April 17, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Saturday is a big day for the Tennessee football program as it gets ready to play in the DISH Orange & White. For Butch Jones, his staff and all of Team 117, it will be their first opportunity to showcase themselves in front of the Volunteer faithful, who they hope will show up in droves to Neyland Stadium.
"First and foremost, we do have the best fan base in the country and the most passionate fan base in the country," Jones said. "We need to continue to make Neyland Stadium a home-field advantage. Anytime we get to compete in that venue, it is special. I know our players are really looking forward to playing in front of our fans. We need everyone to come out and continue to support. This is really the first public display of Team 117 and it is all about first impressions. That is the mentality we have taken this week in practice."
Wednesday's practice was the last in full pads for the Vols before the spring game, which will feature an offense versus defense format similar to what the team has used in previous scrimmages this spring.
"Obviously, we would like to have a draft, we would like to draft teams but that is where we are at with our program right now," Jones said. "We don't have much depth so it is going to be offense versus defense. We will have a scoring system so there are numerous opportunities for the defense to manufacture points with three-and-outs, turnovers, tackles for a loss. It is the same formula that we have been using throughout the course of the spring so our players are used to it."
The spring game isn't just a test for the players though, as Jones will be evaluating how he and his staff perform as well.
"I want this to be game day for our coaches. It is game day for us. There are little things that maybe people take for granted, from the way you do pregame in your locker room, the way you do pregame in warmups, the way your team takes the field, areas on the field for pregame, all of those little things. This is basically a dress rehearsal for Austin Peay, so we also think it is important that we have our coaches connecting in the press box. We'll be on the sidelines and we understand that communication is critical."
In addition to providing the Vols one last chance to see where this year's team is at on the field, Saturday's spring game also gives them the opportunity to showcase the program all weekend. To go along with the game, UT is also hosting a lettermen's golf event on Friday with nearly 200 Vols For Life set to participate.
"You look at all of the events going on with a record number of lettermen coming back for a golf outing on Friday, a record number of former players, VFL players, coming back, that is going to be exciting," Jones said. "[Then Saturday's game] is an opportunity to compete, it's another evaluation tool for us as coaches, and, obviously, it is a chance to play on national television. That is a great opportunity and everything is about recruiting as well so it is all about a great weekend and it is a chance for us to continue to prove that there is no better place than Tennessee."
NO TIME FOR REST IN SUMMERThe Vols will officially finish their spring season on Saturday with the DISH Orange & White Game. But that means the work will just continue during the summer months. Jones is adamant that Team 117 continues to grow both mentally and physically before the official start of fall training camp in August.
"We need to finish having a mindset of physicality and being able to transition," said Jones. "When we get into the summer now it's about really moving forward as a football team. We still have a long way to go but, again, our players keep coming out and working. We keep demanding and the big thing moving forward is having the foundation to where we can make the summer extremely productive.
"It is all player-led meetings and player-led workouts and we have to have a great foundation moving into the summer. That is really the next phase when your team is really developed and born. I am a firm believer that is where your overall leadership takes place, is in the summer."
The players know the summer is an important time to refine their games in preparation of the regular-season. They also believe in what Jones and the staff are preaching.
"(In summer), I will be getting my techniques down, getting plays down, and being more consistent," said senior lineman Zach Fulton. "I love the staff, they're very competitive, just like we are. I love everything about them."
Fulton is expected to be one of the leaders of the team, which is an area Jones is hoping the players focus on as the weather gets warmer.
"The big thing is leadership, having that foundation of a standard and expectation, our style of play, pride in our performance and moving forward into the summer," said Jones. "This summer will probably be the most critical summer we have had here in a long period of time because we have to get better. I've seen teams go from having a very average spring to having a tremendous offseason in the summer, where coming into training camp they are ready to go and take off. We need to start fast in everything that we do."
GET YOUR MIND RIGHTComing off an All-American season, junior offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson has been limited by a knee injury to mostly mental reps in the first spring season under Butch Jones.
"I think playing tackle it's a lot of mental," said Richardson. "I'm getting a lot of mental reps right now and that's the biggest thing. Watching other guys, critiquing what they are doing and just trying to be a leader."
Having heard a lot about his 6-foot-6 left tackle's abilities on the field, Jones has demanded a lot from the Nashville native off of it.
"He's very eager. We have challenged him from a mental standpoint," said Jones. "We've demanded a lot from him when he is not taking the mental reps. It's time to get him on the field and see what he can do."
With four starters returning from a squad which allowed the SEC's fewest sacks (8) last season, Richardson believes the group has come a long way, but still has work to do.
"Two years ago, no one would expect us to be where we're at, but the past doesn't matter," said Richardson. "It's all about continuous improvement and that's where we're going right now."
NEVER FAST ENOUGHSince the moment Jones arrived at Rocky Top, he has stressed the need for tempo and speed on the offensive side of the ball.
While he knows that they will need to balance that full-speed ahead philosophy with the skill sets of the players currently on the roster to some degree, Vol fans should still expect to see a high-octane offense this fall.
"We've proven over the years that we are an offense that likes to push the ball down the field, but we also need to play to the strengths of our players and I think that is critical," Jones said. "If you do the research, over the last six years we like to push the ball down the field."
Jones' offense isn't where he would like it to be just yet, but he is confident that a summer with Coach Lawson will help to remedy that.
"I'd like to go faster but you know these players are going to have a summer with what I feel is the best strength and conditioning staff in the country and I firmly believe that," Jones said. "They are going to have a full summer of training with them and I think our players understand that type of physical shape, mental conditioning, mental and physical endurance that they are going to need to play in our offense, which I would like to be much, much faster and it's going to be much faster."
RAY LEWIS-LIKE WORK ETHIC
Heading into his final season donning the Orange & White, senior defensive lineman Corey Miller has stepped up his intensity and determination this spring.
"It's a little bit of everything," Miller said. "Mostly, it's the last go around. You don't have another opportunity. Secondly, there was a film we watched about Ray Lewis and at the end he says, `Effort is between you and you.'"
Miller and the team watched "A Football Life: Ray Lewis" and the one thing has stuck with the South Carolina native is work ethic.
"It was that one thing at the end," Miller said. "He basically said throughout the film the way he made it to the NFL for 14, 15 years was the fact that he gave effort. He was the one running to the ball all the time. At the end, he said `Effort is between you and you.' That's the thing Coach Jones has been preaching to us so it really hit home."
The defensive lineman has been spending his Sundays watching extra film with Coach Stripling and constantly looking for ways to improve.
"I've been taking in everything Coach Stripling has been talking as far as down blocks, stretches, all that type of stuff," Miller said. "More attention to detail and a harder work ethic. I've been trying to get in position, make plays and stand out on film."
LANE RETURN A POSSIBILITYRunning back Marlin Lane missed practice once again on Wednesday, but Jones was not ready to rule him out of Saturday's spring game just yet.
"There's still an opportunity," Jones said. "He has some criteria that has to be met. He's meeting that criteria but as of right now he's still out and that's all I'll comment."