April 13, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Vol Inky Johnson returned to campus and spoke to the Vols about how football represents life and how the players need to 'bring it everyday.'
Head coach Butch Jones reiterated Johnson's message to the team that they need to continue playing with intensity on the field and off the field. Jones said, "there are no off days. We need to expect more and demand more. That is the standard we live by. Everything is establishing a level of consistency."
On Sept. 9, 2006, Johnson suffered a life-threatening injury on the field against Air Force. With just a few minutes to play in the game, Johnson went for a tackle and jammed his shoulder into the body of the Air Force running back Justin Handley. The hit caused nerve damage in Johnson's right shoulder and ended his playing career.
His previous plans and aspirations for entering into the NFL were quickly shattered, but Johnson's life sense his injury have been focused around "faith and perseverance."
Johnson is now a motivational speaker and published an autobiography to share his story. He used his dedication to football and his mindset towards laying everything on the line for the Tennessee Vols to speak to the Vols directly following Saturday's scrimmage.
Jones said Johnson to be "one of the greatest illustrations of what a Vol For Life is."
"(The message) was tremendous and our players needed to hear that," Jones said. "It's a pride and that's who we are and it's what makes us different than any other program in the country. That's why we're Tennessee: because of individuals like Inky Johnson.
"I learned very early about Inky and I've really tried to reach out to him, especially the last couple of weeks with getting him to come over from Atlanta to spend time with us. You're going to see him around our program a lot."
Having past Tennessee football legends return to his team is just what Jones is trying to show his players: that Tennessee is a legend and the Power T stands for tradition and power. Practice by practice as more Vols' standouts return to their alma mater, the players are beginning to realize more every day just how important their job is and just how big the shoes are that they are expected to fill.
Jones said he was pleased with the approach of Saturday's practice. It seems that his players are understanding these roles and are taking big strides in the right direction.
"I could feel the energy," Jones said. "I could feel the intensity. Right from the get-go in our meetings to warm-ups. That's a step in the right direction. That's progress.
"We're going to be a football team that our fan base is going to be proud of. Proud of the way we play and the way we represent this institution and this state and everyone across the country. But it's going to be a work in progress in terms in how we play, but I thought we took a step in that direction. It's the little things and mistakes that we can't have."
Johnson let the Vols know just how important football was and will always be to him. It's not just a game, it's not just a sport, but a way of life. It's a family and it will teach these men how to have a family in the future. It's the basis of life and it's a way to grow not only as a player, but as a man.
HUNGRY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT
One young running back that has been thrust into the spotlight this spring is redshirt freshman Alden Hill.
Hill has found his way into the checkerboards at nearly every scrimmage, but that is not surprising to his teammates as he is known for being a work horse and putting in extra hours on the field outside of practice.
"I've been hungry since day one," said Hill. "I don't care if there are five backs in front of me, two backs, one back, or I'm the back. I'm coming out here every day and I'm going to keep working on the little things and focus on those. I don't really care what the depth chart says, as long as I'm improving and doing my little things. I think that's helped me be consistent this spring."
All of the hard work Hill has been putting hasn't been for naught. He's work ethic has grabbed the attention of the head guy Butch Jones.
"He's worked his way up there," said Jones. Alden continues to get better and better. He still needs to continue to learn the little nuances of how to run the football and not bouncing things to the sideline. He's an interior runner. He's an individual who brings it every day. You can see individuals who have a mentality get better and bring it every day, they usually get better. He's one of those."
"When you get reps, take advantage of them," said Hill. "I think whether the guys (who are injured) are here or aren't here, whether I'm getting five reps or 50 reps, you just have to make sure you're doing the right thing and be consistent and take advantage of that."
"I think that I've came out to show that I can do it and I've handled the opportunities," continued Hill. "There are some little things that I can still work on, of course. We'll keep working on those and get past the good plays, but I think we're moving in the right direction."
PUSHING FORWARDIn its last scrimmage prior to the Orange and White Spring Game, the Tennessee offense aimed to eliminate unnecessary mistakes.
"I thought it was pretty good today. As an offense, we showed improvement," said quarterback Nathan Peterman. "Even though we had minor setbacks, we let them go and didn't let them phase us."
While the offense, as a whole, exhibited the ability to execute throughout the afternoon, turning the ball over within the 20-yard line was recognized as a necessary area of improvement.
"We had too many turnovers in the redzone and that's on us as quarterbacks. But, after those drives, we responded well," said Justin Worley. "We came out in different situations, and we executed against adverse situations. I think all the offensive coaches were glad to see that."
With only two practices remaining before the Volunteers kickoff the annual spring game on Saturday, April 20, veteran running back Rajion Neal is confident that Tennessee's QBs will continue to improve over time.
"They are young. Experience helps everybody and I believe, as time goes on, they are going to get it together," Neal stated. "They are smart guys. They just have to start feeling comfortable and trusting everything around them. They just have to keep pushing."
It was all anyone could talk about after practice - the one-handed interception by Justin Coleman in the back right corner of the south endzone. Jones said it was "one of the best plays he's seen in a long time."
All Coleman could say was that he didn't run his route correctly. But, that discipline and knowledge of the plays and routes is what impressed his coaches Saturday morning.
"Everyone didn't see that I messed up," Coleman said. "I did everything wrong, at the beginning (of the play). Yesterday, me and a couple of defensive backs were working on finishing. I tried to develop a habit and at the end of that play, I just tried to finish and I came up with a big play."
What makes good players great, though, is taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to them and making a play out of it.
"My mindset was just to deflect the pass, but I felt it stick to my glove and I just came down with it," Coleman said.
Coleman's grab was awe-inspiring to his fellow defensive back Brian Randolph.
"You can always count on (Justin)," Randolph said. "They hardly ever try him on offense because he's just so consistent (on defense). He's the most consistent guy we have. Today he had a nice looking one-handed pick."
Coach Jones not only impressed by Coleman, but all of the cornerbacks this practice, saying they did take the opportunities they were given, but more consistency is needed.
"Obviously, the interception by Justin (Coleman) is one of the best plays I've seen in a long time," Jones said. "But it's just making the routine plays. That's what being a great football player is about. It's easy to be average, it's hard to be good and it's harder to be great. It's a snap and clear mentality, but you're always thinking of how you can improve."
"Justin Coleman is one of those individuals who wants to be good and he wants to be great."
Coleman believes he, and the defense, still have a lot of progressing to do.
"I have definitely seen a lot of progress (in the defense)," Coleman said. "Everybody is giving a lot of effort, and everyone wants to play. I've seen ten times more effort, and everyone wants to become a team and get better.