KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- When you face the No. 2 team in the nation, every little thing counts. That's been the focus of coach Butch Jones and the Tennessee Vols as they prep for Oregon.
"I think as we continue to move forward it is taking care of the little things," said Jones as he met with the media on Tuesday afternoon. "The little things add up to the big things, it is the small details, it is the discipline that it takes to go on the road, playing a tremendous opponent, a great opponent, (in) a hostile environment.
"I think that is what the message has been, the focus, the disciplined football, being fundamentally sound. We have to have a much better effort tomorrow in practice, not where it needs to be to go on the road and compete against a great football team like Oregon."
Jones is challenging the Vols as they prepare for their biggest challenge to date.
"I just think growth and maturity, I think confidence, I think leadership, obviously winning as well," said Jones. "But I think they are all by products of each other, they all play off of each other, they are all complimentary items.
"It is really each individual taking pride in their performance, that standard, that expectation, taking care of your body, getting enough sleep, hydration, pushing yourself beyond that limit when your voice of convenience kicks in. That is how great teams push through, that is how they evolve."
The mental approach is key for the Vols every moment they are consumed by the game.
"I just think it is a lifestyle that you have to live each and every day," said Jones. "Are we better than we were in spring football? Yes. Are we better now than we were at the start of training camp? Yes. But we aren't anywhere near where we need to be.
"Playing the schedule and the demands that we have, it is going to take great resiliency, great leadership, and a toughness about yourself, thick skin, playing one snap at a time. That is why we practice like we do, that is why we coach the way we do. I tell you this - these players want to be coached, they want to be taught, they want to be lead. Now it is them taking the next step in doing it on their own."
SMITH BACK; MAGGITT CLOSE
The Vols defense has missed some key players through the first two games of the season.
Senior Jacques Smith, who suffered a broken thumb on his right hand during fall camp, and junior Curt Maggitt, who is coming back from an ACL injury, will look to return to the gridiron shortly.
Smith will likely play against Oregon, Jones said. Having spent the first two games cheering for his teammates, Smith returned to practice Tuesday, orange jersey and all.
Maggitt still has a little way to go.
"He is progressing," said Jones. "I will know more as the week goes on. Is he doing more than he did last week? Yes. Is he 100 percent game ready? No. But I see each week, each day, I see him getting better."
Linebacker Brent Brewer can't wait to see his teammates back in action and believes their presence makes a huge difference.
"I think it will help a lot [to have Curt back]," said Brewer. "He is a specimen out there. He is doing a good job coming back."
"Curt is a great player," continued fellow linebacker Dontavis Sapp. "He works hard. He always has a motor going at 100 miles per hour. He would be a tremendous help if he came back in and helped us in the game Saturday. Depth is always great, especially when you're going against a team that's going fast. Curt will get out there and take the risk."
Smith's leadership approach is what Brewer misses on the field.
"[Jacques] is one of the leaders on this team," said Brewer, "so every time he is out there it changes the game, it changes the team. It gets our defense popping."
Jones just wants to be able to put the best, most healthy, 11 players on the field Saturday at Oregon.
"We just have to get the best 11 on the field," said Jones. "If they are not 100 percent we aren't going to risk anything. Everything we do is about the player, making sure he is ready to go."
DOBBS DUPLICATING MARIOTA?
Trying to combat the Ducks' offense is a tall task. How about trying to duplicate it?
That's what the Vols scout teams are trying to do this week. Yes, the Vols are running a pair of offensive scout teams to keep up with the pace Oregon runs its offense at.
"We've got two different scout teams so they just rotate in and out," said sophomore defensive back Brian Randolph. "They are extra fresh out there."
The man at the helm of those scout teams is true freshman Joshua Dobbs, who is doing his best to mimic the Ducks' signal caller Marcus Mariota.
"He's a good look for us running the pitch and stuff, nice quick cuts," Randolph said of Dobbs, who donned Mariota's No. 8 in a black jersey at practice on Tuesday.
"We've just got to have everyone do their assignments. If we've got contain, you've got to have contain. If you've force, you've got to force it. We've got to not try to do too much and just do our own jobs."
As one of the newest linebackers, Brent Brewer needed to make an immediate connection with his teammates this past spring in order for the Vols to be successful this fall.
Brewer, who moved up to the linebacker position to add some speed, feels as though the team has accomplished just that.
"We are out there working together," said Brewer. "We are brothers, we hang out during the week and watch film after practice and are bonding a lot more than we used to. They are becoming brothers to me."
Until Brewer actually saw game action, he likely wouldn't be able to know how much the LBs had gelled.
Two games in, and the gel is set.
"It's just about knowing the defense, knowing what their job is and them knowing what my job is," said Brewer. "Everybody can work together and just get to the ball and play off of each other."
Dontavis Sapp, a four-year linebacker is one of the most veteran players at the position.
He, and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, believe the linebacking corps is ready to go.
"Like Coach Thigpen always says, we have an old group," said Sapp. "We've seen a lot. We've been through a lot, so when we see things, it's not too difficult to break things down and go make plays."
LEANING ON THE LINE
The best way to deal with a high-powered, high-scoring offense is plain and simple... Keep them on the sidelines.
To do that, Tennessee will depend on its front five, the most experienced group on the field for the Orange and White.
"We want to establish the line of scrimmage," said senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James. "It's up to us seven with us five [linemen], Rajion (Neal) and Marlin (Lane) to get things going for our offense."
Along with establishing the ground game, getting the defense off the field and converting third downs will be especially important come Saturday.
"Third down is always important, but it's very important this game," James said. "We want to keep our defense off the field as much as we can. Also, we want to put up points and we're going to have to convert on third down to do that. To be good on third down, you have to be good on first down."
Senior right guard Zach Fulton knows that sustaining drives will be key in keeping the Ducks' explosive offense off the field.
"We just need to maintain our offense and do the same things we've been doing," said Fulton. "We know we have to sustain drives this week, and that's because we don't want our defense on the field that long."
Being veterans and the most-seasoned group on the team, the offensive line views this week's trip to Eugene as a tremendous opportunity.
"We put the blinders and a hardhat on [this week]," said James. "We just go to work all week and have a great week of practice so we can go out there and play a great game.
"If we know our game and play the way we can, I feel like we can play with anybody in the country."
Senior center James Stone passed along a similar message.
"Every time you step out on the football field you have a chance to win," Stone said. "Every time we step out on a football field we are playing to win that football game."
RANDOLPH IS BACK
There was one key element missing in the Vols 2012 defense, safety Brian Randolph.
Randolph, though just a sophomore, had already developed into one of the team leaders having already racked up 22 tackles and two pass break ups before his season ending injury against Florida.
This season he has brought down nine players and recorded two key interceptions in the endzone en route to becoming the first Vol to receive SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors since Eric Berry in 2008.
"He is extremely valuable," said head coach Butch Jones. "We talk about being smart football players and football intelligence and Brian is extremely smart. That is obviously going to help and we are going to need that all day Saturday."
Brewer, who used to play alongside Randolph in the secondary before moving up to linebacker, echoed his coach's sentiments.
"He is a really smart guy," said Brewer. "It is easy for him to come out there and pick up everything and find other guys to do their job too."
Sapp knows that Randolph has his back out there on the field.
"Brian Randolph is a great player," said Sapp. "He knows the defense in and out, he's a smart guy. He's always making the right calls, communicating well with the linebackers, so it's great to have him back."
"He always works hard," continued Sapp. "He's always doing the right things. It's working out for him."
Here are sound bites from Coach Jones and the players after Tuesday's practice:
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On building the football team)
"I just think growth and maturity, I think confidence, I think leadership, obviously winning as well. But I think they are all by products of each other, they all play off of each other, they are all complimentary items. It is really each individual taking pride in their performance, that standard, that expectation, taking care of your body, getting enough sleep, hydration, pushing yourself beyond that limit when your voice of convenience kicks in. That is how great teams push through, that is how they evolve."
»(On playing in hostile environments)
"We have to learn how to play in those environments. That is every week in the SEC. That is part of being a mature football team, not letting the external factors come into play. I think that is the big thing, just X-ing that out, that is why we practice in control chaos. It is also a confidence stand point as well. Great team, you want to win championships, you have to learn how to go on the road and win football games."
»(On how to prepare for Oregon)
"Takeaways, three and outs, we can't give them added possessions. We can't turn the football over. We can't give up a fake punt. We can't give up a big return in any game, in the punt return game or the kickoff return game. We can't give them a short field. All that goes into a disciplined football team. What we have to do is put our head down and play one snap at a time and focus on the bulls eye. It is going to be a great challenge."
»(On simulating the speed of Oregon)
"I think you can simulate the procedure but it is hard to simulate the game speed of their athletes. It is one thing to get lined up fast, it is leveraging the ball, it is containing the football, and it is finishing plays. Everyone talks about practicing against it but what is hard to simulate is a quarterback that runs a 4.40 but can also drop back and throw the football. Speed across on the perimeter, tackling in space, and then the physicality with their defense. That is more challenging than just the overall procedure. We will be fine with the procedure. It is being able to play in space, tackle, and leveraging the football and finish plays, that is the big concern.
SENIOR LINEBACKER BRENT BREWER
"Very important. Whenever they swap players in and out we have to do the same. They will swap one team at a time and then another team. Everybody will stay fresh."
»(On getting ready for Oregon)
"It is going to be a big challenge. Everybody has to do their job this week. Our eyes have to be great. If anybody makes a mistake out there they are going to shoot and score. Everybody has to do their job and get to the ball."
»(On subbing with JaRon Toney to nickel)
"It is going to change a lot, players are going to have to stay in there eight, nine plays at a time, it is going to be hard to get people out there and we just have to do that during practice and get used to it so everybody can play eight, nine plays at a time."
SENIOR LINEBACKER DONTAVIS SAPP
»(On controlling Marcus Mariota)
"Angles and alignment. He's a fast guy. We have to tackle in space."
»(On wearing a no-contact jersey today)
"No. I think they just took a precaution. I guess you could say that, getting old, but I'll be 100 percent on Saturday, ready to play."
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
»(On last Saturday being a confidence boost)
"Seven turnovers is a confidence boost because now we know what we can do. We know we can make the turnovers because we do ball drills every practice, and we work on our catching in practice. We will be ready to create turnovers against these guys because we know it is going to affect the whole game."
»(On getting to the ball)
"They are good at making guys miss. When we get to the ball, one of us can take shots and the next can make the tackle based off our leverage."
»(On being a 27-point underdog)
"It gives us self-confidence. It builds our confidence a little bit because we know people aren't giving us a chance because Oregon is the No. 2 team in the country, but we will be ready and prepared for them."
RS SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
»(On Oregon's multiple threats)
"That's exactly it. We can get everything covered and they could back out of the backfield and just check down, so you've got to watch out for that. We've got to make sure we do our assignments."
»(On how comfortable the defense is playing in space)
"I think it's a big difference this year, especially with everybody flying to the ball. So, that kind of limits the open field that we get. Even if we happen to miss a tackle, we know there's going to be somebody there to pick us up."
»(On how to keep the defense calm)
"We've just got to talk, communicate to everybody. If we see somebody getting white eyed out there, we've just got to bring them back down to earth. Just don't let things get bigger than they really are."
»(On the pressure on the safeties this week)
"There's always pressure to get them on the ground, but especially this week. They've got shifty backs and stuff like that. So, we're just going to try to limit the open space. We're going to try to get tight coverage and eliminate the possibility of them coming in."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JAMES STONE
» (On thoughts for the first road trip)
"It is always different because you have guys that haven't traveled before especially this year because we have a lot of young guys that have never been on the road. So it is a process, a learning process for a lot of guys. Just have to make sure everybody is focused on the task at hand."
»(On Justin Worley's first road game)
"Every day he comes to practice with the same mentality. He really doesn't like to have ups and downs. He tries to stay consistent. That is something you really like to see in your quarterback, so I have a lot of confidence in Justin on his first trip. I think he will be able to go out there and handle all the adversity that may happen."
»(On preparing to play in Autzen stadium)
"I feel like Coach Jones is doing that with us at practice. We have had crowd noises during more than just the team period but basically the whole practice. It is just something you really have to work with the O-Line getting that communication when you really can't here each other that well."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ZACH FULTON
»(On responding to adversity and the quick scoring of Oregon)
"I mean we just got to keep on doing the things we got to do. Like snap and clear and just stay within the game plan. That's about it, you know. No matter what happens just keep grinding."
»(On Justin Worley's progression)
"Just taking more leadership of the huddle. You know, commanding things more out of the O-Line, and wide receivers, and all throughout practice last week, as well. He was just commanding things more, and making sure we were set and making sure the wide receivers got their calls and everything like that."
»(On Oregon's defense)
"They're defense is just as great. D-line plays well, plays with their hands, secondary is flying around, linebackers are flying around. So, it's a great defense, and it's going to be a great challenge for us."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN JA'WUAN JAMES
»(On hearing they were 27-point underdogs)
"It doesn't affect us at all. We're going to play up to a Tennessee standard and play Tennessee tough and everything will take care of itself."
»(On Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane)
"They definitely help us a lot. They make us right when we're wrong. They feed off each other. Marlin will come in and bust a couple runs, then Rajion will come in and bust a couple runs. They're always arguing about who's going to finish it off with a touchdown. I'm proud of those two guys and we're going to continue to get them yards."
»(On the competition between the RBs)
"It's healthy competition. They both want to score; they both want to get yards. They both want to get 1,000 yards this year. We just want to open up lanes for whoever we're blocking for."
»(On the tempo of the game)
"We're going to play our football. We're going to play fast and furious Tennessee football and we're going to play Tennessee tough.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)