KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a fun-filled atmosphere at Neyland Stadium on Saturday as the Vols held Student and Faculty Appreciation Day. The afternoon concluded with Butch Jones dancing with his players and students from campus.
On the field, the defense controlled the day and took back the right to wear the orange uniforms from the offense, who had donned the orange this past week.
"The jerseys were definitely a factor," said senior defensive lineman Jordan Williams. "We've had these (white) jerseys on all week."
How did the Vols' defense show it today?
"Today was a big day for us," said sophomore defensive lineman Corey Vereen. "We had to have today to keep going to the next week and to the Orange & White game and to the season. We had to have today. It was a good momentum changer and everybody had a little energy, a little juice, a little pep in their step. It was a good day. Today was very key in what we're trying to do here."
The defense, which was wearing white uniforms this week, put extra emphasis on its performance. "I attribute today to our leaders," said Vereen. "Everybody stepped up and got each position group going. Jordan Williams got the D-Line going. Linebackers, A.J. [Johnson] got them going. Coleman got the DBs going. Everybody got their position groups going and that just led into the scrimmage and everybody had a lot of energy."
QUARTERBACK COMPETITION CONTINUES
One week from the DISH Orange & White Game, the Vols are still rotating four quarterbacks in practice action. Butch Jones continues to look for the team's primary starting signal-caller for 2014. He hasn't set a timetable for the announcement, which could last until just before the regular-season gets underway as it did in the fall of 2013.
Here's Jones' take after Saturday's action.
"The thing I keep talking about is consistency in performance," said Jones. "To play quarterback at the University of Tennessee, we need an individual who can improvise, make plays but can take care of the football but play with a very high level of consistency.
"I thought there were too many ups and downs from the entire practice, from throwing the ball, one-on-ones, we had some windy conditions, but that is part of playing the game, that is part of playing in the elements. So we will go back and we will evaluate it. Nathan Peterman hung in the pocket a number of times and delivered some passes as well. Josh Dobbs did some things. All four did some good things but there are also a lot of things that need to be corrected in a hurry."
The quarterbacks gave their input on their days.
"It has been going well," senior Justin Worley said of the quarterback competition. "Each and every guy brings something to the table. We help each other in the meeting room, we help each other on the field. It has been good. We have driven each other every day.
"I think we have all taken it with a position attitude, I think we have all worked on what we can control, in abilities and try to get better each and every day with what we are doing."
Sophomore Joshua Dobbs agrees that the battle has been competitive.
"We're coming out here and working hard," said Dobbs. "We're trying to put our best foot forward every day and continue to compete against one another. We are all pushing each other to be the best quarterbacks we can be. We are trying to grow overall as a great position unit and as individuals so it's going well."
The quarterbacks showed flashes of brilliance on Saturday, but also struggled with interceptions and sacks.
"We just want to sharpen up all the little details with the offense," said redstart freshman Riley Ferguson. "You know just the missed assignments and catching the football when we need to and protections against the defense."
Worley saw some positives as the day progressed.
"It took us a little while to get going," said Worley. "I thought we got into a little rhythm for a little while and then these last few plays Coach put us through, really important situations, we had some drops and we didn't execute like we wanted to. So we didn't end well but overall I thought it was a pretty productive day."
Dobbs echoed their feelings.
"I feel like it was a lot more crisp," he said. "We had a lot of great plays being made, especially on offense. Josh Smith and Cody Blanc had some great catches. It was another day that we took a positive step forward."
Ferguson has taken to Jones' `snap and clear' mentality when it comes to throwing interceptions.
"I'm just trying to overcome [interceptions] and not worry about them," said Ferguson. "I need to move forward. Once it happens, you can't do anything about it because it is in the past. So I just tried to move forward and have a good rest of practice."
Ferguson connected with sophomore Josh Smith on one of the biggest plays of the day for the offense for a long touchdown pass, something the QB took a lot of pride in.
"That felt good," Ferguson said "I didn't really see the pass because the line was in the way, but I knew [Smith] was going to beat him so I just threw it up and let him go get it."
MARSHMALLOWS NO MORE
When Jones yells into the microphone at practice, everybody listens. So, when the defense was called "soft like marshmallows" earlier this week, they realized something needed to change.
"As a defense, early on in the spring, we had a lot of great days," said redshirt junior Curt Maggitt. "I can honestly say the past few practices weren't good as a defense."
To avoid any more lackadaisical references by Jones, the defense called for a unit meeting on Friday.
"Yesterday we decided as a defense and as a unit we are going to pick it up and recommit ourselves," Maggitt said. "Today we came out with effort and we played together and that showed."
Maggitt isn't the only player that has taken notice of the lack of energy on the defensive end.
"We were kind of dragging last practice and we told everybody, 'We've got to get it. We've got to come out this practice strong with energy,' said sophomore Corey Vereen. "We just came out and we did it. We kept the drives going, we got off the field. We did a lot of good things today."
The defense was pleased with the effort that showed on Saturday in Neyland Stadium, where students, faculty and staff were in attendance.
"We haven't had a real productive scrimmage up to our standards, but I think today was more up to our standards," said Maggitt. "I wouldn't say it was a great day, but it was a lot better in production."
CALL HIM A.J., THE MENTOR
As a sophomore at the linebacker position, Jalen Reeves-Maybin knows that he has a great role model to learn from.
Senior AJ Johnson, who chose to forego the NFL Draft to return for his senior season, is that leader in Reeves-Maybin's eyes.
"I kind of look up to A.J. [Johnson]," said Reeves-Maybin. "He is a guy who gives his all every time he comes out. I just look at AJ [Johnson] and try to up my game to his."
Still learning many of the linebacker roles, the Clarksville, Tenn. native, knows that any time he needs guidance on the field, he knows where to turn.
"It is great," Reeves-Maybin said. "AJ [Johnson] basically knows the whole defense so anytime I am screwing up, I can look at AJ [Johnson] and he will get me right."
Here are sound bites from coach Jones and players after Saturday’s practice.
HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
»(On the wide receivers)
"Overall consistency and we are going to continue to challenge them because they are talented but they are still exceptionally young and they have to understand they have to own the ball in the air. We had way too many dropped passes.
"We continually say it, a dropped pass in our offense is the equivalent of a turnover. It stifles your momentum, it stifles your tempo and we need to make plays. In the one setting, in the last plays of the game, we dropped three touchdown passes and the defense is celebrating because it was an end of the game play but it actuality the offense should have won that segment. Those are things to teach the defense but it is also consistency in performance every single day you step out on the football field or in the meeting room."
»(On the defensive line responding today)
"We needed that. That was great to see and I knew they were focused because they came up to me in the meeting today and said, `Coach, you are going to see a difference in energy today' so now they are going to have to understand it's about consistency. I thought it was great that they came and established the line a scrimmage today and it's a great teaching lesson for the offensive line. You're only as good as your last rep. You're only as good as your last performance. That's why we have a snap-and-clear mentality. Play the play and clear it from your mind the play the next snap."
»(On the helmet stickers)
"It is just a thing for the spring. It is a thing to reward players. We as a coaching staff are firm believers of you get what you emphasize so there are certain points of our play we would like to emphasize as a team. We reward those players, but that won't be anything we move forward with in the fall. It's just something for spring."
SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER JASON CROOM
»(On knowing the playbook)
"The plays are just embedded in us. We know them like the back of our hand so there's not too much to think about other than the defense we're facing."
»(On the defensive intensity)
"They came out with some intensity. We made some opportunities also but that's on us."
»(On what Coach Azzanni told the receivers after practice)
"He just told us we have to have a high level of consistency. That's the best thing."
SENIOR RUNNING BACK MARLIN LANE
»(On hand injury)
"I felt good out there today. I got banged on a couple of times but it's part of football. I'm out there playing, so I can't complain about it."
»(On being a leader on the offense)
"I do, because I've been in the system for two years now. I know all my stuff and I feel like if I know it, I can teach it to the younger players to get them comfortable on the field so they don't make any mistakes and just go out and play ball."
»(On today's practice)
"That was real important. They came out here on a Saturday morning and watched us practice. We felt the environment, made me think of a game, so I just wanted to come out here and do everything good. They showed us that we want to finish hard this last week and pick it up for August 30."
SENIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMAN JORDAN WILLIAMS
»(On personal defensive play)
"Me playing the three technique and being physical down there and being on the outside, it's different. It's a little bit easier, but it definitely has some power there and I feel like my quickness played a little bit into it too."
»(On pressuring the quarterbacks)
"Just energy. Just feeding off the sidelines and off of each other. The offense will have a long pass, a long run and the defense will get down. Everyone's not executing the way they should. It's seconds. We had it."
»(On watching film of first spring scrimmage)
"Yes. Scrimmages are more game-type situations and just getting that, coaches are off the field. It's not like you're stopping every other play. We're rolling through. I feel like getting that, getting the plays in, getting lined up, it's a lot different from practice. I feel like that's good to build off of."
SOPHOMORE WIDE RECEIVER MARQUEZ NORTH
»(On the improvement of the receiving group)
"There is a lot of improvement happening. Everyone is buying in to what we are doing. It's a day-to-day process for me. I'm just trying to improve on my route technique. Right now, that's my whole purpose."
»(On receivers coach Zach Azzanni)
"He is pushing us at practice. Coach Z definitely gets on us, but I'd rather him get on us now than a defensive back get after us during a game. I love how Coach Z coaches us."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)