KNOXVILLE -- The fourth practice of spring marked Butch Jones' first at Neyland Stadium as the Vols scrimmaged in front of an enthusiastic crowd full of ... the Tennessee family.
Day four of practice was officially `Family Day' on Rocky Top.
All of the current Vols invited their families to campus to watch them practice, and at the end of the session, take a picture at midfield -- of the Vol football family.
The field was full from 40-yard line to 40-yard line with Vol coaches, staff, families, current players and former players who returned to Neyland to take in a day of football.
"It is days like this, the competitive nature in this program. There were 600 people here today, our football family coming together," said Jones. "That is special. There is only one Tennessee. People may try to emulate Tennessee, there is only one Tennessee.
"Let's make sure we understand that. We have to get Tennessee back to the standard and expectation associated with this program. That is on going and a work in progress. We have a long way to go. But anything that is worth building that is going to be around for a long time, takes time. I think our program has a lot of momentum right now."
Some recent VFLs at practice, included players on the 2012 roster who are back in town for Wednesday's Pro Day.
Mychal Rivera, Justin Hunter, Dallas Thomas, Tyler Bray, Herman Lathers, and Willie Bohannon could be found along the sidelines taking in Jones' practice, some for the first time.
Joining them were recent Vols Malik Jackson (currently with the Denver Broncos) , Shane Reveiz, and Gerald Riggs, Jr. as well as some notable members of the Orage & White from years past including 1991 NFL first-round draft pick Charles McRae, 1951 National Championship team member Gordon Polofsky, and All-American Charlie Rosenfelder.
THE ORANGE IS RETURNING TO THE DEFENSE
At Tuesday's practice, the orange jerseys will return to the defensive players thanks to a last minute, goal-line, winner-take-all stand.
Though it appeared as Brendan Downs had the game-winning touchdown secured in the end zone, the Tennessee defense got to quarterback Justin Worley just seconds before he released the ball "sacking" him and taking back the rights to the coveted orange jerseys.
"I was trying to throw you guys off a little bit," said head coach Butch Jones. "Everything is about sudden change and how your players will respond. Football is a game of sudden change I thought they did a great job with it. It is hard because the quarterback wasn't live. I like the way our players competed at the end. There is a method to the madness."
The defense was not happy having to hand over their orange jerseys Thursday, but the offense will be out for revenge on Tuesday to gain back the rights.
"Today was a down day for the offense," said Antonio Richardson. "The defense won the battle, but there's going to be days like that where they come out with fire. We just have to come back on Tuesday and win."
Heading into the final period of action, the defense had a 20 point lead, but allowed a few goal line touchdowns making it into a closer game.
A few made field goals later by Michael Palardy, George Bullock and Patrick Toole brought things even closer leading to the showdown in the north endzone.
"From what Hawk said, we got the sack," said defensive lineman Jacques Smith. "And I'm going to leave it at that."
GETTING INTO A RHYTHM
Junior quarterback Justin Worley - the Vols' only signal caller with in-game experience at UT under his belt - is locked in a spring battle with redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. On Saturday morning at Neyland Stadium, the pair heated up during the team session.
"You always hear of quarterbacks getting into a rhythm and getting into the flow of the game and that's what happened," Worley said. "We started getting into our uptempo pace and had things rolling for a while."
According to Worley, the offensive unit actually came out a bit slower than he would have liked to see.
"We started a little slow, but once we got into the team periods we picked it up," said Worley. "The defense had a lot of energy and we tried to match that."
Whether they occur in a game or at practice, a big play always provides a spark. Worley made one of those at practice today - extending a drive on third down with a completion to sophomore wideout Cody Blanc.
"Making throws like that always builds your confidence, especially on third down when they keep the drive going," Worley said.
Coach Jones agreed it was the big play that got Worley going, but he saw more than just big-play capability in the junior on Saturday.
"I think that he started to get into a rhythm, and Cody Blanc made some big catches at the end of the scrimmage," said Jones. "I liked what I saw in terms of Justin and his ability to manage the game. The big thing is the overall leadership. I can see him getting better each practice."
DEVELOPING AN OPTION
With a new staff and new offensive system in place, Vol quarterbacks Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman are using this spring season to develop another key aspect of their game.
"When you have the option to keep the ball, you have to develop and work on that," said Worley. "It's just like you work on throwing and timing in the passing game. We put a lot of emphasis on carrying out fakes as well as running the ball."
According to Peterman, it's not all about the offense, but the decision to give it up or tuck it depends mostly on the defensive front.
"If the defense is going to let us run and squeeze down the running back we are going to take the block and gain some yards," Peterman said. "It isn't just about us getting the ball to other people but letting the defense know that we are a threat too and can gain yards so they have to be prepared for that."
THE PACE OF PRACTICE IS 'RIDICULOUS'
Four days in practice and the increase in energy and excitement of practice is tangible. The returning Vols have taken note of the ramped up tempo of the sessions.
"The pace of practice is ridiculous," said senior defensive lineman Jacques Smith. "Coach Jones and that offense, they go fast. Whenever you hear 'gas, gas, gas,' they are going. They go fast. We have played up against fast teams in the past, we played against Oregon and Cincinnati when (the coaching staff) was there, I think they top them."
The offense is studying hard in the film room to learn the new philosophy while executing it on the field.
"We learned a new offense, a new tempo with all new coaches," said sophomore receiver Pig Howard. "It's about building chemistry, coming together, and execution. That is something we have been doing and that's something we're going to continue to do.
"It's a lot quicker. With the play calling and signals, it's just about getting your eye to the signal and getting prepared to line up."
Junior Antonio Richardson echoed Howard's feelings on the increased velocity of practice.
"That's the fastest pace we've ever ran" said the All-SEC tackle. "We ran fast pace last year, but we really just need to get used to the pace. Being able to keep our eyes open and see the rotation."
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
“I think that we got better as a football team. We still have a long ways to go. We are still teaching the endurance. You know, that is why we repeated the emphasis on the goal line situations. Our defensive line has to learn to protect that goal line. We have to continue to work in the red zone. So, it’s building that endurance and being able to play through each and every snap at a high level.
“But again, the kids were eager. We threw a lot on them today, and I think that they responded. We still have a long ways to go, and it’s all about doing what it takes on a day-to-day basis—the effort, the intensity. That’s the big thing: The mental effort and mental intensity. That’s all your approach, and how you approach things, and that’s what we are working through right now.”
(On the players’ intensity)
“I like to see intensity, but there is a difference between talking and playing. I always tell them: ‘If your game is loud, that is enough talking.’ I also want to see effort, intensity and competition. I thought that we started slow, but as the day progressed, I think that they did a better job with that.”
(On the performance of the offensive line, thus far)
“I think that they understand that we have to protect the ball and run down field. I am more concerned with our defensive front. They have to step up because we need leadership from them. They have to learn to play through fatigue. It’s all about body language, and right now there have been too many hands on hips and knees on elbows. That’s something that we will continue to work on, each and every time that we take the field.”
(On the players being found at the complex)
“It has been amazing. I walked through our building last night, and you would have thought that we were having a team meeting, with the number of players that are coming around to talk with our coaches. They want to come to the building and be involved, and that is encouraging to us as a coaching staff.”
(On the scrimmage)
"I don't there is any discouraging thing or encouraging thing. I think the big thing is you just play. Like I told our team, it came down to a final play but did you know that that one rep that you had taken an hour before in the one-on-one drill could have been the difference between winning and losing. They have to learn how to value every repetition. You have to value every rep in everything that you do. That is how you improve and you value every rep to win that rep. That is just a mindset that we are working towards getting here each and every snap, each and every day."
(On performing under pressure)
"I think you have to and you find out about individuals when their blood pressure goes up and how they perform when there is something on the line. That is why we did the kicking at the end of the scrimmage. I have to find out who our field goal kicker is, who is going to be able to get points for us under pressure. When you play in front of 102,000 people in Neyland Stadium in every home game, pressure it what you put on yourself. We will do that now with our punt team, getting punts off and getting them under 2.0 operation time. Finding out who are punter is as well, a long snapper and a holder. There are so many things that go into the kicking game. We have to rehearse those and we try to manufacture competitive situations.
(On the Tennessee family)
“There were 600 people here today, our football family coming together. That is special. There is only one Tennessee. People may try to emulate Tennessee, there is only one Tennessee. Let's make sure we understand that. We have to get Tennessee back to the standard and expectation associated with this program. That is on going and a work in progress. We have a long way to go. But anything that is worth building that is going to be around for a long time, takes time. I think our program has a lot of momentum right now."
WIDE RECEIVER PIG HOWARD
(On offense’s rhythm)
“We kind of came together at the end. Earlier in practice, we made a few mistakes. But by the end of the day, we knew what the expectations were so we came together and made plays.”
(On challenge of the tempo)
“If you’re not in shape, it would be a challenge. But it’s just about being in shape, knowing your assignment and just executing the plays.”
(On making up ground with receivers)
“We have lost Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson last year, but we still have some playmakers. We have a lot of people who will need to step up. But like I said, we’re getting better each and every day and we’re building connections. We’ll be ready.”
WIDE RECEIVER JASON CROOM
(On the wide receiver competition)
“Everybody is just working their hardest. No one wants to be left out, so everybody is just working their hardest to get on the field.”
(On catching jump passes and fade routes)
“The main thing is mental conditioning, especially when you are tired. Those routes are usually my money ball, though."
(On coming together as a team)
“I have a good chemistry with all of my teammates, and we hang out outside of football. So, it’s great.”
QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
(On the pace of practice/offense)
“It’s pretty different. Right after the plays – basically when the runner is down – our eyes are to the sidelines getting the next play and they’re signaling it in. It’s a little bit faster than what we did last year.”
(On the competition and focus levels of practice)
“You definitely have to be on your “A” game day in and day out, especially with Nathan. Both of us are trying our hardest and giving it all we have to win this spot so we have to come out and show it.”
(On the new point system increasing competition)
“For sure… especially in the kicking game at the very end. It puts pressure on the kickers or on the offense and defense to make stops or score touchdowns. It definitely helps with competition and makes it more of a live-game situation.”
(On playing in the wind)
“I’ve always heard that wind is a quarterback’s worst nemesis. More so than rain or snow or anything. You definitely have to play with it in the back of your mind. You can’t let it affect you.”
QUARTERBACK NATHAN PETERMAN
“It was good for the most part. Anytime you are installing new plays the defense is going to be a little ahead of the offense and will fly around a little more. The offense, I think we have a little more to work on. It was windy today too so that didn’t help with pass efficiency and all that but we just have to watch the film and correct our mistakes.”
(On his interception)
“I was pretty frustrated because I was just trying to throw it to the back of the endzone and it got tipped at the line of scrimmage and got picked. As a quarterback you hate when that happens cause it feels like it is out of your control. I can try and find a different arm angle or make a better throw to the back of the endzone and just get it higher.”
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JACQUES SMITH
(On going back to the 4-3)
"Going back to the 4-3, I think it suits us well. It is something familiar, especially all the fire zones and things like that. it is something that we have done before, so we are picking up the game plan pretty fast. We are installing very efficiently so we can get our defense down pat so we won't have any errors. We didn't have too many today and it was a great practice"
(On the defense)
"We worked really hard. As the defense we have to win every drill. That is what we love about Coach Jones, he is making every drill a competition. So that is why you see the tempo of practice quicken up every single time we are entering a new period. We worked hard, we worked as hard as we could today and the defense knew we wanted those orange jerseys back. I don't like being in white honestly, it is one of my favorite colors but at the same time I would rather be in the orange. We got it back today."
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ANTONIO RICHARDSON
(On the quarterbacks)
“The quarterbacks are doing a good job getting the calls out to us. The thing is with the offensive line, we just have to get it and tackle the communication and what we’re doing. All it’s going to take is preparation and getting to know the terminology.”
(On the tempo)
“That’s the fastest pace we’ve ever ran. We ran fast pace last year, but we really just need to get used to the pace. Being able to keep our eyes open and see the rotation.”
“It’s really competitive. Me not being out there right now really eats me up inside because you all know how much I love to compete. I just can’t wait to get back out there with my team and compete. The offensive line, we’re competing right now, the main thing is communicating.”
(On the style of scrimmages)
“I would say that it gives us an audience. Especially with you guys being here and seeing what all we do. Some guys get stage fright, especially the young guys, so it’s good to be able to get out.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at firstname.lastname@example.org)