Nov. 5, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Looking to tame the Tigers Saturday, head coach Butch Jones and the Volunteers went back to a more physical practice on Tuesday.
After disappointing road losses to No. 1 Alabama and No. 9 Missouri, Jones made the call to practice in full pads.
"That's just one practice," said Jones. "You know to play a good football game, to perform to our standard and expectation, you know it's a building up process all the way through the course of the week and obviously a great, great quality of opponent in Auburn but I thought it was a very, very good and very productive start to the week."
Jones reiterated that Team 117 would be Tennessee tough, the slogan the Vols have adopted for the style of play and physicality they want to have each Saturday.
"Our kids understand the standard and expectation and I like their workman like mentality and I think when you have a relationship with your players like that its part of your job to motivate them but also it's a standard and expectation to which we're going to play football here," he said. "That's the standard of our football program."
A very thin team in terms of depth, Jones said that in order for Tennessee to compete with the best of the best the scout teams have to be more of a challenge.
He also felt it necessary for some first team versus first repetitions.
"Well it is a balancing act and you have to get your quality reps, you have to get your game speed repetitions but also you have to prepare for your opponent and their schemes and their different looks that they give you so that's why your scout teams - the teams that are the upper echelon of college football, they have tremendous depth," said Jones about having the starting offense face off against the starting defense.
"So even when you go scout teams the competition is there every day. Competition is what makes you better," he said. "But also depth in terms of if you're not ready to go, next man in and that's something we're building here but I think our scout team did a good job as well today but like I said that's one of few more that we need to prepare to play our best game on Saturday."
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR DOBBS
This Saturday against Auburn, freshman Joshua Dobbs will be making his first start at quarterback in Neyland Stadium. Entering into only his third game of his collegiate career, Dobbs is showing great potential for Team 117, but it's not only what happens on the field that matters.
In his first few months of college, Dobbs maintains a 4.0 GPA in aeronautical engineering - the primary division of engineering concerned with aircraft and spacecraft.
One might wonder how a true freshman has already declared such a specific major, but for the Alpharetta, Ga., native, there was no question.
"It started in the seventh grade in Atlanta, where I'm from," said Dobbs. "The Tuskegee Airmen are big and I went to a camp and was able to tour the Delta facility down in Atlanta, so ever since then, I've had a fascination with them and it's just grown as I've gotten older."
The Tuskegee Airmen refers to the men and women involved in the Army Air Corps program's "Tuskegee Experience," which trained African Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft.
Growing up, Dobbs was able to attend different camps and museums, along with Delta facilities, which peaked his ultimate interest in aeronautical engineering.
"My ultimate goal is to build and design airplanes- fly them in my free time, but I don't want to be a pilot," Dobbs said. "My goal is to build and design my own airplanes and hopefully one day, own my own airplane company."
It appears the sky is the limit for Dobbs - on and off the field.
The Vols returned to wearing full pads all week in practice this week.
In order to take some of the stress off of the players in the past few weeks, Coach Jones has taken some of the weight off of their shoulders, literally, during practices.
But the player staff decided it was time.
"Coach Jones didn't even say it," said senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James. "We have a player staff, like twelve guys that the team voted on, and we met with him Sunday after the game. We were like, `We'd like to go full pads all week.' We feel like we're getting away from what we had early in the season."
The purpose was so no unnecessary injuries occurred during practice, and to save some energy for Saturday.
"I know he was trying to take care of us," continued James, "take care of our shoulders because we don't have a lot of depth, but we were like, `We need to get back to our winning ways, get back to our old habits like we had earlier in the season to close everything out.' We addressed the team and told them that and everybody had a positive mindset out there and had a good day."
With the full pads on, there was a lot more one-on-one action at Tuesday's practice.
"It feels good to go out there and compete against each other," said James. "We haven't put our full pads on in a while, so just going out there, having fun, and playing football."
WORK HARD, PLAY HARD
Michael Palardy nearly didn't make it out on to the football field this weekend against Missouri thanks to a back problem.
The senior didn't do anything to himself during practice to hurt it, the right side of his back just locked up Thursday morning while heading to class.
"I couldn't sit, I couldn't lay down and I couldn't stand up without having pain," said Palardy. "I came into here and the training staff did an awesome job at getting me ready. I just tried to work out that muscle. I didn't really have any idea what happened."
Palardy spent multiple days with the training staff trying to get ready for a cold night in Missouri, and it wasn't until Saturday that he felt well enough to compete.
"I didn't really know what I was going to be able to do," said Palardy. "On Thursday, I didn't think I was going to be able to play in the game. I just kind of tried to get as much treatment as possible so I could get myself ready for Saturday."
The adrenaline of the game atmosphere helped the specialist loosen up and finish the night with seven punts for a 42.7 yard average and his longest field goal of the season, a 51-yarder.
Four of Palardy's seven punts dropped inside the 20-yard line, two of which were downed inside the 10.
In fact, Palardy leads the nation this season in punts downed inside the 20 yard line (23 of 47), and is second best in the country dropping 12 of his 47 punts inside the 10.
A stat the humble Palardy attributes more to his coverage team, than himself.
"J.R. [Carr] did an absolutely unbelievable job of getting down there and sliding on the turf and sacrificing himself so the ball didn't go into the endzone, but they have done that all year," said Palardy. "They have busted their butt downfield and when that ball bounces back or forward the run after it and they know that ball can't get in the endzone."
"I try and make it easy on them and put a little something different on the ball, a little different spin to try and get it to bounce backwards to help them out and make their jobs a little easier, but they have done an absolutely unbelievable job," continued Palardy. "Most of my success this year has come from my coverage team and the things that they have done."
The Coral Springs, Fla. native is not one to bask in the praise of his teammates and coaches, including the praise given to him by Head Coach Butch Jones during Monday's press conference.
He still knows that he has work to do to help the Vols finish out the final three games of the regular season and become bowl eligible.
"Coach Jones, tells you when he is pleased and when he is not pleased," said Palardy. "I think the praise that he gave me, I am happy and excited that he did, but I still have three more games to play. I still have to go out there and execute the way that I know how to, the way that I want to and the way that he knows how that I can."
"That is the biggest thing. I appreciate all of his praise and whatnot but at the same time I still have a job to do for three more games."
PIG PLAYING WITH A NEW OUTLOOK
Sophomore wide receiver Pig Howard has seen his role vastly increase over the past year. Howard was use in a variety of ways as a rookie, catching 13 balls including one touchdown, rushing for over 40 yards and even throwing a TD.
In 2013, the 5-foot-8 speedster is the primary slot receiver in an offense that places a high emphasis on the position. He currently leads the Vols with 36 receptions and three touchdowns, and is coming off a career night at Mizzou, where he hauled in 11 passes - tying the fifth-most in program history.
At Monday's press conference, head coach Butch Jones said it's Howard's new and improved off-the-field mentality that's leading to success on the gridiron.
"You want to know why Alton Howard is playing well? Alton Howard is doing well at school," said Jones. "Alton Howard is one of the first individuals in the building. He's early in meetings, he's asking questions and he's leading.
"He has accountability not only to his self but he's now holding the other wide receivers accountable. That's growth. That didn't happen in August. It didn't happen in September. That started to formulate in October."
On Tuesday, the Orlando native discussed how he's been able to focus on football.
"If you take care of everything in the classroom and get your off-the-field issues out of the way, you'll be able to focus better on the field," said Howard. That's a correlation to life. If you struggle in the classroom - you're behind on things and have a lot on your mind - that's going to figure into your performance on the field. You're going to have your mind somewhere else and you won't be focused. You have to get everything done and have one less thing to worry about so you can get mentally tuned-in on the field."
Since Jones and his staff took over the program they've emphasized the importance of being a student first. Howard has taken that mindset and ran with it in his second year on Rocky Top.
"The coaches are always preaching about getting academics out of the way - that comes first - and having a good mindset," said Howard. "If you do well in the classroom, you can do well on the field.
"The coaches always tell me, `If it's not important to you, you'll make an excuse, but if it is important to you, you'll get it done.' I take what they tell us and run with it. I let my actions speak."
With 10 underclassmen listed in the Vols' wide receiving corps - himself included - Howard has also established himself as a leader on the field and off.
"Knowing that we have a young wide receiver crew, I try to take ownership and the lead," said Howard. "I give them advice or tips as far as managing your time, not procrastinating and on the field issues as far as having confidence and being accountable."
PREPARING FOR THE THREAT
This season, the Vols have seen a slew of run happy quarterbacks across the line of scrimmage.
This week proves to be no different as the Vols will face a dual-threat quarterback in Auburn's Nick Marshall.
"They have a great quarterback," said safety Brian Randolph. "He's a good run threat. He can also pass it. So, we've faced that before, but it isn't like the read option, we have to be sound in our defense."
The Vols are preparing for Marshall in a unique way, but using the speed of defensive back, and track star, Michael F. Williams.
"He's one of the fastest people on our team," said Randolph. "He runs track. So, it's a good look. He was trying to get the ball to the edge, and he did a good job with it."
Head Coach Butch Jones had high praise for Auburn's QB, as well as their entire offense.
"I don't know if you are ever prepared for them," said Jones. "Extremely talented, great team speed, obviously, we haven't performed very well against a running quarterback. So it is a great challenge for us. That is where they challenge you. They are a top-ten opponent. It is going to be a great challenge."
Though nothing may be able to simulate exactly what Auburn is running on offense, Williams is giving Tennessee a good look.
"He is elusive, he is quick," said Jones. "Nothing can simulate what they are doing schematically in terms of down and distance, play calling."
The defensive backs will be out there trying to contain Marshall at Neyland this Saturday, reverting to their home-field advantage to aid in stopping the run.
"Home field advantage is a big thing for us," said Randolph. "Having our fans, our home crowd. There is nothing better than that. So, that's probably going to be the boost that we need."