KNOXVILLE -- On what is being dubbed "Championship Wednesday" Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra took in practice and will spend the day with his friend, Vols' coach Butch Jones.
"Anytime you can bring an individual like Erik Spoelstra in to speak to your team it's great," said Jones after the first of two practices on Wednesday. "It means a lot to this team. He's going to talk about the building process of creating a team like they have in Miami. He's been a great resource for me."
GETTING READY FOR OPEN PRACTICE
There is at least one Vol who is excited for Saturday's open practice at Neyland Stadium.
Senior defensive lineman Daniel McCullers loves the feeling of getting to play on Shields-Watkins Field, game or not.
"Once you go in Neyland, you get into a certain mood," said McCullers. "For me, I get a little hype because it is like a crazy atmosphere when game day comes. I just get a good feeling and I want to play hard."
Saturday's open practice starts at 7 p.m. with the gates opening at 6 p.m. and is free to all fans.
"We are ready," said McCullers. We are getting ready throughout the week. That is going to be a big day for us and all the fans want to come out and see Team 117 so we are going to give them everything we got."
RATCHETING UP THE COMPETITION
Two incoming wide receivers who have stood out to their peers are freshmen Josh Smith and Marquez North.
Though physically they are very different, Smith listed at 6-1, 193 pounds and North a little taller at 6-4, 215 pounds, the duo both exudes athleticism.
"They're pure guys, said redshirt junior wide receiver Jacob Carter. "They're really raw right now, so we have a lot of work to do with them. But as far as how athletic they are, they're making plays for us."
Smith and North have the added benefit of working under a hard working wide receivers coach in Zach Azzanni.
"Coach Z is hands down one of the hardest working coaches, anywhere," said junior Devrin Young. "He gives you every opportunity to get better. He gives you every piece of information you need to get better. There's no excuse to stay stagnant as a player with him. By far, he's one of the best coaches I've ever had. I'm blessed to have Coach Z here and the sky's the limit with him."
Young believes that North has the ability to come in and make an impact right away.
"Marquez has an ability to come in here as a freshman and manhandle some of the older guys and catch deep passes," said Young. "Just his maturity level, you can see that he was at a different point than most freshmen that come in here, so I'm really excited to see how he produces this year."
"They're two guys that come in ready to play every day," continued Young. "Marquez has made plays early and Josh, Josh is a real good wide receiver. He runs cross routes and he's hard to cover. He catches the ball often, so you know, they're both showing signs of playmaker ability real early in their careers and I feel like they're just going to get better as time goes."
The duo has added some competition to the wide receiver position and the battle for the starting spots is currently wide open.
"We need that [competition]," said Carter. "We don't need one or two guys that are just the ones that are making plays and everyone else is just sitting at the back. Competition is good for us."
"They increase the competition and it makes everyone fight for a spot which is good."
BYNUM BACK AND TURNING HEADS
Back on the field after obtaining a season ending knee injury last year, linebacker Kenny Bynum is beginning to turn some heads at training camp.
"Unfortunately, his development has been set back with numerous injuries," said head coach Butch Jones. "But he is having a relatively healthy camp and I think you see him getting better and better along with his growth and development. You also see the confidence coming."
Bynum is learning the outside linebacker ropes behind seniors Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer.
"I basically just try to mimic them and do everything they do," said Bynum. "They are pretty good teachers."
One of those teachers has taken notice of the pupils' progress.
"Kenny just works hard; he's a grinder," said Sapp. "Every day he's in his book, watching plays and doing anything he can to get on the field to play and help this team win."
One play out of Bynum really caught his teammates' and Coach Jones' eyes. During Tuesday's team period, he had the presence of mind to take a knee after intercepting a pass during the two-minute drill.
"The only thing that was going through my mind was that we only had 10 seconds left and the offense was down by two points," Bynum said. "If I ran the ball and they stripped it, they would get it back. So the smartest thing to do was to down the ball."
Coming out of Raines High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Bynum had originally committed to Coach Jones' Cincinnati Bearcats, but had a change of heart and decided to join the Vols last season.
So when Coach Jones took office on Rocky Top, Bynum was thrilled.
"I was elated inside when I found out that Coach Jones was going to be my coach," Bynum said. "When I committed to Cincinnati I loved the staff there. Coach Jones, Coach (John) Jancek, and all the coaches. So it was an easy transition."
Now Coach Jones can get even on the field.
"Obviously we were disappointed when he came to Tennessee," said Jones. "Everything happens for a reason and now I get to demand from him and coach him. He is very coachable and very prideful. You can see him getting better every day."
In his senior season, Dontavis Sapp wants it to be known that he is a leader on this Vol defense.
But Sapp isn't holding back his leadership skills for just the linebackers; he wants to help lead not only the entire defense but the offense as well.
"We have to bring everybody along," said Sapp. "At the end of the day, we're one team. People try to separate it like its one offense and one defense, but at the end of the day, we're all one team. We have to come together for one purpose."
Togetherness is the focus of Team 117.
Sapp, who has shone on special teams for the Vols in his first three seasons, is bringing his leadership abilities to that side of the ball as well.
"Special teams is one of the three main things on the field," said Sapp. "Offense, defense and special teams, a lot of people leave that out, but it's an important role."
Sapp has transitioned to a starring role in the defense, and feels like the team is on the right track for August 31.
"I feel like we're moving," said Sapp. "We're not there yet, but we're getting there. We're constantly grinding and trying to improve every day. We're steady building on what we have. We have a good foundation laid. The coaches are preaching and teaching effort so I feel like we're moving in the right direction."
Like many of the Vols, Sapp knows exactly how many days there are left until football returns to Rocky Top.
And he can't wait.
"I'm really excited," said Sapp. "That's pretty much it. I'm ready to get out there and play against Austin Peay. The countdown clock is ticking, and I'm ready to get out there and play. 17 days... I'm ready to go right now. I just need to go get my helmet and I'll be ready."
Here are sound bites from Coach Jones and the players after Wednesday's morning practice:
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On the grind of training camp)
"It has been a grind. I thought yesterdays practice was probably average. I would have liked more leadership, I would have liked more of a grind mentality. But today I liked our mental intensity, our effort, we were locked in. Tonight will tell me a lot. Every practice is critical, but when you go practice in Neyland Stadium, it better be special.
We need to bleed a little bit, we need to sweat in there a little bit, to get back to making Neyland a home field advantage. Right now, I believe we are second in the country with most home victories, we need to get that edge back when playing in Neyland. The only way you do that is to practice in there and have to understand the expectation of what it means to play in that venue."
»(On the quarterbacks)
"They are all right there. I see some of the freshmen gaining ground. So much of it is command presence. I need to see more leadership attributes from all of them. I need them to understand when a freshmen receiver is out there and he is not on the ball and he is supposed to be on the line of scrimmage, to have poise, get him up there, have a command presence. Management of the offense in all regards. We are going to need that. They can't be mentally tired, that is one position where you have to be thick skinned and bring it each and every day. I think they are still learning the nuances of leadership and all the qualities and traits that we come to expect from that position."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN DANIEL MCCULLERS
"Consistency wise I need to get a little better, I kind of lose focus sometimes. I am still working on that and I have some more time to go. I am just working on my consistency each and every day. Just go hard and become better."
»(On who matches up best against him)
"I would say Zach Fulton. He is a pretty good pass blocker and run blocker too. When we go against each other we are both getting better every day."
»(On Coach Jones' encouragement)
"He just put it in my mind that when I get winded I still have to keep going strong and fighting hard. That is biggest thing for me right now."
"You can't tap out around here. Not this team. You got to get used to it and keep fighting. I feel like my conditioning is a lot better."
RS FRESHMAN WIDE RECEIVER JASON CROOM
»(On how he is doing at WR)
"I move, I'm in the SI now. I play the A position, so. I mean were still out there competing for our positions. There's nothing, nobody knows, when we walk out there, University of Tennessee. We're not sure who's going to be starting. Everybody's still working."
»(On being a better fit going over the middle)
"Yeah just being a bigger receiver and more athletic. So, I just come in for the tight end or something to be, I guess a bigger slot receiver."
RS JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER JACOB CARTER
»(On the key to tempo)
"Just to continue working and the main thing is knowing what we're doing. Right now we'll see the signal and see the formation and be thinking way too much, thinking about our splits and everything like that. We need to see it once and be done and be able to run it. A lot of it's knowing the offense. Once you get that you'll be able to work a lot faster."
»(On Coach Azzanni's route teaching)
"He's just so particular on everything. But I mean it's proven. He's worked with Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh Steelers WR), Jared Abbrederis at Wisconsin, a bunch of guys and it's proven. Those guys have had success. So, we've just got to stick to it. It's really tedious and everything, but it'll help us out in the end."
JUNIOR WIDE RECEIVER DEVRIN YOUNG
»(On biggest personal change)
"I would probably have to say my route running. It's just something you want to be smooth at. You have to learn how to control your breathing running all those routes and it's just something you just want to be finesse. Coach always talks about painting the image for the quarterback and you don't want to be all sloppy because that makes his reads off."
»(On his performance this camp)
"I'd say I feel better about where I stand. I'm not happy with where I'm at right now. In this league, you can't ever really get content or too happy. So really, at the end of the day, I'm just working to keep building every day."
»(On Ryan Jenkins and Paul Harris)
Ryan Jenkins is playing really well. He's somebody that stays in the film room. He tries-- he wants to be coached. He wants to get better, and the same with Paul Harris. Paul Harris stays up under Coach Z, he stays watching film and they're two guys that I feel like you'll see a lot, hear a lot about in the future."
SENIOR LINEBACKER DONTAVIS SAPP
»(On if him being a senior is setting in)
"It's been setting in... This is practice No. 13. But that's part of the grind. It will all pay off in the end when it's time to play."
»(On getting set pre-snap)
"Our coaches preach pre-snap alignments and getting in your stance. From last year, I think we're way ahead of where we were. Everybody is really getting it and we're getting in sync."
»(On being adjusted to the pace)
"We're just getting prepared. A lot of teams run a fast-pace offense so Coach Jones is trying to get us ready so we can line up and play against them. We're working every day to get the pace down and not be affected by it."
JUNIOR TIGHT END BRENDAN DOWNS
»(On TEs being an integral part of the offense)
"Yeah, I think so. I'm working as hard as I can everyday. That's my goal. I know that they are going to put the people in the field that give us the best chance to win so I'm trying to show them that every day."
»(On what makes him comfortable)
"I think that just getting older, getting more mature, just being around football longer. I just feel really good about it. The coaches have just done a great job with everything so it's been a good transition. I feel great about it."
RS FRESHMAN LINEBACKER KENNY BYNUM
»(On playing faster and more confident)
"Yes I am. I am trying to do what Coach Jones says, to own my conditioning and technique. So I just try to work that and whenever I see the ball I just go get it."
»(On his weight loss)
"I weighed in today at 241 and I came into camp around 250. Every day I am working my conditioning and technique, just telling myself that I am not tired. I can definitely feel the changes on the field."
»(On if his diet changed)
"Yes it definitely changed. The fattening foods have a red light on them, and then there are yellow light foods and green light. So I try to eat most of the green lights and maybe one yellow light."