(WBIR-Knoxville) The wait is almost over; we're just 31 days away from football time in Tennessee.
UT Head Coach Butch Jones and several members of the Vols talked to the media at a preseason press conference late Wednesday morning.
Watch the attached videos to hear what the Vols had to say.
For its first game, Tennessee will play Austin Peay at Neyland Stadium on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m.
Transcript of press conference, provided by UT Sports:
Head Coach Butch Jones
"Well good afternoon, it's good to see everyone. Hopefully everyone is well rested from this summer. It's getting close to being football time. I think you can understand there's a lot of excitement right now starting a brand new season with Team 117.
"Our players are very excited and I think very rightfully so. I think we've had a productive off season program. Our players to this date have answered every challenge that we have given to them. I think I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about winning in the classroom. You have the best semester that you have academically in the history of the program with 46 individuals with a 3.0 or higher, a 2.82 accumulative GPA, and then you follow that up with your first semester of summer school that's even better than that.
"Then I got a report yesterday which made me exceptionally proud of our young men in our program, since this staff has walked in on December 7th, our team has done 1,322 hours of community service. 1,322 hours of community service. To me, we talked about before we could even think of winning on the field, we had to win off the field and it started with the way we conducted ourselves in the classroom, our academic expectations and how we represent this program in class.
"Everyone is excited, but for me, I'm more interested in how this team is in week two, week three, as we continue to progress throughout training camp. It's easy to be excited now, but what happens when you go through the long days of training camp, and every day seems the same and you're hitting each other, that's when your team is really born, that's where your toughness is born, that's really where your leadership is born. When we step out on the football field for practice-one, I'm very, very interested to see how this team has progressed since spring football.
"You know, the challenge for a new coaching staff is developing your style of play and your expectations. You have 15 practices and that's it. With the NCAA calendar, it really limits you in how you can develop your football team. Then you look at non-padded practices, and it's not much of a gauge or a tool to really see where you're at. So the big thing is as we continue to move forward is, how much have we improved our strength levels, how much have our conditioning levels improved, our leadership, our team chemistry, our togetherness.
"Our overall fundamentals and meticulous attention to detail that it takes to play winning football. That's what I'm excited to see and I think the big thing as we continue to move forward is retention. We cannot start from ground zero, we have to take what worked to build upon with those 15 practices of spring football, and continue to progress. We can't be starting back. We have to continue to move forward, and also individuals taking pride in their performance, our style of play.
"Every great team has a unique style of play that makes them different from all the other teams in the country. We continue to develop our group reputation as a football program and then power the unit. Is each position group taking pride in their performance? I think the overall mentality of really what it takes to play winning football day in and day out, the mental preparation, the mental intensity that it takes to win at a very consistent level. The team chemistry. The fundamentals.
"I've said it and I'll continue to say it that I think this team will be defined by how we handle adversity, how resilient we are and as we know the schedule is a great challenge. And I know you guys get tired of hearing me say it, but it's all process oriented. Everything in this football program is process oriented. We're not going to worry about the end results in camp. The only thing we can control is being a better football team minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. That's the only thing we can control and we have to focus on the things that we can control.
"I think the big thing though, is our players understanding that this is what championship teams do. We always talk about inches make the champion and everyone is searching for the inches. I'm a firm believer in team chemistry and I think we all know this, it's not a secret. Are we going to be the most talented team this year? No we're not. We all understand that, but talent doesn't win championships. Teams win championships.
"Last place I was at we won two championships in a row and I believe we were voted fourth or fifth in our conference but I thought we had the best collection of individuals who bought into a goal and they held each other accountable to the standards and expectations of the football program.
"So again, I'm excited to see how far we've come from spring and then you add another element with the component of incoming freshmen. I'm excited to see where those individuals are and watch them progress throughout training camp and see which ones will be game ready. If you ask me right now which freshmen I anticipate playing this year, I don't know. I haven't seen them in action.
"What you have to understand is that these are still 17 and 18-year-old young adults. They're like our children. You raise them the same way, they all develop at different paces. When you throw in the physicality of the game, you throw in the practice structure, you throw in the competitive environment, you throw in the systems, you throw the functional intelligence it takes to play at a high level, so that will be an ongoing progress as we continue to go through training camp. So with that I'll answer any questions that you may have."
(On the depth chart)
"I've said it from day one. A depth chart in our program is irrelevant. All a depth chart means is who takes the first rep and then it's up to everyone, I told them, you are responsible for creating your own identity. The way you go to class, the way you represent our program and our institution in the community. How you're able to take the classroom setting to the field and how you compete. That's your identity, so the depth chart will change. The only depth chart that we really pay attention to is special teams, but the depth chart's not a big deal."
(On what a freshman quarterback would have to do to push for a starting position)
"I don't think it's unrealistic. Is it difficult? Absolutely. We're going to play the quarterback who can manage the game for us, take care of the football for Tennessee, and put us in the right situation. We expect our quarterback to be the alpha male of the offense. He is the leader. When things start going array, they're all going to look to him. He's the one who is in control. We talk about being in control and a commanding presence in everything that you do and I think the thing that our quarterbacks and every position group will understand is every rep is being evaluated. It doesn't have to be a team setting. It doesn't have to be a 7-on-7 for the quarterbacks. It may be as simple as run frames with the running backs or an individual rep in practice. We're going to totally evaluate every individual, and the quarterback that will play on Saturday will be the individual that we think will have the best chance to lead us to victory."
(On if he would like to name a starting quarterback early in training camp)
"Yes, I would, unless it's really, really close. If someone comes in and distances themselves and really takes hold of this football team and is their leader, we're going to name a starting quarterback. I'm not an individual who likes to play a number of quarterbacks but I do think that you always look at past history. We have a system in place offensively that will play to the strengths of whoever is the quarterback. You look at last year, we went from a dual threat quarterback and three-quarters through the season we made a quarterback change to a drop back passer and we won a championship. So I think our offensive system lends itself to that, but I'm the type of person that if a person distances themselves we're going to name them the starting quarterback."
(On if all four quarterbacks will get equal reps until a decision has been made)
"It goes back to the previous couple questions. We will evaluate them in everything. That's a good point, the freshmen quarterbacks will probably have limited reps starting off, so every rep is critical. Do something to catch the coaches eyes. The other thing with great quarterback play is a high level consistency. Consistency in your performance day in and day out."
(On what prompted him to make the quarterback switch last year)
"I think it just goes back to the fact that we're going to play the player that we feel will put us in position to win football games. Who gives us the best opportunity to win football games? At that particular time we just felt that it was the best decision for our football team and looking back at it, it won us a championship. Every situation is different. A lot of times different situations dictate personnel changes. Obviously, this is a new year, and I'm excited to see what all four quarterbacks bring to the table."
(On how quickly the team has bought into the program both on and off the field)
"This team has probably bought in more quickly than either of the other two stops. And that's taking nothing away from the individuals at the other two places because at Central Michigan our first year we won a conference championship. This team has answered every challenge to date, but I don't think for us it's not a new thing because we're a new coaching staff. Those are the standards and expectations of our football program. It doesn't matter if it's year one, year four, or year 10 -- you guys are hopefully going to be stuck with me for a long time -- so it doesn't matter. That's the standard and the expectation by which Tennessee Football is going to be run and that is the standard."
(On if he's surprised that they've gotten to that standard so fast)
"No, I'm not. I think it speaks volumes of the character of our players, but I think the other ingredient is our coaching staff. Again, when I stood before everyone on December 7 and we talked about compromising and the composition of the coaching staff, I said I was going to bring the best coaching staff to the University of Tennessee that I felt would help us implement our program and I think the transition has been seamless because we all know each other. We've been through it before so I didn't have to take my time of coaching coaches. They understood the standard and the expectations so they can now go coach our players up and recruit that much faster."
(On what unique aspect he wants people to see in this football team this year)
"Well first of all, our style of play is our discipline. Good football teams take care of the football, they take the ball away on defense, they don't have untimely penalties, they're disciplined in everything they do. Effort, you know every coach talks about effort, but I think everyone in this room knows, that it's coached on every single snap. Again, to overachieve, you have to play with tremendous effort. Team chemistry, you win with team chemistry. You're talking about 105 individuals coming together. We talk about it all the time, one wrong, all wrong. That's what makes football the greatest team sport. It takes 11 individuals doing their job, executing their assignment and then with the physicality and the mental approach, and if 10 guys do their job but one individual doesn't then you aren't going to have success. That's why we talk about all that and that's why team chemistry and trust is critical."
(On managing who gets reps in training camp)
"Every rep counts, no matter if it's an individual rep or every rep in practice, they'll have plenty of reps. We're going into camp with four quarterbacks. I worry about sore arms so they're going to have plenty of opportunity. Everyone talks about team situations and all that. Some of the best practice occurs in routes on air with the quarterback, just ask Peyton Manning. That's his best part of practice because you're earning that trust with your receivers, you're learning their body language, how they speak to you non-verbally when they're coming out of cuts and breaks so every rep is going to be very detail oriented and focused on greatly."
(On if younger players understand that every rep counts)
"If they don't, they better in a hurry. And they will. When we start our team meeting on day one, everyone's going to know. It's not just the quarterbacks. We have to find out who the next offensive lineman is. Unfortunately, we may have to rely on some true freshmen to play up front on the line of scrimmage. I'm more concerned about that, knowing who is number six and who is number seven so our players will know and if they don't, they will understand that every rep is critical as we continue to grow and develop Team 117"
(On Curt Maggitt)
"Curt's been through a long haul, and I say it all the time, we live in such a SportsCenter society, and you go home and all you do when you put the TV on is you see all the highlights. What you don't see is the resiliency and the perseverance that individuals like Curt Maggitt have had to work themselves back into playing shape. I learned very early on in being here that Curt is one of our leaders on this football team and it's hard to be a leader when you're not in the fray with your teammates. It was hard on him staying back in the spring but he still led. He's the one that's leading our football team. He's one of our leaders. I'm excited to get him back on the field. I do think we have to be patient with him. It's going to be a process of going through what he's been through but I know he's excited to get back out there on the football field."
(On Justin Worley)
"He's consistent. You know, we talk about consistency and performance. I always say `I want a McDonald's team. What's a McDonald's team? You go anywhere around the country and you order a No. 1 meal, you know what you're getting. That's what we want out of our quarterbacks, consistency. Day in and day out and our entire team. I don't like teams that are emotionally up and down. I just want teams that come to work every day and Justin has been that. We've challenged him and you know what you're getting every single day."
(On Marlin Lane)
"Marlin will be back and he has done everything to warrant reinstatement to this football team, but he also understands the expectations and the standards and he is going to have to earn his way back. Nothing in this football program is given. It's a right, it's an honor and it's a privilege to play for the University of Tennessee, so he understands that and he has to start rebuilding that trust with the coaching staff, his teammates and that started this summer. He's done a great job and moving forward now into August camp."
(On Brian Randolph)
"Again, I go back. All great players have it. He has a very high level of consistency. You're knowing what you're getting with Brian: very positive, hard worker, can take the classroom setting to the field. Again, is he 100 percent? No, he's probably 92-93 percent, but again everything is about competition and you look at the safety position, I feel like that's one of the positions right now where we are going to have great competition, but also Brian improves our special teams. For this team to excel, we have to play great special teams. Great special teams, I think, tell you the make-up of your football team. They tell you your toughness, they tell you that everyone's rolling or standing, have they bought into the program, and there may be individuals that take five reps and that's it. But, if that left guard and that punt team, and that's the only thing he does, then that's going to be the best left guard in the country, and that's the mindset that we take with special teams. So Brian adds a whole other element in all factors with our program."
(On Dontavis Sapp)
"Absolutely. Love him. He's done anything and everything that we have asked of him and it started from day one. I thought in the spring, he was one of our most consistent players. He could start on every single special teams that we have and make an impact in the game that way. He's one of our starting linebackers. I think he's explosive. We've really challenged him in the strength and conditioning area with the neck and the traps, and I don't know if you brought it up, but I joke with him all the time, but he's really answered a challenge. He's playing right now and he's leading the way a senior should."
(On true freshmen)
"Well again, I wasn't able to watch summer workouts, but I think that's the position to be in. It's like I told everyone, everyone had 15 practices to prove themselves. If they didn't prove themselves in 15 practices, we're going to look to true freshmen coming in, because they haven't had those 15 practices to prove themselves. So, I think some of it is where we're at and the program, in terms of depth. I think that's probably the biggest thing."
(On team competition)
"Every position. I think, make no mistake about it, you win up front. It's a line of scrimmage league. And I'll say it, we'll be as good as Dan McCullers goes. It is what it is, and I think Dan has had a great summer strength and conditioning season. You look at his body, I think he's a very, very slim now, 360 plus. He looks great. We talk all the time. I'm excited for him because he's worked himself into having that opportunity to really make an impact. The impact, the biggest story align with our defense is how we hold up inside at the defensive tackle spots. I think that's the whole key. Everyone wants to make it to the back end of the defense to the secondary but really it stems with winning up front, being able to win your one-on-one matchups. Then it's a compliment if you're double teamed and then whoever is double teamed, it's up to them to win their one-on-one matchups. The defensive line is going to be big. I think the development, also for future years to come, with all of our freshmen there, and like I spoke earlier in the press conference, is finding out the depth in the offensive line, and obviously we have to replace a ton of production outside the numbers at the receiver position. So, I think the competition there and seeing what some of our true freshmen can bring to the table."
(On Brendan Downs )
"He's back full strength. We thought he was one of the most improved players we had in the spring, from the moment we started our standard periods, our morning workouts. Unfortunately his spring was cut short due to some injuries, but he's back and he earned that right to start off, rep No. 1 at the tight ends, but I do think that that is going to be obviously another position that is going to have great competition. All good football teams have competition across the board. There are no off days and they'll learn the Wally Pipp story and all that, but I really believe, you take a day off or you're not mentally focused, you're not tuned in, that's somebody's opportunity to come and take your job."
(On wide receivers)
"You know that's a hard question to answer because we were so banged up. I got really really excited the way Jason Croomwas progressing and then he was set back with injury. Cody Blanc was set back a little with injury. I wasn't pleased with the overall consistency with that unit from practice one to practice 15 and a lot of that was due to injury, and that's where we have to take the next step."
(On beginning of the season)
"I think that's going to be an ongoing process, but we don't have time. Every rep is critical because, and that's what makes college football different than any other sport, every game matters. The regular season matters. One bad day can take you from your dreams, goals and aspirations. You work exceptionally hard for 12 opportunities, working to get to 13 opportunities, working to get to 14 opportunities. Really that's why we're doing that open practice.
You talk about relying on individuals, that idea was born in my office talking to Peyton Manning. We're talking about the NFL. They have the luxury of preseason games so a coaching staff pretty much knows everything you're talking about. They understand how they're players are going to perform in stressful situations. I've seen this team 15 times and we're going to be a different team in training camp than we were in spring football.
Why the open practice? We're going to treat it like a preseason game and I want to create pressure situations. I want our offense to have to execute one-minute drill. I want our kickers to execute when there are people in the stands. I don't want us to perform the first time, August 31, against Austin Peay. I don't want that to be the first time that this team. That's really where the idea was formulated and born with having an open practice. Both of ours. I think we all know when Peyton Manningspeaks, we all listen, because he can bring a lot to the table. He liked the idea.
This is the first time for me in a number of years that we're not going away for training camp. I kind of like the change of scenery. I kind of like getting away. We have tremendous facilities here at Tennessee. We have a dormitory complex that's right across the street, so it's kind of like being away, but I think, you know, you have to do a good job as a coach to stimulate your players and not become routine oriented when you come into the second or third week of training camp, so I think to have the ability to go into Neyland Stadium, compete in front of our great fanbase, kind of treat it into a game atmosphere. Plus, for the freshmen, you know and everything is new. Even what a lot of people don't think about is the way we travel. Our first night in the hotel before the Austin Peay game will be a completely different routine for these kids. Change is good, but everything is new as we continue to move forward. That's why you have to do your diligence. You have to pay attention to the small details."
"Well, I will tell you this: in today's world of recruiting and the age that we live in, that's something that has kind of been important to programs. I respect the great tradition that we have here. I think I've proven that. Everything is about our tradition, but we will continue to look and evaluate that. If that's best for us, we will do that. There may be something coming, but everything that we do and if we do it, will respect our traditions here at Tennessee."
(On player leadership)
"I think you can build upon it. I think before you can be a great leader, you have to be a great teammate. You have to learn what it takes to be a great teammate. I do think there is some inherit to being a leader, but leadership is a skill that has to be practiced every day. Before you can be a leader to everyone else, you have to lead yourself. Really, leadership is influence. That's why there are good leaders and that's why there are bad leaders and not everyone can lead. Also, with being a leader, and it talks right from the head coach to the quarterback, these are usually the two, is called responsibility of command. There's a responsibility that comes with being a leader. In our program, we practice leadership every day. We have a leadership training session that will be yearly, that our players will go through. It's developing leaders. I do think there are some traits that may differentiate other human beings, but it is something that can be practiced and if they can't, then be a good teammate."
(On AJ Johnson)
"High level of consistency with AJ. Everything that we have challenged AJ with, he has responded. I think he's in the best shape of his life. He plays exceptionally hard. He's really bought into the standard. Now AJ has to do a great job of improving his leadership skills. Just like the quarterback is usually the alpha male of the offense, the middle linebacker is the alpha male of the defense. I think him continuing to work on that part of his game, you look at his body, he's had a tremendous offseason. I'm encouraged, just like Dan McCullers. Now if you can get Dan to say more than five words, you've done a great job. Dan has a quiet confidence about himself right now."
(On communication between coaches and players)
"Well everything starts with the head coach and the coaching staff. The head coach, this is why I love being a head coach. You get to paint the vision for what you want. You create the environment. You create the atmosphere. You create the morale. That's just like, we had an organizational meeting of every individual in our football program that has an impact on the daily lives of every football player. We had almost, I believe we had over 150 individuals at that meeting and it all connects. It doesn't matter if it's the individual that is in the cafeteria serving our players, or the custodial staff, recruiting department, head coach, assistant coach, Jimmy Stanton, it doesn't matter. It all connects. So, it stems with us first and I think if you have a staff that has great chemistry and loyalty, kids are smart. They can feel it, and I think when they see it, it fosters that environment throughout your program and it permeates everything. I think our players can feel it and it's just us being who we are. We work exceptionally hard. We spend 80 hours together with each other. We better like each other. We better respect each other. The great thing is our families. You know, maybe it's irrelevant, but one of the great things for me to watch is, back in 1998, John Jancek's 16 year-old, my 16 year-old and Willie Martinez's 16 year-old, back in the day, were best friends. Through coaching transitions, they're not together and now they're back together. They're all going to school together and to me, those are the things that are rewarding when you have that family atmosphere, is just watching all that. Hopefully our players can feel it, because it's genuine and it's real."
(On Eric Gordon)
"Unfortunately Eric is no longer part of our football team, but he will always be a part of our football program. The big thing for Eric is, we are working on, he is real close to graduation, so we are going to do everything we can to support Eric."
(On team chemistry)
"Yes. That is a big part but it's also with the individuals. I think it's them understanding. They're earning trust amongst their peers. Trust is earned over time, but I think it's doing different events. When we first came here, we did a name test. The guys had three minutes and there was a picture of names and their first and last names. Then we charted what names were missed but also the individuals that were missing those names. That's all part of a family.
"The Volympics, it fosters team chemistry. It also fosters leadership. I think everything we do in our program is about the personal development of our players. It's not just football. When they leave the University of Tennessee, they're going to be the best person they can be, the best student and like I told them, whether it's your first day in the NFL mini camp or whether it's your first board meeting, your first job, you're going to be different the way you walk in that room, because you were developed in our football program."
Junior Quarterback Justin Worley
(On if he had heard about the depth chart and being bracketed with Nathan Peterman)
"No. The whole offseason we've been working, both Nate (Peterman) and I. I guess the quarterback battle is going to continue on into fall camp. Both of us are going to try our hardest to win the spot and earn the trust of the coaches."
(On if he really had not seen the depth chart)
"No. I haven't seen it."
(On if Coach Jones has said when he would like to name a starter)
"I think he just wants to see how fall camp plays out and that's his decision to make. Hopefully one of us (Worley and Peterman) can persuade him to make a decision sometime soon I guess. I don't know."
(On if the quarterback competition was really close during the spring)
"Yeah. I think both Nathan and I played at a high level of football, especially towards the end of spring. We were really pushing each other and bouncing things off each other. I think the competition was really strong."
(On how organizing summer workouts have been different with an open quarterback competition)
"It's kind of been the same thing this summer. Just organizing throwing with the wide receivers and tight ends and throwing some to the running backs there, some of our screens and bubbles here and there. It's been very similar to summers in the past, just with a different workout schedule and things like that. We organized throwing and got all of that going."
(On if he felt he was organizing summer workouts with a chance of being the starter)
"It's been good seeing the turnout from guys too. With our workout schedule it's been easy for guys to show up and be there. We've had better attendance than we've had in the past."
(On why they have had better attendance this year than in the past)
"I think a lot of it is the schedule we've had. We've been very organized this summer. Also, we don't have any starters, I guess, that are announced starters for wide receivers, so everybody is vying for a position. Everybody's looking to get better. I think everybody's hungry right now."
(On if he can tell the cohesiveness of the coaching staff in practices and meetings)
"Yeah, in the spring we had Coach Elder sitting in our meetings at times just because he knows, at Cincinnati he was a defensive coach at one point, so when we were going over defenses he knew a little bit more about the ins and outs of it to help us learn, as well as Coach Jake (Bajakian). So, I think them having a cohesive relationship has really helped and you'll see it as it goes on in to camp. Just last night, Coach Mo (Mahoney) had all the offensive linemen over just to hangout and get to know them better. I think all the coaches are trying to do that with us and try to get on their level because they've already been around each other. They just want us to get on board with what they do."
(On if there is a sense of confidence instilled from seeing the coaches work together)
"Yeah. Coach Z (Azzanni) knows what Coach J (Jancek) is saying. Coach Mo (Mahoney) knows what Coach Jake (Bajakian) is going to say and Coach Jake (Bajakian) knows what Coach (Butch) Jones is going to say. It is good to see that and it instills confidence in us."
(On team goals with this being a transition year)
"Well right now we're just focusing on the process of week one of camp, then week two of camp, and week three. Just working on refining our skills and what we can do better to help us improve our game and improve from results last year. Everybody wants to win, so I think that's a huge goal for us to win games, make it to a bowl game, win a bowl game, the SEC Championship, the whole nine yards."
(On how difficult it has been to make the transition to this offense)
"It hasn't been too drastic from last year. A lot of it is just terminology. A lot of it is procedure as well, learning the up-tempo offense and what Coach Jake (Bajakian) expects out of us. Schematically, it is similar in some ways and different in some ways. A lot of it has just been terminology, learning that."
(On what he thinks is key to handling a group of young receivers)
"I think a lot of it is their confidence level and just trying to build them up and teach them positively, not get down on them and cuss them out, things like that. A lot of it is building them up, building confidence in them, and just letting them know that there's a reason they're here. They didn't just get here by accident. A lot of that is just build confidence, build confidence in their hands, their route running, the whole nine yards."
(On the difference he sees in confidence from first day of spring practice to fall camp)
"I'm very pleased with where they're at. They've come in all summer and worked hard and really tried to refine their route running and worked on adjustments, worked on their hands, distraction drills, things like that. I'm really happy."
(On if there's any of the younger guys who have jumped out in practice)
"It's all been a collective effort. Getting those young guys in and in the fray of a Coach Lawson workout, it's tremendous to see. All of our wideouts have put in tremendous effort this offseason, trying to get better and get stronger and faster. I think for our offensive linemen, the new guys came in and did a good job as well. I'm excited to see what they can do when we get out on the field and put pads on and see what they have to offer us."
(On what Cody Blanc does well right now)
"He's a very good route runner. He finds ways to get open and I think the spring game exemplified that with his touchdown. He's also got good speed out on the edge for us."
(On what the toughest thing is for a young wide receiver while adapting to a new college offense)
"I think just not getting frustrated when things start going bad. Like week two, week three of camp things are going to get tough. Our wide receivers have to run like no other position in this offense. Just trying to stay positive and stay on top of knowing the offense and knowing what I expect out of him and also Coach Z and Coach Jake expect out of him."
(On his early impression of the freshman quarterbacks)
"Both of them are really smart. They've really picked up the offense well. Both have transitioned onto the field throwing the ball well. Getting on time with these receivers - that's a hard thing. Getting on time with new guys that you've never thrown to before. They've transitioned well from high school to the college setting so far. It's been exciting to see and it's been exciting to be exciting to be a part of it."
(On if the team has improved more physically or mentally as a team)
"I think it's been both to be honest with you. Going into the summer, we've set up a Big 3. One of them was mental toughness and one of them was team togetherness. I think we really made strides with our mental toughness. We overcome adversity when Coach Lawson adds another sprint to the workout or things like that. Also, physically, we've gotten a lot stronger. We've set new personal records - squat, bench, vertical jump, everything. So just seeing the transformation from the spring, trying to feel our way around, to the summer working with Coach Lawson and really meeting his expectations and going above and beyond, it's been fun to see. I think we've made huge strides in both of those.
(No. 3 of the Big 3 was...)
"PRS - personal record summer. Just trying to be stronger and more physically fit that we've ever been."
Senior Offensive Lineman James Stone
(On if there is extra pressure on the offensive line this year)
"Yeah, there's more pressure going into it other than the fact that we're the oldest unit on the team and we've got so much experience. So I feel like we have to lead on throughout camp and in to the season on offense and as well as on the whole team."
(On how they have responded to the added pressure over the summer)
"I feel like we just continue to use our work ethic and continue to try to affect other groups, especially other groups on offense. In the offseason we'll get out there and do our drills and just try to affect guys positively and set a good example as well try to guide them."
(On what the offensive line has done to further their run blocking skills)
"We've really just been focusing on it with our offseason. Whenever we get to work as a group, that's what we kind of focus on a little bit more this offseason. That's something we're going to harp on as camp goes on because the fact that we're going to be the balanced type and we've got some good backs that we'd like for them to get in to open field."
(On what he takes out of the coaches working together in the past)
"It makes it easier for me to trust them because you know they all trust each other and they've worked as a unit. So, you only get one answer back. You're not getting mixed signals from the coaches. It helps us trust them and it's always easier if you trust the coaches."
(On if he can sense when a coaching staff is disorganized and not working together)
"You can kind of sense when it's a disconnect between coaches. It's easier to know that they are working cohesively as a unit."
(On the biggest difference in this year's summer workouts and previous years)
"I feel like the attention to detail was a lot more focused this year and I feel like it made us hold each other more accountable as a whole. You weren't just relying on the coaches direction, you were relying on your teammates to make sure everybody's doing the right thing and being in the right places at the right times."
(On running 52, 110s in training)
"It was a good experience. It was a time where you really had to be somebody, be a teammate to rely on when you really had to focus on the task that was at hand and mission accomplished is key in everything."
(On if there is an emphasis on developing the linemen behind him in case they have to step in)
"Yeah, because Coach Mo (Mahoney) always tells us that we're one play away from having anybody from the second team on, so we try to treat them just like they are going to be starters and treat everybody like they're going to be starters because nobody has a guaranteed position on the line. I feel like we've got some really talented guys so we all try to make each other better."
(On if he's been surprised at the publicity and accolades the offensive line has gotten)
"Yes, we are kind of surprised because we've had some success as a group, but the team and the seasons haven't been going as we had hoped. It just kind of gives you something to work for and something you can use for motivation."
(On what area he has improved the most in this summer)
"I feel like I'm most improved in my run-blocking mechanics. That's something we really focused on - our steps and our combos together and just being in sync as a front, not just in passing but in the run game as well."
(On what area the team is most improved)
"I feel like as a team, we really fixed our focus. I feel like we have a lot more attention to detail. I feel like guys are starting to understand that you have to hold each other accountable out on the field and off the field as well. I've seen that. I feel like the team has grown together. We're a closer team."
(On building a winning mentality)
"That's when you have to just focus on the process. Coach Jones and the staff - they lay out the proven process on how you go about becoming a winning football team. You have to take it day by day and get better each minute and focus on the process. You can't really worry about last season. Just focus on the process of what develops winning teams. If you do it every day, you're going to get better every day."
(How much emphasis there is on the running game)
"There's a lot of emphasis on that because we do have a younger group of receivers and we do have three backs that are capable of carrying the ball very well. It's actually exciting as an offensive line when you have three backs that you can trust to carry the rock. It's exciting for you and it puts a fire to motivate you and go out and get better in the run game because you know you have three backs that are capable of running the ball."
Redshirt Sophomore Defensive Back Brian Randolph
(On his health heading into training camp)
"I'd say I am pretty close to 100 percent. I feel like my speed is back and my agility and quickness. I feel like my last thing to come back is my jumping ability. I'm about 95 percent."
(On the final five percent)
"I'd say it is my jumping ability. We did the vertical jump a couple of days ago and I was a couple inches off where I was before my injury. It is not much different, but I feel like it's about five percent."
(On the new defensive scheme)
"I feel like we got the concept and the basic of the defense down in the spring, so we can build off what we learned in the spring. I am excited about it."
(On the defense this season compared to last)
"Our team togetherness is better. I feel like we trust each other more. Talking about leadership roles, we don't have just one. Last year, Herman Lathers was our main leader. A lot more people have stepped up this year and we have a lot more leadership on the field."
(On comparing this defensive system to the previous)
"This year I feel like we have a much better handle on the defense. Last year, we had a lot of changes to make and that often causes confusion. So I feel like this year it's a lot simpler and we can just play faster and be more confident in ourselves."
(On this 4-3 compared to 4-3 of two years ago)
"It is a lot like it. I feel like sometimes the plays are the exact same but I understand it more now that I am older. I feel like it is pretty much the same thing, but I was just a freshman."
(On adjustments made by defensive backs this year)
"I just feel like we have gotten closer. Before every single workout, we remind ourselves of what people think about us and know it was not true. We know we are not the weakness of the defense. Before we get out there and start working, we get together and remind ourselves that people consider us the worst secondary in the SEC, so that has been a motivator for us. So we have gotten much better this offseason."
(On pressure playing free safety in this new system)
"I would say there is a lot of pressure, because the safety has to know what everyone is doing all the time. But I feel like the system gets us in a position to make more plays. It just puts a little more responsibility on our shoulders and I like it."
(On preparing and studying more)
"We have been in the film room a lot more, it has helped our togetherness. After practice we aren't in a rush to go home like we used to. We go spend a couple extra minutes in the film room trying to teach the new kids what to do."
(On group-specific things for the secondary)
"We go bowling every Wednesday and Friday night. We try to hang out a lot more and get to know each other a lot more. We also have little brothers on the team. We take them out to eat and try to get closer to them."
(On how that helps the team)
"When the fourth quarter rolls around or when workouts get tough, if you feel like that is your brother you just don't want to let them down."
(On how that compares to environment last year)
"Sometimes on the team, instead of brothers it was more of a father/son relationship. Sometimes we did not click as much. Being on the same level as the younger kids helps our relationship more."
(On how little brothers were assigned)
"It was assigned to us. It was basically by position and personality type."
(On importance of the corners)
"The corner is a big position for us. We need all the talent we can get because you never know when someone is going to get tired or slow down, so they are very important to us."
(On preference of morning practices versus afternoon)
"I don't really have a preference. I like coming in and getting my workout done and the rest of your day is dealing with class, but I can see the upside to workouts in the afternoon and practice in the afternoon because you can fully wake up and get food in your stomach. There are advantages to both."
Senior Defensive End Corey Miller
(On the new defensive scheme)
"I would say I am pretty excited about the 4-3 defense being brought back. Especially for my position, playing defensive end I feel like it is a little easier for me, but the scheme overall I feel it will be a good deal for all of us. Coach (John) Jancek has come in and done a great job teaching and explaining it to us. We are getting to where we understand it and I think it is going to be great."
(On communication with the new staff)
"I feel a huge difference between this staff and our previous staff. Both staffs are great guys, but this staff actually shows you a more family oriented type of relationship and they express it with the players as well as they do with the fellow coaches. You will see guys who have known families for a long time and been great to one another and they have grown together and it is a really great experience for all of us."
(On the new staff on the field)
"They're definitely on the same page. One might call a play and the other knows exactly what is going on in the back end. From the back to the front to the middle, everybody has the same idea."
(On leadership this offseason)
"We have had a lot of leadership. We have had a lot of guys come up, step up, and take on leadership roles. We didn't have it before, but right now we have a lot of guys who are really serious about what is going on and understanding the seriousness of winning games here and being successful at Tennessee."
(On why more leadership this season)
"I feel like it is maturity as well as understanding from the coaches. These coaches, Coach Jones and Coach (Dave) Lawson our strength coach, they have drilled it into our minds that you have to have leaders. You have to have guys who are going to lead this team, and I feel like that has made a huge statement."
(On feeling at home at defensive end)
"I really do. A 4-3 is great for me because I can play the field and play the boundary. I feel like defensive end is exactly where I need to be. In the 3-4, I really wasn't comfortable. I wasn't small enough to play linebacker and I wasn't big enough to play D-line, so now I feel pretty happy."
(On the family relationship of this staff and team)
"We've had cookouts together, we've gone on rafting trips, we have been together 24/7. For the D-Line, we have a D-Line group chat. We all stay in touch. We have never done that before and I feel like as far as being a family we have become so much closer than before."
(On impression of Justin Worley and his leadership)
"Worley has come a long way, a very long way since last year. He is exhibiting these leadership qualities day after day. He is taking his receivers outside, he is working routes and working formations, he is doing a great job with them. I feel like he is teaching our other quarterbacks as well as our other quarterbacks are teaching him. They feed off of one another."
(On differences between Worley and Nathan Peterman on the field)
"I don't see a difference at all right now. We are going to head into fall camp and see how these guys operate. As far as right now goes, both guys are doing pretty well."
(On what it feels like going into a senior year)
"The main thing to me is, and I told Coach Jones this, when recruits came into the stadium I looked around and saw the videos playing and it made me tear up because there are seven games left. It is the last go-around. We have been through a lot of trials and tribulations as a team, and a good season this year it will really send us off."
(On defensive confidence after the spring)
"The defense is ready to play ball. Going through the spring helped us a lot. We don't like to discuss what happened before, we are focused on this season and trying to get better because our defense wasn't where it needed to be last season or the season before. So this year it is on our shoulders."
(On if the team pays attention to what is said and the difficulty of the schedule)
"I don't personally look at outside expectations. I don't like reading the message boards, I don't like looking at anything like that. As a defense, I tell the defensive line all the time that it starts up front. We tell the offensive line the same thing, it starts with us. So if you want to get the ball rolling, you have to push. On defense you want to stop a running game, we have to push. And collectively, it rolls back into the secondary, quarterbacks, and receivers. Everyone feeds off of us up front."
(On how this team will respond differently than teams before)
"Coach Jones has established a foundation with this team. He always preaches plus two, plus two, 63 effort, 6 seconds for 3 great efforts. He always preaches finishing. The difference with this team compared to last year's team is that we understand that we have to keep driving no matter what. There are going to be bad plays or turnovers, bad things happen during games, but we have to overcome and keep moving forward."
(On lessons learned from the close games from last season)
"Rather than going 5-7 we could have won 10 games last season. It is all about finishing in the fourth quarter. There were games we should have finished and we know we should have finished and that leaves a pain in your heart with a little bit of regret. At the same time we have a long season ahead of us. We have to keep driving and finish each game. We can't have any regrets."
(On confidence coming out of the close games of last season)
"It is all about what you could do differently during the game. After you lose a close game like that, I don't believe in moral victories. There are no moral victories in my eyes. If you lose a game, you lose a game. There were things that happened throughout that game that you have to change, whether it was a wrong step you took or you messed up the play or messed up the formation. There are things you have to fix and that comes through watching film and studying the playbooks. Things like that can stop you from losing games in the future."
Junior Linebacker A.J. Johnson
(On being the center of defense this year)
"I wouldn't say that I am the center of the defense. It's been a good summer, and we have been working hard. It has been one of the best summers since I have been playing football. With the new strength coach and coaching staff, they have been pushing us very hard."
(On what is different)
"The environment of the new strength coaches. They came in, and let us know that we aren't playing around, and we will have to do everything right like touching the lines and finishing each rep. If someone doesn't finish a rep we call them out, and start the set over until everyone does the right thing."
(On the difference with Brian Randolph could have made last season)
"He would have made a difference, and maybe we could have won a couple more games because he's a great player and always does the right thing."
(On participating in bowling and rafting during the summer)
"It has been a good experience. We go bowling on Sunday or Wednesday. The rafting experience was really fun. When we got out on the lake, we had a tackling drill by trying to knock people off their rafts. I got to hit "Big Dan" (McCullers). I will probably never get to hit him again."
(On embracing being the main voice of the defense)
"I embrace it a lot. It is a road that I had to come on and take. It hasn't been very hard to take because I have older guys beside me. They have been stepping up and talking as well. I know I am the MIKE linebacker and I have to make the calls. You always have other people beside you and help you so it isn't too hard. You are simply out there just doing your job and having fun with the guys."
(On not being able to speak with Herman Lathers being the leader last year)
"I wouldn't say that. He probably would have wanted me to speak more last year, and I wasn't as vocal as I should have been. I looked up to him, and he taught me stuff on and off the field. It is just something that I embrace and I am used to now."
(On Dontavis Sapp being a linebacker)
"He has made me step my game up! In practices, he is going to work just as hard as me, and one of the things we do is try to beat each other to the ball each play. It doesn't matter if it is a 60-yard pass, we are running full speed trying to beat each other there. It's getting us in shape and making us better players overall. I am glad he is beside me playing, and I know we are going to be a good combination."
(On staying focused with all the preseason attention)
"I don't really get into all that. It's a blessing to be known nationwide, and get the accolades. It isn't anything I would take to my head. I am going to come in each day to work and try to be the best and push my teammates to be the best."
(On what Coach Jones has brought to produce better results)
"The simple stuff like competing and the passion. Coach Jones came in here with a lot of passion. That is what you need out there playing. You have to have passion out on the field. If you aren't playing for anything then it is pointless. I think he came here and brought a lot of passion to the team and brought the best out of all of us."
(On passion of coaches last year)
"The coaches had passion last year, but it is a new year, and everyone is coming in with more heart and a little more tougher this year."
(On reaction to successful recruiting so far)
"It's like what we first said, Coach Jones came in with a lot of passion. We watched little clips of him speaking to his players and how excited he was. I feel like he is going to be a good fit for us, and everything does is for the University of Tennessee, us, and nationwide to build us and help us out. He wants to get the fans more involved."
(On Brent Brewer moving to linebacker)
"I think he is doing very good. He has been helping us out and learning the position. He is going to be a big part to the linebacking crew."
(On Curt Maggitt coming off injury)
"He worked hard in rehab, and he works hard each day to get back to 100 percent. We will see when the count comes how he will do. He was strong through the injury, but sometimes he wouldn't be able to work out with us. For the most part though, he's been leading and being vocal, sometimes more vocal than me. I look up to him as he tries to lead us even though he can't be out there with us, and he is still working hard to be the best."
(On confidence in defense this year)
"I feel like we are very comfortable, and we are going around each day working hard in practice. I know everyone is ready for camp. We are just ready for everyone to come together and put on the pads to work hard to be the best."
(On hitting the ground running once camp starts)
"I feel like we have learned most of the stuff that we need to know to hit the ground running. We have the little stuff left that we will be able to do."
(On defensive communication)
"It is going good. Our defense is simpler this year. Again, we have to work hard and have a check here and there. We are just lining up and playing. We know the call, and everyone knows what they have to do to make plays."
Senior Linebacker Dontavis Sapp
(On what difference Brian Randolph could have made last year)
"It is always great to have an injured player come back. He was a solid player on the defense the year before, and having him back will be a big help on the back end."
(On being farther ahead going into fall camp than last year)
"I definitely agree. The defense is a lot simpler, and the concept is a lot easier to grasp. We have kept the "vocabulary" the same on all the defenses. I think the speed we are going is right on."
(On confidence gained after spring practice)
"Not only myself, but the whole team has a lot of momentum from this spring and summer going into fall camp. We are going to try and keep rolling through the camp and into the season."
(On being comfortable in linebacker spot)
"I have been there since my sophomore year. I just want to play football. I try my hardest at everything I do, and it just worked out for me."
(On waiting your turn to start and pressure placed on yourself)
"It was kind of tough waiting on my turn. I know the playbook, and I feel like I could have played ever since I got here, and everybody should. There have been times that I thought didn't want to play, but I wake up each morning with a guy next to me, and I work hard for each, and every one, of my teammates. In this spring game, all of the chips fell for me in the right spots. It isn't really pressure on me. At the end of the day, you just go out and play football."
(On confidence in defense this year)
"I feel like last year we "statistically" had a bad defense. We had all the players to do things right, but we had a lot of mental errors and communication problems out on the field. With a new staff coming in, we have trimmed that down, and started communicating a lot better, the concepts are a lot easier to grasp for all the players."
(On communication of defense)
"It is more of everybody knowing the defense and knowing what to do. If everyone knows the call, then it is easier for us to communicate rather than everyone knowing different calls. It makes it easier for everyone to know what is going on."