Aug. 2, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Day one for Volunteer football began Friday as head coach Butch Jones and his new squad took to the field in their first day of fall practice.
In keeping with the Vols' new mantra, the `bricks' were on display and the base level of the Vols' rebuild has begun from ground zero.
"I thought we started off exceptionally well and as practice wore on I thought we lost our mental intensity," said a near voiceless Jones in his post-practice address.
"I still like the mentality of this football team we just have to continue to preach and learn how to play winning football."
Although no pads were worn on the first day, Jones said that there was still plenty to develop and was pleased with what has carried over from the spring and summer.
"I saw some great retention from our older players," said Jones. "I thought our freshmen for the most part did a great job but as we continue to move forward, our installation will continue to move forward as well."
Jones praised the offseason work and conditioning that has been a product of director of strength and conditioning coach, Dave Lawson.
Jones also said that he'd like the speed of the offense to go faster than what he saw today but ultimately was impressed by how much bigger, faster, and stronger his players were.
"Our players are in the best shape they've been," he said.
If Friday was the initial level, the first step in completing the blueprint of the 2013 Tennessee Football season, building on top of it tomorrow will be just as important.
"The big thing we have to come back tomorrow," said Jones. "We have to be a much better football team in terms of our mental effort and our mental intensity that it takes for sixty minutes."
WORLEY READY TO COMPETE
Worley is one of four competing for the quarterback position this fall and the junior knows that he must make the most out of every opportunity he gets, on and off the field.
"I mean with the two freshmen coming in, we're definitely splitting up the reps a little more to incorporate them, so the reps have been a little bit different, but I mean, everybody is getting them," Worley said.
Quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian agreed with Worley, saying that each quarterback will have equal chances to prove himself.
"We'll keep shuffling until a guy steps up. So, we'll evaluate the video, rate each guy--Justin, Nathan, Josh and Riley, all of them. As they demonstrate a grasp of what we're doing, then they'll get more reps."
Bajakian seemed most pleased with the retention of information that carried over from the spring and looking forward to how each quarterback has improved.
"I'm happy. Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson, boy they are further along from a mental standpoint than any freshmen I've had before. Physically, they are both very talented, so it should be interesting to see how they progress as training camp goes on, but they stepped in in their reps and in a lot of ways, managed the offense like veterans and I'm happy to see that." Bajakian added, "That's a testament to both Josh and Riley but also to what Nathan and Justin did with those guys this summer."
Worley and the Volunteers did not treat today's practice as their first but rather their sixteenth.
"We're just trying to retain our info from the spring and go out there and have a little fun today," Worley said.
While today's practice was similar to the spring, Worley knows that the intensity and the urgency will increase each day.
"We know what to expect and we need to meet those expectations and surpass them as well."
Communication is also a key factor that Worley knows is important for the team's success. One way that Jones is implementing this into the program is by the black stripes appearing on the freshmen's helmets. While the freshmen must earn their orange stripe, it is the upperclassmen's duties to help them.
"I think it's a great idea. That way, seniors and juniors and the upperclassmen, we can evaluate the freshmen and really watch what they do and watch how they progress. I think once they earn their stripes, rip it off and they'll be (more of a) part of the team."
LINE GETTING BACK IN FOOTBALL SHAPE
The Vols have been working out constantly this offseason to make sure that they are in shape for the fast paced tempo that Head Coach Butch Jones has set in place on Rocky Top.
One of the more massive positional groups that struggled a little during the spring, is having an easier going heading into fall camps.
The offensive line as a whole, like everyone else on the first day of camp, is tired. But they are also pleased with their conditioning.
"I can really tell," said junior Antonio Richardson on the shape he is in. "First half of practice I wasn't really tired as far as being winded. My legs might have been a little fatigued. Other than that I wasn't winded at all. That is most definitely paying dividends and we are going to continue to get better."
"I felt a lot better today than I did in the spring, we knew what we were supposed to do," echoed linemate Zach Fulton. "I felt a lot more conditioned, I will tell you that. It was a lot easier running down the field."
As the Vols took their first steps on Haslam Field as a team Friday afternoon, they felt in shape, but knew that after not playing football for over three months, they would need to return to football shape.
"I think our lapses were more physical," said Fulton. "We knew what we were doing and where we needed to be but we didn't execute the way that they wanted. There is a difference in being in shape and being in football shape."
The Vols also know that this isn't day one of practice. They have echoed the sentiments of their coach saying that this is day 16 of the 2013 preseason.
And the intensity needs to be there.
"We felt it in the spring, but now it is even more," said redshirt senior Alex Bullard. "This isn't the first practice, this is like the 16th. We are just picking up where we left off and the sense of urgency has to be on point."
"It is go time now," said Richardson. "That is what you want from the coaches, for them to push you. That is what I want from my coaches - to push me every day. Our first game is in 29 days. Our anxiety is up, but I am just ready to get back out on the field."
FREEDOM UP FRONT
Because their seniors, the pressure is on. And both players know it.
"It's been a long four years and it's time for me to step up to the plate," said McCullers. "The defense depends on me - that's what [coach] said, so I'm going to give it all I've got.
"I knew it was coming. Since the spring, he's been on me to make me better, so I knew it was coming. I'm going to take it on and give it my all. I'm key in the middle to get penetration and make plays, so that's what I'm going to do for the defense."
Couch, the Vols second-leading tackler in 2012, echoed his teammate's sentiments.
"The seniors - myself included - have to step up," Couch said. "We have to get the younger guys motivated and do anything possible to help this team win. We have to prevent mistakes."
Coach Jones also added why he believes McCullers and the whole defensive front is so valuable.
"Well I think you look at his size, you look at how hard he's played and how hard he's worked to get to this point," said Jones. "Again it starts with stopping the run. It stops up front. That's where it begins. So obviously he's going to be a big part of that. If we could get him to develop and improve, that's going to lend itself to being a better defense."
Both have played in a similar system before, but they've taken an early liking to Coach Steve Stripling's 4-3 defense for one reason in particular. Freedom.
"I like the 4-3 with Coach Stripling because he gives us more freedom," said Couch. "In the position I am playing it gives me more freedom to get to the quarterback.
"Coach Strip won't let the D-Line be massive bodies taking up space. He wants playmakers. That is what I really like. Holding up bodies and letting the guys behind us make plays is not going to benefit us up front."
McCullers went into specifics on his role in the 4-3.
"We get more freedom. We don't take on as many double teams like in the 3-4," McCullers said. "The 4-3 is more penetration and getting up field and getting sacks. That's going to be key. It's going to be a big thing for the D-Line to get penetration to the quarterback, and we have to work on that."
AN OPEN FIELDJust like every other position on the football field, running backs Rajion Neal and Alden Hill are competing for playing time this fall.
Neal and Hill are coming from two different directions. Neal played in 10 games in the 2012 season, leading the team with 708 rushing yards while Hill redshirted his freshman season.
"I haven't played yet. So, I might have a name. People might know what I am doing, that I am a hard worker, but I haven't played yet. As long as I stay consistent, doing what I need to do, I think people will recognize that, and right now we have to focus on that and not the depth chart," Hill pointed out.
While Neal may have more experience, the senior knows that the same thing is expected out of each player and that they must prove themselves.
"Just knowing where to be at, from protection to run-fits, and reading our defenses. I think going out there prepared you can kind of play with no doubts. Playing open-minded and you are just going. I think that is one of the big things that we are stressing, knowing what we are doing before we go out there."
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie expects to see both players compete to the fullest in fall camp.
"I want to see the guys compete. I want to see them, obviously I want them to be great friends off the field but I want those guys to be great competitors on the field. I want those guys to have a nasty edge to them when they come and have to compete for playing time."
GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!
The Vols will open the 2013 campaign against Austin Peay on Aug. 31. To purchase season tickets, go to UTTix.com.