March 6, 2014
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- Butch Jones enters spring practice at the University of Tennessee with a leg up on much of his roster.
Jones will lead his second spring practice, while nearly half the roster will go thought its first. The reality of the youth movement is no secret to anyone familiar with the program, but it can be a challenge to set the tone for the practices leading up to the Dish Orange & White game on April 12.
Like the student-athletes, Jones is excited to hit the field for the first time since the Vols left Lexington with a 27-14 win over Kentucky on the final Saturday of November. But the excitement of opening practice is a temporary condition for the mentality of a football team. It's also an area where the youth and inexperience can show itself the most.
"We can have no bad days," Jones said. "Everyone is excited right now for practice one, but what happens when we get to practice nine, practice 10, just like going into training camp and that's where you rely on your leadership. The building of our leadership will be big."
The leadership could be the defining component of Team 118. Its development is tied directly to the team's development, which Jones would like to be player-led.
"I always say its better to be a player-coached team than a coach-coached team because it's the accountability in that locker room, that standard and expectation that they bring to the table," Jones added on the leadership. "Those are the marks of great football teams, they have that peer pressure, that inner drive to be the best in everything they do."
Another mark of a great football team is a great quarterback under center. The Volunteers used three different starters at the position, Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs, a season ago and had a fourth, Riley Ferguson, redshirt after an injury. All four return to do battle for the job as spring practice begins and Jones was blunt about what he wanted to see from the competition.
"I would like to have someone step up and emerge and be our quarterback." he said.
How that emergence happens is another topic. Jones isn't particular about when it happens, saying that he had no timetable for it, whether it's next week or two weeks before the Volunteers open against Utah State in August. He is, however, particular on how his quarterbacks compete for it.
"You don't know how many reps you're going to get, so you had better make sure you make the most of every single rep," Jones said. "Every rep is for a championship, every single rep is to be the starting quarterback."
The mental game isn't unique to the quarterback position, but it is a vital part to playing the position in Jones' offense. Jones said he is looking for leadership and decision making above all else in his signal callers.
"The quarterback position is a very cerebral position," said Jones. "It's all about making good decisions, good choices and managing a football game. There's so much that goes into it, everything is about the functional intelligence and split-second decisions. There are leadership intangibles, when everything else is going wrong, everyone is going to look to that quarterback and look into their eyes to see the confidence they have, not only in themselves, but in the players around them. We're looking for a model of consistency."