#VolReport: Cracking The Pads

March 11, 2014

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Here are sound bites from Butch Jones and the players after Tuesday's practice.


"Big time emphasis. It all starts with impacting the quarterback and stopping the run. And that is what we talk about with AJ [Johnson], AJ has to demand upfront, with our front guys. So much is predicated on being able to generate a pass rush with a four-man front. When you have to bring five and six man pressures, that really puts the back end of your defense in not favorable matchups in situations."

"All of the above. We are just inconsistent in finishing our plays and our style of play. And we talk about a snap and clear mentality. I just think the overall maturation of being in football condition, football shape, understanding how to finish plays, understanding you assignments.

The game is fast right now for a lot of individuals, 50 percent, being their first time in spring football but you can see the game right now is exceptionally fast for them and the volume of install then you add special teams to it. So I think all of that but we can't compromise, we have a standard and expectation by which we are going to play here and we just have to keep grinding our way through it."


"We're all pushing each other. They're doing a good job of catching on. They're still learning but they're doing a good job of catching on."

"We're used to them. We had good chemistry last year. We're just improving it."


"I just wanted to hit the weight room hard and get my body ready. Make it durable as possible. Just get my mind ready to help the team any way I can."

"I was fine with it. My whole point is that I just want to help the team and whichever way the coaches want to try and get me the ball, whether it be in the backfield or on the perimeter, then I will take it and run with it."


"Yeah, it's been real good. Last year I felt light and going through this first practice was really my chance to see how I felt as a heavier player, and I felt good today. Felt a lot better taking on lineman and things like that."

"That a lot of the game is mental. If you don't know your stuff, you're kind of going to be out there lost. If you just know your defense, you can play faster. Even I can tell from last year to this year. Just knowing it better, I'm able to play faster and think a lot less."


"I have family, and I have good teammates. I've got good coaches that believe in me and I believe in myself. I don't let those drops get to me, but I don't know what was going through my mind. Next year I'm going to step up and my goal is no drops at all so hopefully that will happen."

"Getting more chemistry with the quarterbacks, because I think that's the most important. Bonding with them all the time you can get, just watching film with them, seeing what you're doing wrong and seeing what you can do better."


"The mental game is a big part of it but you've just got to keep on pushing and you're going to get beat a couple times but you've got to keep pushing on."

"They're both really talented. Both have a lot of potential. They're both working real hard too, both getting big in the weight room so I'm surprised to see what they can do here in spring camp."


"We've come into the offseason with such a mindset. All of us haven't gotten a chance to play yet. This is our first year, so we take it with so much pride that it's our first year to come out here and do something."

"A lot faster. Coach Jones expects a lot because it's the second year. First year, everybody is getting used to it, but we've been here a whole year together. We've been working together for a whole year together. He has high expectations for us. We're going as fast as possible every play."


"Last year I played at the nose, the one technique the whole year and Coach Stripling moved me to the three technique this year so I'm kind of adjusting to that. My goal is to master the three technique and with the three technique comes a lot of double teams so I'm practicing with Coach Strip since he teaches to play those double teams. My goal is to play those, get off those blocks especially in the SEC with a lot of power runs and stuff like that you've got to be able to play those double teams perfect."

"Really I think I got the jitters out and I showed myself in my head that gave me confidence that I can go out there and make plays. It just kept driving me to go out this year and make even more plays but the biggest thing is getting those first snaps in Neyland Stadium and away stadium, crazy SEC stadiums. I just got the jitters out and it helped me move on."


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vols put the pads on for the first time this spring. Despite being fully-outfitted, Butch Jones said his young team has a long way to go.

"First day of pads," said Jones, "(it was) pretty evident that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. Overall, just our style of play, what it means to play winning football, the consistency we are looking for, the mental toughness, the mental conditioning that we talk about each and every day. A lot of work to do.

"We have great teaching opportunity, great teach tool in terms of our film, to go back and correct and really teach them our style of play. That usually happens the first day of pads, had some heat finally. We have a long way to go."

The players were excited to get back on Haslam Field and be able to hit.

"It's always a good feeling to get the pads on and get to hitting," said senior A.J. Johnson. "That's the big thing instead of just running around in helmets."

Sophomore defensive lineman Danny O'Brien was looking forward to today for a while after a challenging off-season in the weight room, where he increased his strength and improved his conditioning.

"Being in the weight room all winter, putting those pounds on, it was time to get in pads," said O'Brien. "We suffered a little bit on being in shape running wise, I think everybody was a little gassed but we'll get back in the swing of things. We'll be alright."

Having pads on made a difference in the speed of practice, which was noticeable to Jones.

"I thought we had very good tempo practice one and practice two and then we got into full pads our tempo really slowed down," said Jones, who has also made some adjustment in the team's protocol at practice.

"We are doing something a little bit different this year in practice, we have a 20 second clock, so as soon as that 20 second clock goes off a horn blows then we will do down-ups after practice for not maintaining the tempo. Today, I thought our tempo on offense, defense really slowed down. I think that was a byproduct of the pads. We have to learn how to work through those things."


Returning to Tennessee wasn't an easy decision for Vols senior linebacker A.J. Johnson. There were many positives making the jump to the NFL but ultimately the lure of one more year on Rocky Top kept him in Knoxville.

Several reasons kept Johnson from making the move to professional football including personal and team goals. With more than 300 career tackles at Tennessee, the first team All-SEC linebacker still feels he has plenty to prove with Team 118.

Check out Alex Cate's feature on Johnson right here on UTSports.com.


Jones was quick to point out freshman tight end Daniel Helm as one of the early enrollees who has made an impression on him.

"The one individual that I thought really did some good things today was Daniel Helm," said Jones of the 6-4, 232-proud product. "He made some big plays, in a scrimmage situation, in some team settings, I thought he took great strides in moving forward."

Helm, who was home-schooled, played his high school ball at Glenwood in Chatham, Illinois. He was rated the No. 1 tight end in the nation by Rivals. He had a school record 35 career receiving touchdowns while at Glenwood.


Sophomore Josh Smith is ready to turn the page on his freshman season as a Vol. The CAK graduate came to Tennessee with the reputation for having great hands and being a steady receiver. In his first year with the Vols, Smith had issues, dropping passes throughout the year. Despite the challenges, Smith has kept a positive attitude.

"Nothing was harder on me than anything because I let my team down," said Smith in his first time meeting with his hometown media. "That's why I got recruited, to catch balls and run good routes, and just not being able to do that as good as I wanted probably hurt me the most for the team."

Smith said the Vols' coaching staff has been very positive with him and kept his confidence up.

"Coaches just believing in me more because they could easily just push me aside but they kept playing me," said Smith "That made me as a person believe in them more and it made me feel good that they still believe in me because you could easily pull me out for all those drops I had."

Jones was clear that Tennessee's staff is very much in Smith's corner.

"We have tremendous amount of confidence in Josh," said Jones. "Josh also made some big plays and again he was a true freshman. You have to learn from those mistakes and you never make them twice ... But the big thing with him is the mental part, continuing to learn all the positions, all the fundamentals. But I have liked his approach so far."

Smith has worked on his mental game as much as his on-field game heading into 2014.

"It's hard to come back from that," he said, "but all the encouragement I'm getting, just not letting it affect me, watching more film, studying the game more, just seeing what I did wrong in a route, and just studying the DB's better, defenses, opponents and just improving my overall game."


If there is one common word coming out of spring practice every day it is "competition."

On the defensive side, Malik Foreman and Jalen Reeves- Maybin can sense it. Both sophomores saw playing time as true freshman and going into the 2014 season, now know what to expect.

"It's a lot of good competition there between everybody- a lot of talent there from the freshman class," said Foreman. "Everybody's competing and working hard."

With senior leaders like A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt around them, Reeves-Maybin can't help but learn how to compete.

"Those two guys are probably the biggest leaders on the team," Reeves- Maybin said. "So anytime when I'm around them, I just feel like I have to be [learning] just so I don't let them down."

Both Foreman and Reeves- Maybin are fighting for starting positions and know there is truly no "off" in offseason.

"You've got to bring it every week," said Foreman. "There are no off weeks, you have to bring it every week. All these teams have 5-star recruits coming in so you have to be ready each week."


Suffering a broken collarbone after scoring his second-career touchdown against Kentucky caused Tennessee Volunteers' wide receiver Jason Croom to spend part of the offseason rehabbing before receiving. Luckily, it was a quick recovery and the Norcross, Ga., native is ready to see what this season holds for "Wide Receiver U."

In day one of pads and day three of spring practice, the redshirt sophomore is impressed with the energy and competition that the wide receivers are bringing to the field.

"We have more depth and much more competitiveness," Croom said. "We need competition. That's what pushes everybody to be the best they can."

Seeing what he has to contend with, especially with newcomers Josh Malone and Von Pearson, Croom, who ended the season fourth on the team in catches (18) and third in receiving yards (269), isn't taking any time off.

"Coach Z [Zach Azzanni] is still coaching me up, just teaching me different ways," said Croom. "I'm watching film myself, watching bigger receivers to see how they use their body and go use it myself."

"You have to improve. You can't stay the same."


Offensive line pride, better known as "OLP" is a motto that became popular around the Tennessee football program over the past four years. While many of the players that defined "OLP" may be gone, players like Kyler Kerbyson are ready to volunteer to take their place.

"The guys before us -- they were prided on their athleticism and being so big," said redshirt junior Kerbyson. "We're smaller and less athletic than them, so we pride ourselves on working harder."

While the Knoxville Catholic graduate and the rest of the offensive line may be fresh faces on a Saturday in the fall, many of them have spent years earning their way to the line of scrimmage and it has not gone unnoticed.

"(Kyler) has worked exceptionally hard and he has a great opportunity," said head coach Butch Jones. "Now he has to take it advantage of it, but where he is at in one year's time is remarkable."

For a guy who grew up in the shadow of Neyland Stadium, being a regular in the Orange & White is a dream come true.

"It's been very exciting," Kerbyson said. "I've been waiting three years now. I got redshirted my first year. I've been waiting three years now to get on the field."





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