Jones Calls Vols' First Spring Scrimmage 'Very Productive Day'

Saturday, March 15, 2014 - by Special to Chattanoogan.com
Quarterbacks still center of attention in Tennessee's first spring scrimmage.
Quarterbacks still center of attention in Tennessee's first spring scrimmage.
- photo by UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Vols held their first football scrimmage on Friday afternoon at Neyland Stadium prior to heading out for spring break.

"Very productive day today," said Jones. "Anytime you can go and scrimmage with no coaches present, being on the sidelines and really let them play. There are so many things when you try and create game like situations and scenarios that present themselves that sometimes you don't practice in practice.

"

Jones said Friday was mixed in terms of on-field results.

"Offensively we started exceptionally fast, defensively we did not," he said. "I didn't like the way our defense came out, I didn't like their approach, I didn't think we had much energy. I thought our offense did a great job of driving the football. We had some big plays. Then as the scrimmage went on, the situational scrimmage our defenses started playing with the energy that we expect and we started generating three-and-outs and we started generating turnovers."

Freshman running back Jalen Hurd impressed Jones on Friday. After a year off due to an injury suffered in the first game of his high school senior year, Jones has seen significant progress from the Beech Senior High product.

"He is working himself back into football shape and there is a difference," said Jones. "He hasn't played football in a year with recovering from the surgery so each day of practice I see him getting better and better. I see the improvement coming but I also see the confidence getting in him as well. So he understands what he needs to work on. I have said it, the maturity of this football team will show when we come back after spring break, on our approach when we meet as a team on Sunday, our approach on Monday and Tuesday. I am really very, very interested to see the leadership in what happens when we come back after spring break."

Part of the key to Hurd's success was the Vols' newly-formed offensive line. The line is young and new to the Volunteers' program.

"It takes time to build that consistency, that chemistry" said Jones. "I mean we are starting a young man (Coleman Thomas) who should be a senior in high school right now at right tackle. We are starting another individual in [Dontavius] Blair at left tackle.

"So we have some individuals playing for the first time and playing at this level. So you are going to go through the growing pains but I have liked in terms of they have had a workman like approach to every single day. Just like any scrimmage there is good, there is bad, there are corrections but valuable teaching points."

Jones wants the Vols to rest and recover over break before they return to the practice field on March 25, but to still keep football at the forefront.

"I want them to take a break and spend time with their families and friends but also find time for football over spring break," said Jones.

"The maturity of this football team will show when we come back after spring break, on our approach when we meet as a team on Sunday, our approach on Monday and Tuesday. I am really very, very interested to see the leadership in what happens when we come back after spring break."

#ONETENNESSEE

How close are the Vols coaches and teams? The first thing Butch Jones said to the media following the Vols' first scrimmage of spring was applaud the men's basketball team on their win over South Carolina in the SEC Tournament.

"First of all, I just got the great news, Vols win by 15, so congratulations to Coach Martin and our basketball team, excited for them."

QUARTERBACKS' TAKE

With four players in the race for the starting quarterback spot, the quartet of Joshua Dobbs, Riley Ferguson, Nathan Peterman and Justin Worley have been seeing an even amount of reps distributed in spring practices.

"It's been pretty even so far," Worley said. "Reps have been even. We've been throwing to all different guys. We've seen about 10 different guys in front of us on the offensive line. Everything has been pretty even so far.

"Each one of us have done a great job of taking what we're given in terms of reps, in terms of what the defense has given us and kind of run with it."

Ferguson agreed with Worley.

"We are just going out and being who we are, playing quarterback," Ferguson said. "We're just trying to get better every day, that is what we are focused on - helping each other and trying to get better as a unit." As each quarterback takes his reps, the trio in waiting absorbs and watches.

"All of us watch each other because we're told to take mental reps," Peterman said. "That's what we all try to do - put ourselves in the other guy's shoes, determine what we would do there and get the look on the defense, also. I think it's very beneficial to do that."

Friday's scrimmage was the first live practice of the spring, allowing the defense to pressure and hit the signal-callers.

"It's critical," Jones said. "It was kind of a feel thing to see how much we wanted the quarterbacks live. But so much occurs when you make the quarterback live.

"First of all, I wanted to see what players could create plays in terms of the quarterback position, who could manufacture themselves out of bad situations. It was great for them to create the scramble drill but also to see how we could tackle the quarterback in space. We did not do a very good job with that. We will continue to make them live as the season progresses."

The guys were happy to take some licks knowing that it will get them ready for real-live game action.

"It's football and it's part of the game," Dobbs said. "You enjoy getting hit. Being able to feel like it was a real game day atmosphere was really fun and we enjoyed it."

A key component for the offense this spring has been pushing the tempo.

"That is our main thing, we are trying to go fast all the time," Ferguson said. "At the beginning we were going really fast and we were doing really well. Then at the end, we started tapering down and that is not what we want to do. We want to go fast at all times."

"The coaches have been doing that a lot," Dobbs said. "We have been working on our tempo every day in practice. We'll go fast tempos. Tempos are a big part of our offense. We'll just continue to improve."

As the team heads into spring break for a week off, the quarterbacks took away some positives from the fifth spring practice.

"My goals were to come in, push the offense to a fast tempo so we could be fast and furious as we always say," Dobbs said. "I wanted to push the offense and work on my timing with the receivers. I wanted to get a chance to go out and compete today, that was the main thing."

Worley gave himself a honest assessment of Friday's action.

"I'm happy with where I'm at," Worley said. "I've turned the ball over a little too much. I'm going to go back, watch film and figure out what I can do better. It's always a continuous process to get better."

Ferguson had some specific areas he hopes to improve upon.

"I would say just commanding the offense," Ferguson said. "I am trying to have a lot of voice on the field, try to command everybody and get them to follow me. Just lead the offense, whether it is the line and getting everyone lined up or the receivers and telling them where to go and tell them what play we are running."

CROWDER NEXT IN LINE TO START

Since the beginning of spring practice, redshirt junior Mack Crowder has seen a different side to Tennessee football. Instead of seeing a play unfold before his eyes from the sideline, Crowder is seeing it from the line of scrimmage.

With the offensive line graduating five players after the 2013 season, Crowder knows that now he must represent the Power T even more than he did before and the Bristol, Tenn., offensive lineman is ready to do just that.

"I'm finally where I want to be," said Crowder. "Now it's time to step up and take leadership and get in there and lead the guys and show everybody I'm ready to play."

Coming to practice every day and knowing he may not start or play in Saturday's games never phased Crowder. Instead, he learned from the veteran offensive linemen. Now, Crowder is that veteran and leader of the offensive line.

"Just knowing that our hard work finally paid off and it's our shot- it's very motivating to come in every day and attack it."

DARR READY TO HIT THE FIELD IN 2014

During the 2013 season, Matt Darr watched from the sidelines as All-SEC performer Michael Palardy held down the punting role for Tennessee.

"It was tough from a personal standpoint, but seeing the success of Mike (Palardy) and him being able to help out the team like he did, I couldn't help but be happy for him," Darr said. "I'm grateful just to be part of the team and the success that we had."

Utilizing his veteran experience, Darr is focusing on becoming consistent and taking advantage of every opportunity in order to get a starting spot for the Big Orange come fall.

"I'm always going out there to compete every day," Darr said. "We have guys that are going to be fighting for every position on this team. I do take ownership for the punting role and would like to have that job come fall.

"I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunity. I have a good punt team that has been in the system now. I'm confident in the work they're doing. I feel really good about what Coach Jones is doing with this team all around."

SOUND BITES

HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES

» (On Marlin Lane's injury)

"It is his wrist right now and he will benefit from spring break, he is going to stay here and he is going to rehab it. We fully anticipate him to finish spring football but a lot is how the bone heals in the next 10 days."

» (On the offensive line)

"Work in progress. It takes time to build that consistency, that chemistry. I mean we are starting a young man who should be a senior in high school right now at right tackle. We are starting another individual in [Dontavius] Blair at left tackle. So we have some individuals playing for the first time and playing at this level. So you are going to go through the growing pains but I have liked in terms of they have had a workman like approach to every single day. Just like any scrimmage there is good, there is bad, there is corrections but valuable teaching points."

» (On Corey Vereen)

"We have really challenged him to bring a challenge off the edge. He has been playing exceptionally high right now, he has been playing too high, our entire lines of scrimmage in terms of offense and defensive lines have been playing too high. So we have really challenged them and I thought Corey [Vereen] had a little more explosiveness coming off the football today."

SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER MARQUEZ NORTH

» (On position play in today's scrimmage)

"Overall, we did a very good job. It's still far from where we want to be. We want to be more consistent just like Coach Jones preaches.”

» (On being considered a veteran player)

"I wouldn't say veteran. I feel like veteran comes with film study and learning the game even more. That's what I want to do more in the spring- get the fundamentals down."

SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE LINEMAN COREY VEREEN

» (On defensive line impacting the second half of the scrimmage)

"It was energy. When we came out here, you could feel it, we were kind of flat. We needed to change that. That's a leadership thing we have to take care of. We have to get everyone going so we come out juiced up instead of coming out flat and having to turn it up the second half of the scrimmage. You have to come out with the juice and the intensity because it can cost you games."

» (On his performance today)

"I would say there's a lot of things I need to work on. You saw the exterior, the good things. But there's a lot of things I need to work on technique-wise, leverage. I have a lot of things I need to improve on."

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com)


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