With the depth chart laid out on Monday, the Volunteer football team went to work with one mission: beat Austin Peay.
It's the first game preparation week in Knoxville for head coach Butch Jones who described it as the "next step" in getting the Vols ready for success on Saturday.
"You know I think the next phase in the evolution of this football team is now this football team is learning how to prepare for game week and really learning how to invest in victory," said Jones. "The intensity, the effort that it takes and really you know Saturday night we put our resume on film and what type of players are we going to be."
Jones mentioned that he felt the team slowed during practice and that the game won't slow down on Saturday and has been stressing the importance of leadership to his older group of players.
"We have a veteran group you know a little bit in term of offensive line wise but we're relying on a lot of freshmen and the leaders that we do have, they have to be powerful leaders," said Jones. "They have to step up and they have to own their football team."
As the Vols look forward to Austin Peay, they see a similar situation to the one they're in. A new coach, a new staff, and a new mentality make Saturday that much more intriguing.
But in Jones' mind, Saturday is all about the players. It's the coaches chance to sit back and hopefully reap what they've sown.
"I'll know a little bit more about where this football team is Saturday night after the game," said Jones. "I'm still learning them as we go. We haven't had very many opportunities. In terms of game situations to really know, to see how our freshmen are going to react so you know so you try to put them in game like positions but you never really know until the pressure situations and you're playing for real which we're going to find out in a hurry."
SECOND NATURE FOR THE SECONDARY
Throughout camp questions were raised regarding the Vols' secondary. And with five underclassmen, including three starters, listed on the two-deep for this Saturday's season opener against Austin Peay, you can't blame the skeptics.
However, despite having just one upperclassmen in the starting secondary - junior corner Justin Coleman - the Vols actually return 31 combined starts between Coleman, redshirt sophomore Brian Randolph and sophomore LaDarrell McNeil.
Given the depth situation in the secondary, all three have been forced into the leadership role.
"I feel like I have to help these guys prepare themselves, and kind of take a leading role to prepare the freshmen to play," said Coleman.
"I've mentioned everything I've been through. Corners get beat. I've told them that it's going to happen, and what's expected of the defensive backs. The mistakes I've made, I tell them not to make, or show them how not to make the same mistakes."
McNeil, the Vols' starting free safety, believes the work this group has put in off the field will pay off on Saturday.
"We are young, but we are in the playbooks and we are in the coaches' offices every day," McNeil said. "We are trying to get prepared for Saturday and I think we will be."
Back on the gridiron, the trio believes the new defensive system made it much easier to prepare and build confidence, especially among young guys like freshmen Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman.
"The scheme is simpler; we are playing fast," said McNeil. "You can tell it out on the field while we're playing. Our chemistry is better in the secondary and in the defense. I feel like we are playing very fast."
Randolph echoed the sentiments of his fellow safety.
"I think we are going to be sound on defense," Randolph said. "We aren't going to blow any coverages. You will just see us flying to the ball and giving it a lot of effort. Everybody we play against, we just want to get 11 heads to the ball and make sure nothing breaks out of there. It's all about the effort."
Coleman elaborated on his leadership role this season, explaining his first experience of playing in front of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium to the newcomers.
"I remember running out through the T, playing that first down and thinking in my head don't mess up and to make a big play," said Coleman. It was amazing... I've never played in an atmosphere like that. I'm experienced now. It's a big deal and something I look forward to.
"They should be prepared. They seem confident every time they come up to me. They say they're ready to play in Neyland Stadium. They've been preparing for this for a long time so they should be ready."
IT'S GAME WEEK
Saturday marks the first game of the Butch Jones era. And Team 117 is ready.
Toe meets leather at 6 p.m. as Tennessee takes on Austin Peay with their fast and furious pace.
The Governors come into the meeting with a 2-9 2012 record and a new head coach.
But the Vols know not to take them lightly.
"My father always told me that the most dangerous people in the world are the ones who do not care and don't have anything to lose," said senior running back Rajion Neal. "They are going to lay it on the line. Honestly if they come in here and lose by less than six then they have won. At the end of day we have to stay humble with our technique, mentally locked in and do what we are supposed to do."
Tennessee has been practicing with a fast and furious pace thanks to their new head coach Butch Jones.
And they are ready.
"We had a great practice today," said junior linebacker A.J. Johnson. "Everybody did their responsibility. We're just ready to come out for another practice and sharpen everything up and get out there and play."
The Vols have been looking for some trickery from Austin Peay this Saturday.
"I expect to see a lot of trick plays and going for it all with some deep shots thrown," said defensive back Brian Randolph. "They told us to act like we are going through a jungle. We have to be very caution. We don't know what they are going to throw at us because they have a new offensive coordinator. We just expect a lot of deep shots and trickery."
The film has been watched. The scout teams are ready. The practices have begun. And there are just three days left until game day.
"Game week's a game week," said Johnson. "We're preparing just like we did last year. We're preparing each week, preparing for the team, watching a lot of film, going over the plays, we've got our scouts--they're doing a good job. We're just preparing like a regular game week."
"It feels real good. It's football time, so we're all excited," continued Johnson. "Everybody's been waiting. I know the fans have been waiting. We're ready to play. We're ready to get out there Saturday."
PETERMAN CONTINUES WITH STARTER'S APPROACH
Even though Nathan Peterman is being listed as the second-string quarterback heading into the 2013 season, he has his mind right. He will continue to prepare for every game with the starter's mentality.
"I feel like I've reacted as best I could, said Peterman. "(I'm) really just try to give my best, approach every day like I am the starter, and that's what you got to do, and just trying to do that and be consistent."
His coach agrees.
"It was business as usual with Nate Peterman, said Butch Jones. "He is mentally tough, has the desire, the work ethic. He's very consistent."
Peterman knows he will continue to give maximum effort and has continued to arrive bright and early for practice showing his drive and passion for the game.
"I know I'm going to give my best regardless," said the redshirt freshman. "Whatever the coaches see, whenever their decision is, is not up to me, but I'm going to give my best and go out there and perform like I am the starter every day."
Coach Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian were up front and honest with Peterman when telling him of their decision to start Justin Worley.
"They were really positive," Peterman said. "I only know about me, but (Jones) came in, sat me down and told me the reasons, and just you know. Frankly, told me to keep working, and you never know what can happen, and it was a positive conversation. So, I'm happy with it and I'm going to keep working every day."
Peterman was upset about not being named the starter, but continues to strive for playing time and holding himself to high standard.
"It was definitely a disappointment," he said. "There was high expectations. I have high expectations for myself, and still a dream of mine and goal of mine. I feel a reachable goal. So, there's definitely disappointment, but at the same time I couldn't stay down too long, and I had to get up and get ready for the next day of practice."
On possibly playing vs. Austin Peay, Peterman is hopeful of making his college debut and has an open mind.
"You know, I don't know (if I will play), he said. "It's all up to the coaches. You know, we'll see how the game goes. These things are never, I guess, set in stone of how it's going to go. So, football is a crazy game. You never know how it's going to go, and I'm going to be ready regardless."
A DIFFERENT PRACTICE ENVIRONMENT
Though Coach Jones has placed more of an emphasis on special teams, there are still periods where they specialists are inside the practice facility working on their techniques.
Today however, and on other days throughout camp, the specialists have taken their snaps in a more unique location.
"I just got back from kicking in the stadium," said Michael Palardy. "We have been doing that all throughout camp. It has helped tremendously. It isn't something we have done much in years past."
"The specialist went over and kicked in the stadium because that is where we are going to spend most of our time kicking," continued Palardy. "We are just trying to get acclimated to the surroundings."
Jones prepares his athletes in every way possible and for the kickers, it's about reps, no matter where they are taking them.
"I talk about having efficient reps and not having a lot of reps," said Palardy. "I think I have had a lot of efficient reps. Coach Jones knows that when you are going all three you have to tone it down a little bit. When you go out and you kick or punt you have to make sure those reps count."
With the help of Neyland Stadium and his head coach, Palardy has taken some reps with a game day mentality.
"I think just putting yourself mentally in that game day situation," said Palardy. "Coach Jones loves doing game length field goals in practice. Even though you don't have the fans or the stadium at the end of day it is the same kick."
"Mentally you have to tell yourself what to expect in the game," continued Palardy. "You have to expect crowd noises and distractions. Coach Jones loves tapping you and saying your name trying to get you to focus or unfocus at the task at hand."
ONLY 4 MORE DAYS UNTIL...
The Vols will open the 2013 campaign against Austin Peay on Aug. 31. To purchase season tickets, go to UTTix.com.
For more information about Tennessee football, visit UTSports.com/football, follow @Vol_Football on Twitter or like the Vols at Facebook.com/VolFootball.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On Justin Worley's leadership)
"You know I really challenged him yesterday. Really taking control of the line of scrimmage, being more demanding of the wide receivers, more demanding from the offensive line. It is a work in progress. I thought he took great strides today, not where he needs to be, he is not a finished product. This is a relatively young football team in terms of maturity. We are going to have to mature each and every day. We are rather immature when it comes to leadership and mental toughness and grinding through and really learning how to win. This football team is learning how to win. You develop confidence by the way you execute and perform during the course of the week."
»(On Curt Maggitt)
"He continues to progress but he is making slow progressions. We have to be patient. We will make a game time decision. He is still a little ways away but we are going to see. We will never put our player in a compromising situation. We are missing Curt Maggitt right now, you can see it. He is our true leader, he is the one person that brings the full package, competitive spirit, extremely competitive, leadership and a great skillset at linebacker. We are missing him right now. Do we anticipate him getting back? Yes, but I don't know when. It could be Saturday night, it could be a week, it could be two weeks. We are going to wait and see where he is at come Friday and come Saturday."
»(On playing in Neyland)
"First of all you can never take for granted playing in front of 102,455. You can never take for granted running through the T. You can never take those things for granted. We have the best of the best here. It still stems to really having a work ethic, a mentality, but also an appreciation for what you have an never taking playing football at the University of Tennessee for granted."
»(On the sense of urgency)
"Every day in our football program there is a sense of urgency. It is not just one day over the other. Everything is a sense of urgency. The way we perform, it is football time all the time here. Every day is a sense of urgency, there isn't one day more important than the other. Practice and then leading up to the game time."
SENIOR KICKER/PUNTER MICHAEL PALARDY
"I think I am confident in all three phases. I have worked equal amount of time on all three. I am ready to go for Saturday. I am really amped up."
»(On Coach Jones' coaching with the special teams)
"The emphasis on punting is huge. Punt is his thing. Special teams win ball games, three or four games out of the season. Coach Jones emphasizes it more than anyone I know. That is a huge part of my success. You don't want Coach Jones yelling at you with that mega phone because all of Knoxville can hear him. The get off time is huge so under two seconds. You have to be consistent."
»(On how important it is to quit on a good one)
"It is definitely a confidence booster. If you miss, you don't want to end on a miss. You want to end on a good one. You don't want to end on a shaky one. That is an emphasis so you go in on your next kick with confidence."
RS SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
»(On confidence in new system)
"There is a lot more confidence. It is not that hard, too complicated, or too many checks. We base it around the team we are playing so we aren't going to have a whole bunch of calls in there at game time."
»(On being prepared)
"I feel we have done enough. We are starting to let off now that it is game week. I feel like we are all prepared. We have our fundamentals down, and I feel like our tackling in space got better too."
JUNIOR LINEBACKER A.J. JOHNSON
»(On Brent Brewer and Dontavis Sapp)
"They're just as ready as me. We're all ready. We had a great offseason, great summer training, so we're ready to perform and show everybody what we have."
»(On personal new role)
"Pretty much just being more vocal, being a better leader for the defense, getting the plays in, holding people accountable for what they do and stuff, just out there having fun and keeping it hyped up for the team."
»(On defensive confidence)
"Oh yes sir. We all feel confident as a defense. We're out here making plays and going hard in practice. I think that's the last thing to think about. We all know what to do so we're just ready to play."
SENIOR RUNNING BACK RAJION NEAL
»(On goals for this year)
"I definitely have some personal goals, a thousand yard rusher then a couple hundred in receiving. The ultimate goal is to have a winning program."
»(On Coach Gillespie pushing hard without praise)
"It is tough. It is mentally and emotionally tough. I think you really have to rely on your technique and the confidence that you have within yourself. He told us upfront that he is not big on giving compliment and praise, but he is definitely going to push us to work. On game day that is the day he will be our fan, praiser or someone to give us a little lift."
»(On getting off to a good start)
"It is big. I feel like that would give the team confidence including the coaching staff. It will be the first time for them really to be playing with us and having them on our side. Kind of like letting us run free, giving us that little push off the nest and letting us go fly. I think that is big giving everybody, the community, fan base something to look forward to."
RS FRESHMAN QUARTERBACK NATHAN PETERMAN
»(On possibility of playing this Saturday)
"You know, I don't know. It's all up to the coaches. You know, we'll see how the game goes. These things are never, I guess, set in stone of how it's going to go. So, football is a crazy game. You never know how it's going to go, and I'm going to be ready regardless."
»(On the passing game)
"I think the passing game is great for us right now. Obviously, there is always improvement, but I really feel like we came out really crisp today. Guys were more fresh obviously, with the two days off, and really excited for this Saturday and what's going to happen."
»(On having butterflies Saturday)
"I don't know. I'm probably going to have more butterflies in the spring game than I think I'm going to have Saturday. Cause I've learned you just got to focus on the game, and you know forget about everything else, and you got to be in the zone for it. So, I think I'm going to focus on that, and try not to think about the crowd too much."
SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER PIG HOWARD
»(On learning all of the wideout positions)
"Coach Z teaches us to learn every position. Playing one position helps you focus and dial in. Before you run the play you need to know why. You need to know why you are running that route, what the man beside you got. So if you get covered you have to be able to create that window to get the other man open. He teaches us to play every position, but to play one position will have you more dialed in and focused."
»(On the coaching staff)
"Every day they coach us hard. They don't take any days off. They want the best of us. They care for us genuinely. They care about film more than anything. Calling to check up on you to make sure everything is good. I just say overall the techniques, the things that we have learned over the past year will help us translate that to the field."
»(On the wide receivers)
"We are very comfortable. Every now and then you are going to have some brain farts. But we have come together better and I think as a group and as a unit with have a lot of things that we can go to help the football team."
JUNIOR RUNNING BACK MARLIN LANE
»(On the depth chart)
"I think it will be a big evaluation. Just because they are not the caliber of the competitors that we normally play against, you can't take them lightly. This is still going to be a measuring tool for a lot of guys to see if they can even play at this level and against this type of competition before we get into SEC play. This will be a big measuring tool to see where everybody is and how they can handle it."
»(On if the stadium is packed)
"It means a lot to us. Just for them to come out there and just to see where Team 117 is going to do, to be sold out, you just have to go out there and just show them what they're looking for."
»(On Tom Smith)
"Tom's been putting on work every day since the summer since I've been back. Every day getting better and I'm happy for him. He's been looked at this week. He just has to stay focused so he can get more and more reps.
"Just believing and having more confidence in himself. That's what I see, him just trying to go out there and do what he can."
RS FRESHMAN WIDE RECEIVER JASON CROOM
»(On the offense depending on short routes)
"When you run routes, you paint pictures for the quarterbacks. If there were cones out there then thats how he should be able to throw on our routes. He expects us to be in our place when he throws the ball."
»(On where he's improved)
"I try to improve on everything on each play each practice. With the help of Coach Z, just helping us learn to run the routes the correct way and the proper techniques to get off and different releases. I try to learn from him in the meeting room and then take it out onto the field."
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
»(On feeling any pressure)
"Not so much pressure, but we're trying to get every detail down to the specifics and trying to get everything right so we can be prepared for the game and ready."
»(On confidence in Cameron Sutton)
"I've seen Cam make a lot of plays. He's been making plays since day one, working hard and improving in everything he's been doing. He's got great ball skills. He knows how to go up and get it when the ball is in the air; he competes hard and puts in a lot of effort."
SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK LADARRELL MCNEIL
»(On it being a no-win situation against Austin Peay)
"We try not to think about it that way. We are thinking we are going to go in, we are going to dominate our opponent and we have to get ready for next week.
»(On Austin Peay having a nothing to lose mentality)
"It makes them very dangerous. Like coach said, it is kind of like their Super Bowl and they are trying to come in and whoop a SEC team. We have to be prepared for it."
»(On being named the starter)
"I am still competing for my spot and he is still competing for his spot. Everyone is competing and we are doing the best we can. Nothing changes. I might not be the one to finish the game, or I may be the one."