KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Several familiar faces were back at practice on Tuesday. On the field, Riyahd Jones and Michael F. Williams returned. Off the field, Phillip Fulmer attended practice.
"I thought it was a good start to the week," said head coach Butch Jones. "It was great to see Riyahd Jones and Michael F. Williams back on the field today. It was great to have coach Fulmer back today. He also spoke to the team. We're One Tennessee here."
Both Jones and Williams were slowed during training camp with injuries, but both were in position to make an impact with the Vols in 2013. With their returns, they are hopeful of contributing.
"Both Mike and Riyahd were pushing for playing time before their injuries," said Coach Jones. "Riyahd Jones has been relentless in coming back. It means a lot to him. I love his competitiveness and spirit. It's good for our team."
The defensive backs stayed positive while they rehabbed from their ailments.
"I think Riyahd is going to be fine," said fellow secondary mate Brian Randolph. "He's very upbeat. I can see it in his face that he's ready to get back there. He's been working very hard in the training room, trying to get back in shape, so I think he's going to be good.
For Fulmer, it was the first time the former Vols Hall of Fame Coach returned to Haslam Field since he was UT's head coach until 2008. Jones has developed a great relationship with the second-winningest coach in Tennessee history.
"It was great to have Coach Fulmer at practice today," said Jones. "He also spoke with the team and had a great message for them. It is a pride of who we are, we are one Tennessee, 800+ program wins, to have him back I think meant a lot to everyone.
"Anytime you have a resource like Coach Fulmer we talk football," said Jones. "We talk a lot of football. Just like with Coach Majors. I want to get as much information as I can, on football, the University of Tennessee. I think it is just, we are all one, it is talking about our tradition, it is talking about our plans for the future and moving this program forward. It is all that and above. It is those relationships with these types of individuals really mean the world to me."
YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH
Justin Worley, the starter for the Vols' first three games this season, took a backseat to Nathan Peterman after a week of tough quarterback competition leading up to the Florida game.
Worley, who came into the game for the Vols just before halftime, turned the Vols' offense around in the second half on completing 10 passes for 149 yards including strikes of 29 yards, 32 yards, and 24 yards to Alton Howard, Marquez North and Jason Croom respectively.
Howard and Worley also connected for an 18-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Though disappointed that he wasn't named the starter, Worley is happy with the competition that the Vols QBs have day-in and day-out.
"Competition, it is a good thing," said Worley. I will tell you it is a good thing. It helped me last week. Both Nathan and I had great weeks; we were pushing each other each and every day. You had to focus on every throw and every play. You had to focus and do the right things, managing the offense, being a leader out there."
A little tentative in the first few games as the signal caller of the Vols, Worley knows that he just needs to trust in himself, and have faith in those around him.
"I think it is trust my eyes, trust what I am seeing post snap," said Worley. "You always get a pre snap look at everything but things change after the pre snap look. Get a post snap confirmation on what the defense is doing and trust in what I am seeing."
"Coach Jones wants everyone to approach him and give him one thing that they are going to work on each week," continued Worley. "For this week mine was decision making and just being decisive with what I am seeing and where I am going with the ball."
Worley has a strong offensive line in front of him, veterans in the backfield and young wide receivers on the outside.
He knows that the team's faith in each other is built each day in practice.
"You have to have faith with your guys outside," said Worley. "You have to have faith in the offensive line; that is built each and every day in practice."
"They are doing a good job helping me," said Worley. "It may not show up on every play but it is not going to happen on every play. We are playing some great opponents and they have great players too. That trust is being developed on the practice field and it is a grind. We are working on this every day."
PREPARING FOR A PAIR
After facing primarily pocket passers the two opening weeks of the season, the Vols went head-to-head with some of the most versatile quarterbacks in the nation in Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida's Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy the past two weeks.
With South Alabama's dual-quarterback system coming to Neyland Stadium this Saturday, the Vols will have to be ready for anything.
"It is really difficult to prepare for them because of the different elements each quarterback brings to the table," said head coach Butch Jones. "They do a tremendous job in the scramble drill, a lot of their big plays have occurred off of scrambles and third-and-long situations. They are a really good football team and very physical."
Senior linebacker Brent Brewer pointed out a few of the differences and similarities between the Jaguars' gunslingers Ross Metheny and Brandon Bridge.
"They're a little different - not that much - but both of them can run," said Brewer. "One is very consistent at passing and the other one is pretty good too. Both of them are very good and can run so we've got to contain our lanes and just play hard.
"It makes it difficult because you have to prepare for both of them. It's going to be a challenge for the defense in terms of staying in our lanes and doing our jobs."
Redshirt sophomore defensive back Brian Randolph believes the experience against Oregon and Florida will help tremendously against South Alabama this week.
"We've played two running quarterbacks for the last two games, so I think we're pretty much used to it by now," said Randolph. "I suspect they're going to try and get the quarterback out in space. He's going to probably scramble a lot and we're going to have to stick to their receivers and keep them contained."
Also aiding the Vol defense for the Jags' offensive system are athletic freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson.
"(Josh) does a great job," said Brewer. "He has a lot of energy, works hard and gives us a great look as a defense. I really like him as a quarterback."
Randolph also took notice of the work Dobbs put in on scout team today.
"He's giving us a great look on scout team," said Randolph. "He's back there scrambling, trying to give us a great look. He's very fast, so he's using that to give us a good look too."
SMITH, VEREEN RETURN WITH IMPACT
After suffering an injury, a player's anticipation to get back onto the playing field is always extremely high.
This season, it was no different for senior defensive lineman Jacques Smith, who suffered a hand injury during preseason camp. Even while sidelined, Smith was one of the most noticeable Tennessee Volunteers, constantly cheering on his teammates and pumping up the crowd. Now, although back in uniform, Smith has become a motivator for others that are injured on Team 117.
This past Saturday against Florida, freshman Corey Vereen made his debut as a Volunteer.
"Well Corey had seven snaps on Saturday," said Butch Jones. "They were a very productive seven snaps, just having him back on the field gave us another edge presence. You could see the difference on the get off, he impacted the quarterback on a number of plays. We anticipate, obviously with his health, he'll play more plays this Saturday as he continues to progress. Just his whole mindset is what we want here."
With the addition of players such as Smith and Vereen, the depth of the "Orange Swarm" has seen many improvements.
"I'm happy for those guys [Corey Vereen and Marlon Walls]," said Brent Brewer. "They're grinding all week in practice so seeing them out there making plays, sacks and running down the running backs really helps us as linebackers and the DBs in the backfield."
Defensive lineman Marlon Walls made huge strides against the Gators and Jones looks forward to see more from the redshirt senior this season.
"I thought he had one of his best performances [against Florida]," Jones said. "You know Marlon is, again, has been a great leader. It's important to him and I thought he played his best football at Florida and we're going to need him obviously as we continue to progress here."
With players healing and getting back in full pads, Smith is also excited to see the defense's potential.
"I mean we have a whole bunch of guys and a whole bunch of ends that can go out there and make plays, and that just gives us a better chance to win. I'm a huge Vol fan, you know, rather than just you know playing for them, and I just love to see us do well, especially at that position."
A MORE CONFIDENT PALARDY
Butch Jones puts kicker Michael Palardy through the ringer day in and day out.
Palardy never knows when he might be called upon to line up and kick a field goal in practice
He also knows that Jones will be right in his ear trying to distract him and make him miss.
That all has equated to a more confident Michal Palardy in 2013, who has not only kicked extra points and field goals, but has kicked off and punted in each game this season.
"When I get on the field more I feel more comfortable," said Palardy. "That is just the biggest thing for me, getting out there with a lot of confidence that helps me do my job better. I stay a lot more calm the more I am out on the field. So I think that attributes to doing all three of them."
Palardy can see a noticeable improvement in himself this season.
"I can see it," said Palardy. I can see it in my play, I can feel it. I just think I am kicking the ball with a lot more confidence than I have been the past couple years. I think that is what I needed, I took a step in the right direction so I think this year has been a really big year for me."
The senior kicker, who is going through his final go around on Rocky Top, holds himself to a higher standard than most.
"I take pride in everything I do," said Palardy. "When I don't do it to the best of my ability and the standard I hold myself to I get upset with myself because I hold myself to a very high standard every day at practice and every game that I play. It is my last year, it is my last go around so I have to make the best of it."
Here are sound bites from Coach Jones and the players after Tuesday's practice:
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On South Alabama
"I think any time you have a common opponent it is better to gauge and South Alabama is a really good football team. They have two quarterbacks that are outstanding. They present a lot of problems for you defensively, not only throwing the ball but running the ball. Defensively, very, very good team speed, a lot of pressure, extremely well coached, I have been really impressed. We are going to have to play a great football game.”
»(On the freshmen quarterbacks)
"We have to get them ready. Each of them is one snap away, so the volume of repetitions increased today, so getting them ready is going to be critical. And getting Justin ready, even though he started his freshman year he is still relatively new to this whole process, so all three individuals, the value of repetitions and trying to create game speed repetitions. But for the two freshmen it is paramount."
»(On the offensive linemen being tough)
"We challenged them today but it is not just a one day thing. You have to live toughness each and every day. It stems with your pad level, it stems with running your feet, it stems with living physical each and every day and that is going to be a process. We need much more physicality out of them, a much more physical style of play. I said it in training camp. It is an ongoing process, you have to live that way it each and every day and you have to practice it each and every day."
»(On must-win games)
"My philosophy is every game is a must win. In college football right now there is still is no play off. So every game is critical and one bad day can take you away from all your dreams, goals, and aspirations. I approach every week like it is a must win. There is no difference in our preparation from last week or any other weeks."
»(On the possibility of playing a freshman quarterback)
"I am just worried about winning a football game and whoever it takes to win a football game. Whatever we have to do, we have to do. We have to get to victory No. 3. That is really the way I am looking at it. Not we have to get him reps and him reps, we have to win a football game. We have to do whatever it takes because we are playing a very talented, well-coached and disciplined football team on Saturday."
JUNIOR QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
»(On looking at the Florida film)
"Coach Jake always says it is never as good as we thought it was and never as bad as we thought it was. I thought there were a lot of good learning moments from it from both Nathan [Peterman] and my play."
»(On the quarterback competition)
"It has helped me and it makes you and pushes you bring your `A' game every day. I think getting in the flow of the season. Starting those first two games, and having success here and there, that helps transition back on to the practice field as well."
»(On Pig Howard)
"He is a great asset to our offense, he is an explosive player, a guy that can turn the bubble screen into a 60-yard touchdown. Having him in the slot provides a sure hand for us. I have a lot of faith and comfort in what Pig is doing and where he is going to be."
»(On the offensive line)
"They are up for it; each and every one of them will tell you that. They don't like doing bad and underperforming and they are bothered by it. I am expecting to see a hungry offensive line and they are going to bring it this week."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JACQUES SMITH
»(On today's practice)
"We had a good and mentally focused practice today, and we're all focused on ourselves and correcting our mistakes from last week, and just working on getting better. Proving even more so "63" effort."
»(On overcoming the injury to his hand)
"It's making strides. We're working out every day. I'm doing physical rehab, and we're making the strides to continuously get it better, and I mean with the cast on it's definitely a non-factor at all."
»(On South Alabama's quarterbacks)
"Well South Alabama has two incredibly athletic quarterbacks, and our defensive line play has been, you know week by week we've been improving, and I say that with this week of preparation and all the things and techniques we're working on. It will definitely show on Saturday."
»(On support from fans from Ooltewah)
"Oh most certainly, at the Vol Walk I always hear my Ooltewah folks. They'll shout out "Ooltewah" or "O-town" or something like that. It's always great to hear from them. Especially on like media sources, like Twitter and Facebook. I mean there is always much love that is shown on those pages, and I thank them so much because they're my biggest fans and they're my pride and joy."
SENIOR LINEBACKER BRENT BREWER
»(On the linebackers as a group)
"As a whole, I think the linebackers are doing great. A.J. (Johnson) and (Dontavis) Sapp are doing good things out there, making plays and are very consistent in their play. I think the linebackers are doing a great job."
»(On what the past two games have shown him)
"We don't quit; we don't give up. We're a hard-nose team and we're going to come after you and keep grinding. We had a great mindset and great tempo today so tomorrow we're going to just keep building on that and Saturday we'll be ready for the game."
»(On third down frustrations)
"It's a little frustrating. We just have to keep going at it and we'll be fine. We're fixing our mistakes this week and watching film to make sure everybody knows what they're doing when they get out on the field."
»(On this defense being close)
"Everything is correctable. We have people in place, we just have to shoot our gun, go make a play and not be hesitant out there."
RS SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
»(On facing different offenses)
"It's good to have a variety. We pretty much cover every situation possible for us--all the motions, all the different formations. It helps with our knowledge and what we have to do in certain situations."
»(On South Alabama beating Western Kentucky)
"When my friend told me, I was just thinking to myself, we're just going to have another tough game, so we have to come ready to play."
»(On personal play this season)
"I feel blessed to be on the field. I don't take it for granted like I did at points last year. I just go out there and it's with a purpose, and I just feel like, any moment my season could be done, so I go out there with a passion."
"Yes, it definitely helped me grow up a little bit. I believe I became more of a man after that. It's just great to be with my teammates now."
»(On being back in Neyland Stadium)
"It's definitely great to be back home in front of our fans. Home field advantage is a big thing for us, so it's going to be good to be back home with the Vol Walk and stuff."
SENIOR OFFENSIVE LINEMAN ZACH FULTON
»(On what makes him consistent)
"I study the playbook a lot. We have different kind of plays every week that we go in to. I kind of study that a lot. We have a test as well. I always do pretty good on the test, so that kind of correlates to the game."
»(On how hungry the O-line is to prove themselves)
"Oh we're always hungry. We've never been content, ever. I know a lot of guys are out to try to prove that they're good against us because we had a lot of accolades this off-season. We're going to forget about that and play every down like it's our last.
»(On how tough it is to block safeties in the block)
"It's hard being on offense without any momentum, period. We have to get some momentum going and you're going to need explosive plays to get that momentum going, get everybody riled up, and the offense moving along."
SENIOR KICKER/PUNTER MICHAEL PALARDY
» (On being surprised at his punting success)
"I wouldn't say surprised in the word, I worked a lot in the offseason on my punting, all three phases to be honest with you. But just being out on the field and being put in those situations where my teammates depend on me, especially with punting to change field position. I like the pressure, the confidence that they have in me, it really helps. Just so I can go out there and perform to the best I can."
»(On punting balls inside the 20-yard line)
"That is every punter's dream, to be able to have the opposing offense to start with a long field, it makes the defense's job a lot easier. So I know Coach Jancek gets really happy about that and their starting field position that they have a long way to go.
I take a lot of pride in that, a lot of pride in changing the field position, getting a lot of net yards and average high numbers. I just have to continue to work. I have to continue to build, like you said I am only a third of the way through the season, I have a lot more ball to play so hopefully I can just continue that into the next couple games.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)