Aug. 5, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Coming into day four of fall camp the focus was on consistency and performance day in and day out. Afterwards, head coach Butch Jones felt like overall it was a step in the right direction.
Still one ongoing challenge stuck out in Jones' head.
"I thought an extremely productive day today," he said. "Still working to build our identity with this football team and what happens now is our players have to understand now the consistency in performance, the consistency in their preparation, the mental effort, and the mental intensity that it takes."
As the Vols finished the day and continue into the heart of their long stretch of practices, they'll look to continue a routine of constant improvement despite the physical taxation that can start to wear a team down.
"We have a long way to go," Jones said after Monday's practice. "I do think we're improving in small increments but we are improving.
"This is how teams win in the fourth quarter. Teams that win in the fourth quarter have a consistency in their performance each and every time out."
Jones stressed the importance that training camp has on creating mentally tough individuals who are able to win in tough situations even noting some of the outside strains on the Volunteer football team.
"I try to really study our football team and where they're going to be and they're going through a grind right now," he said. "As you all know our practices are demanding but a lot of these individuals have an academic workload as well and it stems in finishing this week also in summer school."
It's that tough, grinding mentality that Jones and his staff are trying to get molded into the identity of Team 117.
"I told every player when we walked in here and we had our first meeting, Dec. 7, everyone was responsible for building their own identity," said Jones. "What they had done in the past did not have any merit at all."
NEW TERRITORY FOR #12
For a player that's never been part of a true positional competition over his entire football playing career, the Volunteers' No. 12 is sure handling it well.
When asked the last time he was in a quarterback competition, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman answered, "I guess freshman year... Kind of.
"It was more like we had a senior quarterback and they wanted me to be behind him," Peterman said. "This is a little new, but at the same time I'm always trying to give my best whether I'm the No. 1 or the No. 3. Last year, I always tried to give my best regardless."
Not only does the heated quarterback competition against junior Justin Worley not seem to bother Peterman, but he's managed to find some fun in it.
"It's fun being part of a competition like this and it brings out the best in everybody," said Peterman. "It's a good thing I think for everybody.
"There's a little bit of pressure, but I don't think too much. I don't think anybody really takes it to heart, and like I said, it brings out the competition even more. I think everybody thrives off competition, and it's fun out there."
Along with competition and pressure, add number of reps to the list of things that don't faze the calm, cool and collected Florida native.
"I'm not trying to focus on where they're putting me, but just focus on doing my best anywhere they put me," Peterman said. "Whatever the coach's decision, I'm going to do my best regardless.
"I just try to do the best with what they give me. I think maybe it even strengthens me a little bit. I trust the coaches and I'll do the best with what they give me."
SWISS ARMY JOHNSON
The enthusiasm that the Vols' new coaching staff has brought to the team is trickling down to their players and junior linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt are taking it upon themselves to become more vocal leaders of the defense this season.
"Coach Jones came in with a lot of enthusiasm and confidence in us and we just build confidence as a team to get better," said Johnson. "The defense, we just bought in and believed in what the coaches were saying, so it's going good."
Jones pressed Johnson to become the leader of the defense and according to the coach the Gainesville, Ga., native has risen to the expectations.
"He is the alpha male of the defense," said Jones. "He is the leader. What made Ray Lewis, Ray Lewis? He owned the defense. He took ownership of that. That is what we expect from the middle linebacker of our defense. But we expect that from everyone on defense, our seniors, our player staff, holding everyone accountable and it starts with yourself.
"It is the small details. So much of playing great defense is your gap integrity, is everyone doing their job? You really get exposed on defense when one person is wrong, it is 1/11th, when one wrong, all wrong. You really see that on defense."
Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen has also inspired Johnson and Maggitt to work harder on the field and in the meeting room.
"You just have to learn every position," said Johnson, "I don't have everyone's position down pat, but I'm learning it each day. I think Coach Thig is a big part of that. He's teaching us the whole defense and like I said, he's teaching us the offense too."
By learning every position, both linebackers are able to be verbal with their teammates on the field and keep up the morale of the defense.
"That's the goal," Johnson said, "Curt and I, we have to keep the defense hyped up. If somebody is quiet, we are the two that, we can't be quiet. We have to be out there talking the whole time and just getting the team going and the defense going."
Johnson knows what his teammates and coaches expect of him, so he won't be backing down any time soon.
"I'm the MIKE linebacker, so I'm the quarterback of the defense."
BOUNCING BACK, JONES STYLE
Many players, when asked about what they knew about Coach Jones before he got to Tennessee, will respond that they knew he was the coach of Cincinnati.
Dontavis Sapp is no different.
It is his respect for the Jones lead Bearcats, who Tennessee ousted 45-23 at Neyland Stadium two seasons ago, that sets him apart.
"I knew that he was at Cincinnati and I remember Cincinnati coming down here," said Sapp. "But I also remember after that loss seeing Cincinnati in a bowl game and seeing that they won seven games in a row after losing to Tennessee."
"That showed me the type of team and program that Coach Jones ran at Cincinnati," continued Sapp. "To come down here and lose and lose a big game like that and go back up and get his team on the right track to win some more games."
Sapp is excited about Jones leading the Vols this season.
"I believe that could be us," said Sapp. "We have all of the talent in the world on defense and offense. We just have to get out there, get everything down, communicate and play."
THIGPEN FOSTERS FAMILY FEEL
This year's football team is all about family, on and off the field. Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen is defining a family member. First and foremost, Thigpen is the coach, but he is also being looked at as a father figure and a friend.
"Coach Thigpen is a great guy," senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. "He knows football. If he doesn't know anything else he knows about football and schemes. He has taught me so much football and who is supposed to be where and why they are supposed to be there. He is a great football coach."
It is evident that Coach Thing has impressed Team 117 in the meeting room with his football knowledge.
"He goes through all the plays and makes sure we learn and stuff," A.J. Johnson said. "We mess up, he's going to let us know and correct us. He's teaching the defense to us real well. He's teaching us more so of the offense, like what defense we're in, we're going to know what the offense is looking for, where they're going to look to to throw and stuff like that. So, that's a good thing."
Thigpen has also proven the Vols that he can step aside from coaching and have fun with his team off the field.
"He is a funny guy," Sapp said. "He will joke and clown around with you, but when it is football time, he is locked in. Outside of that, outside the meetings and off the field we are like friends. I feel like that is how it is supposed to be with coaches. You can talk to them about everything, we can laugh and joke with them about stuff going on in college and he is right there."
ITS ALL ABOUT THE CHEMISTRY
Heading into the 2013 season it is a wide open race at the wide receiver role.
"Guys are excited," said redshirt junior Jacob Carter. "There are not a lot of veterans coming back. Me, Vincent [Dallas] and Pig [Howard]. We haven't had that much playing time. But there is a lot of opportunity for everybody so everybody is excited about that."
Jacob Carter, the eldest receiver on the team returns with eight catches bested only by Dallas (9) and Howard (13).
Carter knows that he is looked upon to teach the younger players, something that has been bestowed upon him by his receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
"Coach Z preaches that a lot," said Carter. "He wants the older guys to coach the younger guys. We know how we are feeling and Coach Z always doesn't know how we are feeling so we are trying to help the younger guys out and coach them up a little bit."
Carter isn't worried about a freshman stepping in and jumping him on the depth chart.
Because for Carter and the wideouts, it's all about the team.
"It is not about self-promotion," said Carter. "It is about getting better. Getting yourself better and the other players better, so as a team you will be better. You don't want to put others down to get yourself up. We all try and help each other. We understand it is competitive, but we still try and help each other out."
Carter's selflessness is what has propelled him into a leader of the wide receiver corps.
His hunger is what keeps him going.
"You can't think too much on the past, but I do every now and then," said Carter. "I just feel like I am blessed to be here. I can never feel satisfied though and that is how a lot of the guys are. You have to stay hungry. That is what coach has been preaching. You can never be satisfied."
Addressing the media after Monday's practice, redshirt freshmen Danny O'Brien sported a dried blood trail traveling from below his nose to just above his upper lip.
The defensive lineman said it was all a part of the intensity of practice and one special play he made towards the end.
"I got a sack there at the end of last period," said O'Brien with a grin. "I got a little pumped up and hit my face with the helmet. I was a little jacked."
"A little" might be an understatement.
"I mean everybody is just competing and that's the biggest thing," he said about the high intensity of practice. "Everybody is just getting after it, trying to get their spot on the depth chart; going hard. "
O'Brien went on to say he was channeling his inner Owen Schmitt - a former West Virginia full back who was shown with blood dripping down his face after a cut to the forehead.
"He was one of my idols back in the day," O'Brien laughed.
26 DAYS UNTIL ...
The Vols will open the 2013 campaign against Austin Peay on Aug. 31. To purchase season tickets, go to UTTix.com.