win is and what your commitment to being a better football player each and every day is. It's what your commitment level to your team is, to the University of Tennessee is. Our players have been outstanding. They have done anything and everything that we have asked them. We've challenged them in the classroom, the weight room, in skill development and they've done a great job. Now, this is the next phase in spring football and it's going to be challenging. We have to get tougher as a football team. There are a lot of things that have to happen to make great strides and it starts at practice one. There's not a lot we can do now without pads. Football was meant to be played in pads, but I met with our seniors yesterday and they've been outstanding. We haven't had anyone late to meetings or workouts and to me, that's commitment. And it's also just keeping each other accountable, which is what we've done with the Vol Olympics."
(On inheriting a team not used to winning)
"There are pluses and minuses to that. I think that we're a hungry football team. At the end of the day, it comes down to leadership and your senior class. I've never been a part of a successful football team that didn't have a strong senior class. The hourglass is turned over for them. They have 12 opportunities left and we're working for 13 and then 14. So every opportunity is critical. I think it's a byproduct of leadership and expectations. What I've seen from this football team is that we want to win, but we have to learn how to win. We talk about being a champion every day, it's how you represent yourself, how you think, your thought process. I told our players that if every individual takes accountability for themselves, we collectively can improve as a football team. If Justin Worley is a better quarterback, we're a better football team. If Nathan Peterman is a better quarterback, we're a better football team. We can go on and on and everyone has to take ownership in their performances this spring."
(On being concerned for the team physically or mentally and emotionally)
"Both. I don't think you can have one without the other. So much of the game is mental: the mental preparation, the mental effort that it takes. Our players better know what 63 is. Four to six seconds, three great efforts and that's the way we're going to play and I told them that if they don't live up to those standards, they won't play. They are responsible for building their own identity. That's the big thing with a new coaching staff coming in - there is an unbiased opinion. They prove themselves to us every day by the way they practice, the way they present themselves, the way they are in the classroom. I think that's the big thing. They understand by now the expectations we have of them."
(On Worley, James and Johnson being leaders)
"They have [emerged as leaders]. Leadership is a skill that you have to improve on daily and like I said, Team 117 continues to be a work in progress. We aren't in any way ready to take on Austin Peay. What we have to do is win tomorrow. We have to be 1-0 walking off of the practice field and being a better football team. It's my job to put the individuals on the team into positions where they can be leaders and they can step up. I have to put them in leadership positions. The way we practice, I call it controlled chaos. A football game is controlled chaos and you never know what's expected. Great teams have leadership that can answer to sudden change opportunities. That's the first thing I look at - what's our percentage of holding a team on defense when we have a sudden change. Controlled chaos is things flying everywhere, but we're in control. We'll be in the middle of practice and then the noise comes on. It may be annoying, like a baby crying or glass breaking. Just trying to break their intensity, their focus because great teams in this conference have to go on the road in all the clutter and distraction. We have to focus on the task at hand and eliminate the clutter. So many teams get caught up in the outside distractions and aren't focusing on the task at hand."
(On ending spring with a depth chart)
"We'll end spring with a depth chart, but all that does is tell us who's first when fall camp arrives, because again, the most significant gains in the weight room will occur over the summer months. Right now, that'll just be lining up, but we'll compete every day when the pads go on. We'll have a winner and a loser and play on both sides of the ball. Every rep counts. We'll have a scoreboard on the field, so if we're in a one-on-one battle, the winner gets a point for the offense or the defense, and we'll tally them up, and the winner will wear orange jerseys and the loser wears the white. Everything is called competitive greatness. There's a competitive spirit. Everyone says why do you line up at the 50-yard line and run your team through and shake hands at the end of practice. When the whistle blows and you step out on the green, I want them competing each and every day. But when that double-horn blows, and it's over, there's no offense or defense; it's one Tennessee. We shake hands and let each other know we're all on the same team, but I want them competing out there every single rep."
(On expectations for the first practice)
"I think you temper it. We plan to be 1-0, but there's only so much you can do in helmets. The big thing I want to see is the attention to detail. The fundamentals. I want to see how much they can retain from the meetings. I want to see how much our players can take from the meeting room and the classroom to the field and apply it; we call that functional intelligence. I want to see if they can handle that and how they mastered their technique from skill development. It'll be a complete change from what they're used to, but I want to see skill development now going into practice. I want to see how we can execute the plays we install, but I also want to see leadership. I want to see our effort in running the football, but when we go as a team, it's only going to be three steps up front. It's a lot, but I think we can gauge a mental capacity more than anything else in the first few practices."
(On quarterback competition timetable)
"It'll be an ongoing process, one through 15 and then into the summer months. It'll probably be a week into spring football until I can give you a better idea of where we are right now, but I've been encouraged by everything I've seen out of our quarterbacks."
(On Robert Gillespie)
"I had a checklist. We interviewed a lot of candidates, but he was, by far, the best candidate. He had the profile we were looking for, and the profile we were looking for was that I wanted a good person. I want a person who has great character: that's Robert. I wanted a family man: that's Robert. I wanted an individual who was a great teacher; there's a difference between a great teacher and a great presenter. Robert is a great teacher. I wanted an individual who can recruit who really understands the dynamic of the SEC and the recruiting. I wanted the best football coach and the best fit for the staff. I'm excited for him to join the staff. I talked to my ties at West Virginia and the people I know. I wanted someone who had a passion and excitement to be here. When he walked in, he started telling me the story about being the visitor on the opposite sideline and the goosebumps he got playing in Neyland Stadium. I liked when he told me that he never got the ball in the checkerboard when he played here. He said the first thing he's going to do when we practice in Neyland is run to the checkerboard. I thought he was a great fix for what we're working to build here."
(On Gillespie's help with recruiting)
"He'll be a tremendous help. I called a lot of high school coaches. I asked them who was the best recruiter who comes to your team and your school and I kept hearing Robert Gillespie. I asked why and they told me all the characteristics I was looking for. I don't think I heard a bad thing. The other thing is his offensive background. Being at Oklahoma State and West Virginia, when he came for his interview, he brought a lot to the table right away with his experience and different ideas from being in some very good offensive systems. I competed against him. I knew what we were getting from a competitive standpoint."
(On learning strengths and installing new ideas)
"It was a great balance. Like I said when we opened the press conference, we're going to teach them the standards and expectations by which we're going to play. I think that's critical. But obviously, the scheme is critical but it is the small details. I think what seperates coaching is the ability to see the small details, the fine details right when they occur. I want instant corrections on the football field. I want our players walking off the field after practice knowing that they've been coached on every single snap. As much effort as we demand from our players, we demand from our coaching staff as well. Probably the most prepared group in our football program right now is our equipment staff. I walked out there today, and they had five pages of notes from talking with the people from Cincinnati. They're ready to go."
(On having starters on special teams)
"We're going to play the best players on special teams. If there's a starter, he'll play on special teams if he can help us win a championship. I think if you go back and look at the elements of our programs in the past, one staple is special teams. I told our staff this: if it's an offensive or defensive starter, I'd rather have them miss a rep on offense or defense than miss a rep on special teams. The other thing that's lost in this mix is that everyone is talking about offense and defense, but everything is also identifying special teams. There's a term I.R.U.: Indisputable Role Understanding. Everyone that runs out on the football field tomorrow has a role in helping us win a championship. Special teams is a big part of it. It's in our practice everyday. We're installing two facets: our kickoff return and punt team. We'll practice those through the first five practices and then we'll graduate and move on to the next phase of special teams."
(On the practice schedule)
"The first two practices are just in helmets and the third will be in full pads. We will scrimmage on Saturday, but they'll be situational scrimmages. They'll be controlled situations throughout practice, but they'll be fundamental improvements. We'll work on fundamentals each and every day. We need to practice special teams. We need to work on owning everything."
(On the seniority of the offensive line)
"It's great to have an experienced offensive line like we have. I rely on them. They did a great job. I'll know more after practice number three when the pads go on, but these guys have done a great job. Obviously, having experience back up front in this conference is comforting. The thing I'm uncomfortable with right now is our depth: who's number six; who's number seven. Every player is one play away. Look at the great teams and their role understanding. The understanding is that there can be no drop off. Four goes out and as it goes down the line and seven goes in, there can be no drop off. When we have that, we'll have a successful football team and football program."
(On teaching them immediately or slowly)
"We're going to gradually teach them and then move on. We're not going to throw everything at them. Every coaching staff has different philosophies and style of play. And we have to teach them the style we want to play and how we want to line up. How we're going to finish plays. We'll gradually move on, but I don't want the time to eat up. The spring practice schedule is very conducive to learning. It's not back-to-back days. It's Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, so there's at least a day off in between so we can go back and improve on our deficiencies and teach, watch film. I really want to take our time because spring ball is the most important time we have here at Tennessee."
(On challenging players to lose weight)
"It was a concern. They're still over 300, but we want them around 305 or 310. It's based on the individual. There's some players who we thought were overweight and couldn't move on a play. I think that's critical. The nature of our offense, we have a talented group up front. I never want to take their edge or strength away. Our nutritionist came to me today and said, "Coach, I've never seen anything like this. The amount of body fat that our players have lost in a couple months and gained weight through muscle is amazing." That's the way we're training. Even though their losing weight, they're gaining muscle. And that's what we want. You look at men I'm extremely proud of: Eric Fischer and I were on the phone for about an hour the other night, talking about the strides he took and that he might be the number one draft in the National Football League. I think he's a great illustration for linemen in our program and linemen we'll recruit in the future in terms of adding the right weight in terms of body fat to muscle ratio."
(On whether a true freshman could start in the fall)
"That's really hard to say. I'll know a bit better through training camp. It's extremely hard to expect true freshmen to come in and make a difference individually. I think it's hard. The thing we have to do is focus on the process. Too many people want to focus on the end results. We just need to focus on the process and that's winning tomorrow. Make no mistake, I'm a big believer in the Navy SEALs and their idea of setting short term goals and hitting those goals every hour, on the hour. That's the approach that we're taking."
(On OL experience taking away hesitancy to put true freshman at QB)
"It is very comforting knowing that we have a lot of individuals that have played really good football for us in the past. But in the end, it's going to come down to the individual who makes the fewest mistakes, is the manager of the game and takes care of the football and puts our offense and team in position to win games. It is a sense of comfort knowing that you have individuals who have played a lot of games and played well here."
(On prototypical running back)
"I think when you're establishing criteria by position, you want level skill sets. Initially, we want an individual who can make you miss. And not just get what the play is blocked for, but who is consistent and reliable, who takes care of the football and can make plays. We'd like a complete pack: an individual who can pass-protect and catch the football in the backfield and run the ball. Obviously, you need some shifty guys who can make guys miss, and you need some downhill runners. The big thing is: I'll be able to address that question more later, but I think Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane have running styles that really compliment each other. I've been encouraged by what I've seen from those two."
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