Head Coach Butch Jones
"We have had a great start to the week, and it all starts today with a great day of preparation. We are playing a football team that is very talented and confident. They have won 25 of their last 33 games. They have won 11 of their last 16 road games. They are very well coached, and they present many challenges for us. First of all, offensively, we all understand what we are in for with quarterback Chuckie Keeton. We can make every throw from the quarterback position, but he adds another dynamic in terms of being able to run the football. They are big, strong and physical up front. They are skilled on the perimeter. We anticipate a lot of quick screens or bubble screens. They have a very good running back core. Then defensively, they pose so many challenges. They run a little bit different scheme than what you are used to preparing for. They are very talented up front. Their defensive structure is very linebacker-orientated. It is going to be a great challenge. The have good returners, so we are going to have to do a good job with our kick returning coverage.
I have said this before, and I will continue to say it. The first games are the games of the unknowns. We probably have more unknowns than anyone else in the country. How will your players respond? We have to be disciplined, assignment sound and handle turnovers. The winner of the first game usually manages the turnovers. They don't beat themselves. They play well on special teams, and they tackle. Being a good tackling team is going to be very critical for us throughout the entire year. We also need leadership. How will we respond to the adversities brought by game situations? I think lost in this whole things is also the youth and inexperience. Can they adapt and adjust during the game? We need our players to give us feedback as a coaching staff. I thought we took a step forward last week as a football team with our in-game management. We had a practice that exposed all the little things and details that could happen during a game. We are excited to get out there, and I know our players are excited to get out there as well. It should be a tremendous environment. We need everyone. I have told it is going to be a sellout. We are going to need to make Neyland a great home field advantage for us moving forward."
(On a concern for youth being overly eager)
"Well there is. We talk about your eye discipline. You have to do your job. You don't need to do anyone else's job. That is the thing we have been stressing all of training camp. Some of these individuals have played in games before. The new players need to rely on the older players with their preparations. You have to deserve victory and invest in victory. It all starts with how you go through the week from field study to how you prepare your body to how you execute mentally and physically in practice. That is one of the things you go into during games wondering. How are these individuals going to react? How will they perform when the scoreboard is on, and there are no more redo's?"
(On Curt Maggitt)
"He has been back with us during the full practice. We will move him around and ask a lot from him. We will ask him to play outside linebacker to being down on the line. He is back with full go. It's been great because he adds a full other element to our defense, and we are going to need that. Even though he hasn't played in a year, that leadership tangibles and calmness that he has will be extremely beneficial for us defensively."
(On the three freshmen starters)
"It was a high level of consistency and performance, which we always talk about. They have been mature beyond their years. They have handled to the volume in terms of the mental part of it from the playbook, the work capacity and our style of play, being able to finish plays and being able to continue to improve each practice. They have earned that right, and I am excited to see what they can do on Sunday."
(On Cam Sutton winning the punt return job)
"He has consistency. Great players have it. He has been consistent every time that he has gone back. He consistently catches the football, and I will continue to say that that is one of the hardest jobs in all of sports with 40 yards, a four second hang time and nine or ten guys running down field trying to tackle you. There is a lot of concentration with each punt. You have to figure out what to do with the football. He has just had a very high level of consistency each day."
(On who will open as kicker)
"We are not anywhere close to where we need to be in terms of naming a starting kicker. Both kickers have to talent to kick at a very high level. We are just looking for consistency in all that we do. One day George Bullock has a great day, and then the next day, Aaron Medley has a great day. We are looking for who can have a number of good days back to back. They are both very capable of that. It's also the kickoff with ball placement, hang time and allowing your kick coverage team to get down the field. They have the ability, but we are still looking for the overall consistency."
(On trusting his secondary's depth by allowing Sutton to return punts)
"Anytime you put back your starting corner, you worry about ball security, which he had done a tremendous job with but also depth. Some of the younger players aren't quite game ready yet. They will be. As we continue to evolve with this football team, there are some individuals who may not be ready yet, but they may be ready by the next couple of games. Every individual develops at their own different pace and speed."
(On situations that can test the youth for kickoff)
"Anything and everything from our style of play to all the reps. It's the game of the unknowns. Utah State is going to come out and give us something that we haven't seen on video whether it is offense, defense or special teams, and those are the nuances of playing the first game, and when you have a veteran team, they can usually adapt and adjust right away. That is one of our concerns. We will have some new wrinkles in our offensive and defensive systems too. It just comes down to execution. We have to be able to control the controllables. That is our effort, being assignment sound, and simple alignment. If you one yard off being aligned with you stem, that could be the difference in winning that rep or losing it. All of the things that we stress in being a great tackling football team are big. You try to put your players in every game-like situation that you can. We won't know till gameday. I will have a better feel for this football team once we go through a game, a week of preparations and how we handle things like the distractions of Boomsday or being at the team hotel. That is one of the benefits of trying to prepare this football team by spending eight days at the team hotel, which was absolutely critical for us. Not just for rest and recovery, but also for them getting accustomed to the hotel. Everything that we do has a purpose."
(On handling the balance of preparing the players versus overwhelming them)
"The KIS principle in keeping it simple. You are exactly right. Sometimes as a coach you can overload them with information. So our meetings have to be clean, clear, concise and direct. That is the message. They can't be really long. Our practices this week will be crisp and they will be clean. You just have to chip away at it. In today's world for us it is a Monday practice. That is the way you look at it. I have really guarded against that with our coaching staff. Let's just keep the message simple each and everyday to build up to game day. That is a component you have to take into consideration."
(On the consistency of Justin Worley in practice since being named starting quarterback)
"Yes, Justin has met our expectations. He has really taken on a leadership role. I have seen him be even more vocal. The great thing about it is that Nate Peterman and Josh Dobbs have not changed one bit either. They are still pushing him and communicating. They are still trying to improve on a daily basis. It has been great to see that overall position group has not been phrased one way or the other just because they know who the starter is. They know they are one snap away. Don't ask me who the number two quarterback is because I know that is the next question coming up. It will be by game. The great thing is we have different packages for both players if need be. It will be a game time or in game decision."
(On Pig Howard working his way to the top of the depth chart)
"I think it is his overall work ethic. We spoke about it at the beginning of camp. I thought he had changed his whole body structure. He was in the best shape he has ever been in his career here. It showed and again the consistency he brought each and everyday. He didn't say two words. He just kept working and working. He earned that by his body and the first day of work at training camp. He had been one of our play makers. Another thing is his overall knowledge of the offense. We now have the luxury of being able to move him around by putting him in the boundary, putting him in the field, putting him in a slot. You will even see him at times in the back field with certain things. The overall understanding of our offense has also benefited him."
(On fear of players underestimating Utah State because they are not from the power five conference)
"Absolutely, I know that all too well being at Central Michigan. There are great football players. All you have to do is look at the body of work over a long period of time from what is going on at Utah State. They have done a tremendous job. You just have to put the film on. You see a very well coached football team. You see a confident football team and you see a capable football team. They have some great players. They have players that will play in the National Football League for a very long time. You look at last year with the amount of players they lost because of graduation into the National Football League. So all you have to do is put their film on if you know anything about football then you say this is a really really good football team. You look at the confidence. Then you look at the eight games that they lost. They have all been very close football games. So when you look at the body of work, you break down every position, they are a very good football team. They have done a great job at recruiting and they have done a great job at developing their talent."
(On showing players Utah State film and emphasizes these things)
"Our players understand. They know good football players. I think the other thing is that they (Utah State) has a bunch of veteran players. Even though they had to replace a lot of players in the offensive line and other key positions they are replacing them with veteran players. We have not had that luxury. We are replacing players with freshmen. That is the mark when you have a program is when you graduate the next person steps up and he has gained valuable experience maybe on special teams or playing in a part time role. Now they have worked their way into a full time role. That is what they have been able to do. So even though they have lost some great players they have had players in the program pay their dues. They have learned from great players before them. They understand and that is what great programs do. They learn from each other. When you have that culture in place and that mindset you just keep building it everyday. That is what we will get to around here."
(On the rarity of freshmen players coming in and getting better everyday without hitting some wall)
"You do have your training cap lulls where they hit a wall. That is the one thing about Ethan (Wolf) and Derek (Barnett) they have not really hit that wall. They have been fairly consistent with everything that they have done. They have done a good job that way. It even happens in older players not to even mention younger players. Everything has happened so fast for these kids from now they are in school. They have 15 credit hours. They have study table. It is managing your time from clutter and distractions. All that goes into that. I said it at SEC media day we have to jump the learning curve in a hurry. Now we have to jump it in a hurry playing a very talented football team that is a veteran football team, Utah State."
(On the depth chart)
"That two deep will be on-going because like I said there could be some individuals that aren't quite ready yet, but they will be ready week two, week three, week four. We just have to keep progressing along. That is what I mean when I talk about the process. This isn't just add water, football team. We are going to continue to develop each and every day because of our youth and inexperience. So you are going to see players that maybe we aren't even speaking about right now that maybe three weeks, four weeks down the road we will be speaking about. You are probably asking the question well where did they come from. We just have to put our heads down and keep developing."
(On the pros and cons on having such a deep but young, fresh depth chart)
"It is exciting because I think it is the future of Tennessee football. This football team is going to be intact with many years to come. Along with that you suffer growing pains, but also they are very talented. There is a difference between just having returners and experience and being talented. A lot of people would say they would take talent over experience but you still need to benefit from that experience. That is why the experience from the older players that we do have, have to help the younger players through that. That is what makes it exciting. We get to raise this football team as Vol nation. They are going to continually see them grow up. Veteran teams allow you to do so much schematically even make quick in-game adjustments. They know your systems inside and out. There are many challenges that are presented but I know this football team is eager. They are full of energy. They want to be led and they are hungry. I like that in our football team."
(On the defense being better suited this season)
"We will find out in a hurry. I would like to think that we are a lot more athletic on the defensive side of the ball. We have improved our team speed but to simulate Chuckie Keeton in practice is a challenge in and of itself. We will find out in a hurry come Sunday night how far we have progressed and where we need to make improvements as we move forward."
(On simulating Chuckie Keeton)
"It will be a mix of all of our quarterbacks, it will be Joshua Dobbs at times, you may even see Evan Berry back there, you may even see Alton Howard. The great thing is we have a Joshua Dobbs package with a lot of these that they do. We have an Alton Howard package as well. So again, there will be some carry over where we are not inventing anything new. There will still be a learning curve because we have that stuff in our offense. We will be able to balance that as we go throughout the course of the week."
(On while at Central Michigan did he enjoy playing on the national stage)
"Absolutely. It is a chance for your players to prove themselves, prove that they deserve to play on this stage. You get excited, these are great opportunities. When we were at, especially Central Michigan, we really relished this opportunity, it is an opportunity. We'd tell everyone back at Central Michigan to put us on the map, it is an opportunity to really show what we have there. We had a two game winning streak versus the Big Ten where we were at Central Michigan. Our players would look forward to that. We understand, it is trying to teach out players, you are going to get everyone's A-game when they come into Neyland Stadium. To have the opportunity to compete in a history venue like Neyland, in a great venue, you are going to get everyone's best game."
(On the shock value of playing in Neyland Stadium)
"I don't know, I am worried about he shock value of our team. A lot of these individuals haven't performed, that is why the open practice was monumental, our fans coming out and supporting us was monumental. When you hear them say, `that is the largest crowd I ever played in front of, 40,000.' I told you a couple weeks ago, that isn't even half of what you are going to be playing in front of. So I am more concerned with how our players respond and not getting all caught up in the emotions of a game. I don't ever want a football team that plays on emotions. Emotion goes highs and lows, there are peaks and there are valleys. I want a straight lined football team that plays with passion and energy. There is a difference between passion and energy and emotion. I don't like emotional football teams because they are up and they are down, they are on that roller coaster. I just want a team that is just straight lined, handles the task at hand and gets better each and every day."
(On young players being prepared to play in Neyland)br> "Yeah, you could see it. We tried to make it as chaotic as possible with crowd noise and every imaginable situation and sudden changes and how they embrace it and trying to create that stress level. Oh yeah, that was probably the most intense Beanie Bowl we have ever had but we needed to do that for a purpose."
(On Dillon Bates)
"No he is a linebacker. Being a great linebacker is so much about instincts and finding the football. The great linebackers, they just have a knack of finding the football. A.J. Johnson is a great illustration of that. He has great instincts. Dillon Bates is one of those individuals as well, he is going through everything, not only learning the defensive schemes but all the special teams schemes as well."
(On the amount of players earning their stripe)
"We are still at nine. Our older players and our players staff have done a great job of not succumbing to the standards and the expectations and the culture that we have in place now. Now, I don't want anyone to be alarmed, they won't play with black stripes, but when we go back to practice they will have their black stripes on. But again, when they earn it, our players staff have done a great job with communicated to the players, `you are this close to getting your black stripe taken off.'"
(On Dillon Bates' black stripe)
"It is called tough love. The great thing again is watching A.J., wherever A.J. sits in Smokey's, our cafeteria, when we get that all done I may even invite the media to come and have lunch with us, because when you talk about a tremendous advantage for our players and the part of the nutrition and recovery that we talk about. Whenever we go down to Smokey's, I like to see where the kids are sitting and usually where A.J. is sitting you can find Dillon Bates as well."
"No, our players staff, we do game day captains. One of the rewarding things we do at the end of the week, I meet with the players staff and they vote on who should represent Tennessee out at midfield. One of the new things that we will do is the player of the game on special teams will be a captain for the following week. So I can let you know who that is. The other thing I wanted to make sure I express today, it is an unusually day for us in terms of classes, so there will only be two players available today. But when we get back to a regular routine of the press conferences there will be more players available. As you know, academics are first and foremost. So we are not dodging you."
(On the defense being motivated to play Chuckie Keeton)
"We know he is a great player, if you can't get excited and motivated to play the first game of the year, why are you doing this. That is the thing about football that makes it different, it is a year round job. You work exceptionally hard for 12 opportunities that are given to you, working to get to 13, working to get to 14 and then more after that with the college football playoff. There can be no off days in college football, one bad day takes you away from all your dreams, goals and aspirations. So you put so much training into the start of the season but again, I have said it, for this football team, that Power of One, we have to continue to get better and better and better, game in and game out. Our style of play has to continue to improve, you can see last year, we started exceptionally well and then we had a taper and then we picked it up and then a taper. We can't have that with this football team, we have to continue to improve and get better and that is part of the culture and that is part of the expectations that we now have in place. A lot of these individuals, they are experiencing it for the first time. For us as a coaching staff, we need to stay calm, we need to stay poised, we just need to continue to have that focus that we walk about, that bullseye focus each and every day."
Quarterback Justin Worley
(On comfort level vs. last year)
"I'm really comfortable. I think it helps that we're kind of in the second year of our development process. Marquez is in his second year. We've got some guys that have some experience at every position, so that helps with my comfort level a lot."
(On how he showed his leadership)
"Just organizing some things. We had a cookout, an offensive cookout, to start off the fall camp. Just some little things like that and just being able to let everybody know my presence on the field is still going to be there and everything like that."
(Worley on preparing for Sunday)
"Just keep your head on straight, try to block out the noise. Like he said, it's going to be loud, it's going to be a little different than just piping in some crowd noise practice. So, handle the situation, handle the elements, and you'll be alright."
(Worley on more weapons this year)
"It's awesome to have several tight ends, several receivers, three or four running backs to be able to get the ball out to and get it in their hands. We've got some great playmakers that can make plays when the ball's in their hands. It's going to help a lot having these guys around me."
(On the difference in weapons vs. last year)
"We were younger last year at the skill position. Maybe not at runningback - we had Raijon Neal, who was a senior, and Marlin, who's had some experience, as well. But definitely out wide we didn't have much experience. We were working with a bunch of true freshman, so having them in their second year of their development and their understanding of the offense is helping a lot."
(On freshman tight end Ethan Wolf's progress)
"Ethan's a big guy. He's probably 6-5 or 6-6. He's physical, he runs good routes and he has good hands so I don't know if you could say many bad things about Ethan. He's done a great job, came in early, got in the offense quickly and has really developed."
(On going against Daniel Gray)
"I don't have too many memories of throwing against him. That was a little while back but I mean, I'm excited for the opportunity. I'm excited to kick the season off."
(Worley on what he knows of Chuckie Keeton)
"We met at the Manning camp. We spoke here and there but I don't really know him too much outside of that, though."
(On whether he talked to Keeton about the game)
"A little bit. Not too much though. I've watched some film on him. He's a tremendous athlete and a good runner who throws the ball well too. So, he's definitely going to make things hard for us but I think everybody is ready and excited."
(On Utah State's defense)
"Yeah. They're a really good defense, very sound in their coverages. They don't MA too often and you can tell they're very well-coached. Looking at their roster and stuff, they've lost a few guys in their secondary so they're a little unproven there. Overall, they've got a pretty solid defense."
(Worley on how Pig Howard worked his way back onto the team)
"Pig did a great job of meeting requirements that we set for him coming back. He did take the spring off and had some personal issues but he's really come back and been a tremendous asset for our football team. He makes guys around him better, he makes me look better. His work ethic and everything has been above and beyond what it was before and you can see that he really wants to make a name for himself and prove himself again."
(On his expectations for the team)
"I think we can surprise some people this year. I think we are really talented, even though we are young. There is an insane number of young guys on this team and being a senior, I mean, you'd hope there would be more seniors that we could lean on here and there but I'm excited. I think the sky is the limit for this football team."
(On his trust level with freshman tight end Ethan Wolf)
"I trust him a lot. He's done a great job, came in early and has great hands, like I said earlier, and he does everything right. My trust level with him is high, as well as with some of these other tight ends. They've done a great job as a position group with developing and pushing each other."
(Worley on the difference in his confidence level this fall)
"Yeah, I think I'm more confident. The last game I played was the first half of Alabama but the previous two games, I played probably some of my best football and I've tried to build on that through spring practice and fall camp. Coach Bajakian has put a lot more in my hands in terms of running the offense and I think my leadership has improved so yeah, I think my confidence is higher."
Wide Receiver Marquez North
(On preparing young guys for Sunday)
"I would just say, just be mentally locked in 24/7. It's going to be a loud crowd roar. Our preparation that we take should be able to handle that."
(On handling his nerves last year)
"It's probably always going to be a little bit of nerves. Just coming in from high school, it's a big step playing in front of probably about 1,000 people at the most at my school, to 102,455. It's going to be a little nerves, but we've just got to prepare the same way each practice, and then hopefully we'll handle it."
(On improvements as route runner)
"Coach Z does a real good job just teaching us technique. He repeatedly talks about it and that's really our main focus, breaking points and just getting in and out of routes."
(On how there was more to the receiver position than he thought)
"Playing receiver is more than just `physical,' it's also `mental.' You've got to know your conversions due to the defense, so there's a lot of knowledge that goes with it, too."
(North on working with Howard through his comeback)
"Pig has always had a great work ethic. During the spring, it was just a different situation. Like Justin said, he was going through some things. But now that he's come back, he's just great competition. Me and him push each other every day and that's really where we're all getting better."
(On what he's doing to be productive in the red zone)
"Coach Jones harps on winning in the red zone so we do a lot of red zone plays in practice. Just like I said, I prepare myself for each week the same way and just go out there and give it my all. Hopefully it leads to success."