July 31, 2014
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- The development of the Tennessee football program from year one of the Butch Jones era to its second act has been a process that has relied heavily on the players themselves. And that's just the way Jones wanted it.
The second-year head coach of the Volunteers highlighted the off-season commitment of his players in his first comments to the media ahead of the opening of fall camp for Team 118. Jones met the media in the Stokely Family Media Center at Neyland Stadium Thursday afternoon with the opening practice of camp set for Friday night at Haslam Field.
That development started with players doing extra work outside of the off-season conditioning program. The players took ownership of the off-season, fulfilling the rolls that Jones wanted for them.
"When you watch our practice Friday night, you're going to see a team of guys coaching each other," Jones said. "We always talk about it's better to be a player-led team, a player-coached team, than it is to be a coach-coached team in terms of them being around each other. They've taken great ownership of that."
Moves made in the weight room have caught Tennessee up in an area that Jones felt was lacking a season ago. A stronger team emerged from Dave Lawson's weight room this summer, but Jones knows there is still work to be done.
"We're still not where we need to be as a program," Jones said of the overall strength level of his program. "But if you look at our bodies out on the field tomorrow night, they've changed. They're in great condition. But there's a difference between the strength and conditioning level and being in football condition."
Two of the quarterbacks that will vie for the starting role found themselves doing the same extra work over the summer. Joshua Dobbs and Justin Worley traveled to California to work under noted QB guru George Whitfield, though neither knew the other would be there.
"We first saw each other when we got there, so it was good to see a familiar face," Dobbs said. "It was a surprise, but a good surprise.
"Coach Whitfield said he really doesn't like having two quarterbacks from the same school there at the same time," Worley said of running into his teammate. "But he praised us for competing, but also working together. It was very constructive for us."
Jones said getting to those national camps was beneficial to his quarterbacks and for every player that was able to leave campus to get better.
"Any time you can get around other individuals and compete, it's a great measuring stick of where you're at and work your craft, work your trade," said Jones. "When they had time off, they weren't going home relaxing. They were going to better their skill set, they were going to better themselves as a football player, but also mentally, the classroom setting, all that goes into it."
The mental development at the quarterback position and all over the field will be key to the goal that Jones set last season of playing faster. Now, the team has a base of experience to build their tempo on and an infusion of young talent that brings a boost in speed all over the field.
"I anticipate us playing at a different team speed," Jones said. "The biggest area where you will be able to see that is in the special teams game, in the coverage units."
In noting the lack of speed and depth that plagued the coverage units, Jones rattled off the names of a half-dozen newcomers that would step onto the field to boost those units. Freshmen and newcomers will see action there and all over the field, but Jones sees that as an opportunity, not a weakness.
That opportunity extends to players who have been on campus, but played in areas, particularly along the lines, where upperclassmen held long-term starting roles. Those roles are now up for grabs.
"You guys talk about them being brand new, but a lot of these guys have been here for two, three years," Worley said of his offensive linemen. "They've been in the system, they know what's expected of them. They've embraced their role, they've embraced being the gas petal to get this thing going."
"I think of it as a tremendous opportunity," said Jones on the lines. "Now is your opportunity, go grab it, take hold of it. There are opportunities for individuals all over the place."