Nov. 19, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Butch Jones announced following Tuesday's practice that the Vols will wear the Smokey Gray uniforms in Saturday's home finale for Senior Night.
"We are going to wear the grays," said Jones. "(It's) something we have spoken about. Our players, we talk about that. We talked about the gray becoming more standard a little bit in our football program.
"It is something with our seniors that they wanted to do. I think it is a reward for them. It is not a big deal. The uniforms don't have any outcome or bearing in the game, it is our mentality, it is our focus, it is our effort, it is how we execute and it is our overall discipline."
Jones said the decision to wear the Smokey Grays showed a sign of team solidarity.
"It was their decision," he said. "Just like we do every week. Our players staff chooses what we are doing and obviously I get the final say. But we talked to the seniors about it and it is their last home game."
Tennessee first wore the Smokey Gray uniforms for the Georgia game back on Oct. 5, as the Vols suffered a heartbreaking 34-31 loss in overtime.
Jones originally unveiled the Vols' alternate adidas TECHFIT uniforms on Aug. 15, as the team's media day at a fashion show. Saturday will be just the fourth time since the 1930s that the Vols will wear something other than orange-based uniforms on Shields-Watkins Field. The team wore white-based throwbacks in the 2004 season opener and wore black jerseys on Halloween night in 2009 in addition to the Georgia game.
THE FRESHMAN READY TO LEAD SENIORS
When the seniors run through the `T' one last time on Saturday against Vanderbilt, it won't just be families and fans cheering them on- quarterback Josh Dobbs will be one of their biggest cheerleaders.
Although Dobbs will only be playing his second game in Neyland Stadium, the true freshman understands the importance of beating the Vanderbilt Commodores. Not only is it senior night but also a rivalry game important to the SEC and the state of Tennessee and coming off an open date, Dobbs believes the Volunteers are prepared for the 'Dores trip to Knoxville.
"It's just a big game, of course a lot of tradition behind the rivalry, so we're focused on what we have to do to execute in order to play the best football game we can," Dobbs said.
With two weeks to prepare for Vanderbilt, Dobbs and the wide receiver unit have been able to put in extra work to better their chemistry on and off the field.
"Bye weeks are great," said Dobbs. "We were able to regroup and focus in on this goal. Last week was good just to get our feet under us and continue to grow and improve as a team. It's a big week of preparation."
Dobbs and wide receivers such as Marquez North and Alton "Pig" Howard take every chance they get to run routes and Dobbs notices improvements each time.
"They've been doing a good job getting open and running their routes for me, so that's always great, as well as the other receivers- our receivers are doing a good job," Dobbs said. "Everyone on the receiving corp just works hard every day and is willing to."
The Volunteers must win their final two games to be bowl eligible and Dobbs is confident in the next task at hand in their final home game against Vandy.
"We're trying to get to a bowl game and it's extremely big for the seniors to make it to a bowl game, so every day we're working hard for that these next two games and to make it to a bowl in December," said Dobbs.
On Saturday, Ja'Wuan James will run through the T for one final time on Senior Day.
After his 29th time running through the T, James will take the field at right tackle, where after Saturday he will have started for the 48th consecutive time, every game of his Tennessee career.
In doing so, James will tie the Tennessee record, held by Jeff Smith (1992-95) for most career starts by an offensive lineman.
"I had no idea that was going to happen," said James. "That's just a blessing from God to be able to keep me healthy for this long and taking care of my body. Coaches gave me an opportunity when I was young. You just come in and work and try to be consistent."
And James has worked for his entire career on Rocky Top.
So much so that when Butch Jones arrived on campus last December he quickly realized the experience that James had to offer.
"He came to me and said from the beginning I was the most experienced guy on the team," said James. "He felt like I knew the team. So if I feel like something's wrong with the team, or something needs to be done, or he asks me, he feels that if he works together with us then the players start to get everything done."
Because of their honesty and communication, James and Jones have developed a strong relationship in a very short time.
"Coach Jones is a great coach," continued James. "He's a greater guy. I feel like we've bonded in this little time we've had and I wish I could play for him longer. I feel like we understand each other. He cares about where the team's headed and where the team stands so we can get stuff fixed."
The communication between the two never stops. James frequently sits in on coaches meetings and Jones is always texting and calling to see what he thinks about one play or another.
"It's funny," said James. "It might be 1 o' clock in the morning and you get a text or call and he's just thinking football, wanting to call you and talk to you. He says `hey I'm thinking about this, I thought about that.'"
"You're scared at first, thinking `why are you calling me at 12?' and I say `what's up.' He (Jones) says `Man, I've been watching film and I can't wait to play on Saturday. How are you feeling?' I respond, `Well I'm kind of tired.' He's a great guy. He loves football. I love how he tries to include all of us."
James, like the 27 other seniors honored on Saturday will go out and give their all for Tennessee.
"I'm going to go out there and soak it all in," said James. "It's my last time playing in Neyland. I am just going to go out there and have fun."
TIME TO GET NASTY
Since racking up four sacks in a 23-21 victory over South Carolina, Tennessee's defensive front has been held sackless over the past three games.
"One of our defensive points this week is being nasty," said Smith. "That is something we've lost in the past couple of weeks. We need to have that nasty mentality to get after the quarterback no matter what. Whether it is a hold or something else, we have to want to get after the quarterback. That's something we have been working on.
"We need to have more effort; we need to have more want-to and more drive. We have been telling ourselves to keep that in our minds. It's an imperative part of this game."
Associate head coach and defensive line leader Steve Stripling has stepped up the intensity the past two weeks.
"On the defensive line we take it personally and Coach Striping has got into our face about it this week and all last week," said Walls. "We take it personally. It's a defensive line game and we're going to go out there and have fun.
"We know if you dominate your man - the guy in front of you - that we have a good chance of winning this game. We take all the weight on our shoulders."
Both Walls and Coach Jones emphasized the importance of pressure, not just for the linemen, but for the entire defensive 11.
"It is a mindset of getting to the passer; it is a relentless approach," said Jones. It is second and third efforts. They are a good offensive front. So it is going to be the second and third efforts. It gets back to playing team defense. Sometimes you get a sack because of coverage so it all goes back to playing with great effort and strain and a mentality to get to the quarterback."
Walls - the team's sack leader with 4.5 - added that his group needs to get to the Commodore quarterbacks not to just pad the stats, but for the guys lined up behind them.
"Personally, I feel like I'm letting guys in the backend down," said Walls. "I take that very personally - for guys like LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph - they shouldn't have to cover that long. That's in direct correlation with how much pressure we get on the quarterback so I take it very personally.
"I challenged the defensive line. We've got to get some pressure; we have to help those guys out. Not just for the sacks, but to help them out. They are our brothers - they need us and we need them. It's our job to get pressure and help them out on the back end."
THEY'VE COME A LONG WAY
Back in 2010 a young Tennessee offensive line let up 41 sacks on the season, good for most in the SEC and ranked 115th in the nation.
Yesterday, the offensive line went deep into the archives to look at film from their freshman year.
"It was fun," said senior Ja'Wuan James. "Me, Zach [Fulton], and James [Stone] all watched our film from freshman year and it looked terrible. Back then, you think you're doing good, but it looked terrible."
"We were just watching film on Vandy, and we said, `let's turn on the game from sophomore year and the game from freshman year,'" said James. "Then we just went down the line and watched UT-Martin, Memphis, Ole Miss, all of those games. It was all our idea. We were in there laughing at how terrible we looked."
Since then the Vols have accounted for the fewest sacks allowed in the SEC in the last three seasons, by a large margin.
In 2011, with more stability in the front five the Vols allowed 18 sacks (third in the SEC, 40th in the NCAA). Last season the Vols allowed just eight, leading in the conference and ranking third in the country.
Tennessee has allowed 12 this season, third in the conference and 17th in the nation.
"It is crazy to see how bad we actually were," said fellow senior offensive lineman Zach Fulton. "We understand why coach was yelling at us all the time. It is great to see that we have improved."
"We've come a long way," said James. "It's a blessing just to play this long and play for this university."