April 8, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Coach Butch Jones gave a preview of the weekend ahead, which will be a busy one for the Tennessee football program. He also gave insight to a special new award which will be presented at halftime of the DISH Orange & White Game.
"This weekend will be a great family experience of coming back, spending the weekend at the University of Tennessee. So many things, Friday we will start off with the Lettermens golf outing, welcoming all of our lettermen back, we will have a Vol For Life reception that night.
"I know everyone is excited about the first annual VFL Football Classic, our flag football game, I know everyone is looking forward to it. We will have an MVP of the game and the MVP will take home a trophy that is 13 feet, 9 inches. Don't ask me how they are going to get it home, that is their problem. It may be the largest trophy in the country. Why? Because we are Tennessee and they are Vols for life.
"There will also be a new award that we will hand out at halftime, it is the Al Wilson Leadership Award, given to the individual on our football that has displayed the most leadership throughout the course of this offseason.
"Also, a tremendous recruiting opportunity for our football program and we need as many people to come out for Big Orange Weekend in support of this football team. So much with a young football team is creating the type of atmosphere and environment that we are going to have."
Earlier Tuesday, Tennessee announced it would move its season opener to Sunday, Aug. 31. This creates a unique weekend for Knoxville, one which Jones is excited about.
"Partnering up with the City of Knoxville and Boomsday and having a tremendous, tremendous weekend, playing a great football team and a great football program in Utah State in Neyland Stadium 102,455 Sunday. I think this signifies what we are all about, the City of Knoxville, a great place to raise a family but the way I look at it is, it is the entire state of Tennessee and Vol Nation coming together for an entire weekend in the City of Knoxville. So we are very excited about that.
"It is also a great opportunity to perform on the SEC Network, so I think it is a tremendous opportunity for our football program. To me it is a compliment that we are going to be able to play on the SEC Network but also to welcome the families to Knoxville for a great weekend."
NEW PLAYERS, NEW ROLES ON D-LINE
This spring, the defensive side of the football has seen many players perform at different positions. With numerous players cross-training, defensive line coach Steve Stripling is pleased with what he is seeing, especially out of this year's early enrollees.
Jakob Johnson, a freshman linebacker, has been seeing some playing time on the defensive line.
"Jakob has been with me a couple days, kind of an experiment," said Stripling. "I love him. He's going to get huge. He has a great attitude."
Johnson's attitude and hard work during practice earned him a spot in today's "Circle of Life," where two players go head-to-head against each other while surrounded by their teammates.
Dimarya Mixon is another defensive lineman that has Stripling looking forward to this season.
"I'm really excited about Mixon's future," Stripling said. "Right now, he's playing inside. He's probably a little undersized, but he's going to get really big."
Alongside true freshmen Johnson and Mixon, junior college transfer Owen Williams is expected to do big things for the Tennessee defense. "He's one of the strongest guys in the weight room," said Stripling. "Owen was really going strong early, kind of hit the wall, but he has a little bit of [Corey] Vereen in him."
"He has a little bit of that Vereen-ism in him that nobody is going to outwork him," said Stripling. "He has a long way to go and he knows that but I like his attitude."
WEAPONS MAXIMIZING OPPORTUNITIES
Tuesday's spring practice #12 was all about maximizing in every aspect of the game and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian saw just that.
"As much as it is the young quarterbacks, it is the young receivers, the young running backs, young tight ends," Bajakian said. "We have placed an emphasis on moving fast and playing with great tempo and always playing with great effort. Our guys have made strides in that this spring."
Such strides throughout all of the offense, especially with the wide receiver unit, have Bajakian looking forward to Saturday's Orange & White game in Neyland Stadium.
Veteran senior Devrin Young has maximized his spring seeing action in the backfield.
"It's definitely been a positive move for him," said Bajakian. "He has taken to the position. I think it's a little more of a natural fit for him. He's done a good job this spring." Young's positive outlook has younger offensive weapons maximizing each time they have possession of the ball as well.
"Marquez [North], day one came in with a very positive attitude, a very mature approach," said Bajakian. "As much as anything, he wants to be great. He has the type of mentality that you are looking for in a receiver- now it is developing consistency and refining those techniques."
Bajakian has also been impressed by early enrollee and freshman Josh Malone.
"Josh- we've moved him around a little bit more, put a bit more on his plate, so he's taken it all in stride and he continues to grow and develop and get better every day," Bajakian said. "For him, the big thing is going to be playing with an effort level and a condition level that we need in this offense."
Young, North and Malone aren't the only wide receivers that are expected to see playing time this Saturday and this coming season though. Bajakian looks forward to seeing A.J. Branisel and Josh Smith catching passes too.
"We have all those guys who have been through an entire offseason and all the incoming freshmen who have an opportunity to go through skill development, spring football and summer training. It is a great opportunity to learn and develop."
NO STOPPING Josh Smith
Nothing can keep sophomore Josh Smith down. The Knoxville native encountered a rough winter and spring, but his tenacity and grit have struck a chord with the coaching staff.
"He loves to play," coach Zach Azzanni said. "The one thing I can say about him, which I hope I can say about every player, is he's tough."
The wide receiver wasn't cleared to play until right before spring practice, causing him to miss the team's skill development over the winter.
A bout with the flu earlier this spring deemed more problems for the sophomore as he had to miss two practices, as well as dropped some weight from the flu.
"He came back from the flu and they told us to limit him," Azzanni said. "He was really weak and lost about 10 pounds. I wasn't sure he could play more than 10 plays."
But during last Saturday's practice in Neyland Stadium, Smith proved everyone wrong.
"My man played about 60 plays that day," Azzanni said. "He didn't want to come out. I almost had to carry him off the field, me and his dad, but that's the type of player he is. He's a tough kid. His instincts come out and he loves to play."
Smith caught a long touchdown pass from quarterback Riley Ferguson on Saturday, highlighting one of the biggest plays of the day for the offense.
"It was huge," Azzanni said. "I was so proud of him.
For him to come out last Saturday and do that, I was really happy for him. He's playing with some confidence and swagger which he needed coming off last season."
Smith saw action in 11 of the Vols' games last season, making four starts. He finished the 2013 season with 12 catches for 182 yards with one touchdown.
THE EDUCATION OF EMMANUEL
Freshman Emmanuel Moseley continues to learn how to play in a college secondary in his first months with the Vols. The high school quarterback and cornerback has pleased defensive backs coach Willie Martinez with his progress through 12 practice sessions.
"He has been able to produce and make some plays when he is given the opportunity," said Martinez. "He's made mistakes also, but he plays with a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and the willingness to be really good at something, and he has earned that right right now."
Moseley and fellow freshman D'Andre Payne are gaining knowledge every day and Martinez appreciates their willingness to be so attentive.
"I think that he has a lot to learn, but he is doing a pretty good job right now," said Martinez. "I think he has done a really good job to be honest with you. I've been very pleased, not just him, but all of them, all of the newcomers."