KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Coach Butch Jones gave a preview of the weekend ahead, which will be a busy one for the Tennessee football program on Tuesday. He also gave insight to a special new award which will be presented at halftime of the DISH Orange & White Game.
"This weekend will be a great family experience of coming back, spending the weekend at the University of Tennessee.
So many things, Friday we will start off with the Lettermen’s golf outing, welcoming all of our lettermen back, we will have a Vol For Life reception that night.
"I know everyone is excited about the first annual VFL Football Classic, our flag football game, I know everyone is looking forward to it. We will have an MVP of the game and the MVP will take home a trophy that is 13 feet, 9 inches. Don't ask me how they are going to get it home. That is their problem. It may be the largest trophy in the country. Why? Because we are Tennessee and they are Vols for life.
"There will also be a new award that we will hand out at halftime. It is the Al Wilson Leadership Award, given to the individual on our football that has displayed the most leadership throughout the course of this offseason.
"Also, a tremendous recruiting opportunity for our football program and we need as many people to come out for Big Orange Weekend in support of this football team. So much with a young football team is creating the type of atmosphere and environment that we are going to have."
Earlier Tuesday, Tennessee announced it would move its season opener to Sunday, Aug. 31. This creates a unique weekend for Knoxville, one which Jones is excited about.
"Partnering up with the City of Knoxville and Boomsday and having a tremendous, tremendous weekend, playing a great football team and a great football program in Utah State in Neyland Stadium 102,455 Sunday. I think this signifies what we are all about, the City of Knoxville, a great place to raise a family but the way I look at it is, it is the entire state of Tennessee and Vol Nation coming together for an entire weekend in the City of Knoxville. So we are very excited about that.
"It is also a great opportunity to perform on the SEC Network, so I think it is a tremendous opportunity for our football program. To me it is a compliment that we are going to be able to play on the SEC Network but also to welcome the families to Knoxville for a great weekend."
NEW PLAYERS, NEW ROLES ON D-LINE
This spring, the defensive side of the football has seen many players perform at different positions. With numerous players cross-training, defensive line coach Steve Stripling is pleased with what he is seeing, especially out of this year's early enrollees.
Jakob Johnson, a freshman linebacker, has been seeing some playing time on the defensive line.
"Jakob has been with me a couple days, kind of an experiment," said Stripling. "I love him. He's going to get huge. He has a great attitude."
Johnson's attitude and hard work during practice earned him a spot in today's "Circle of Life," where two players go head-to-head against each other while surrounded by their teammates.
Dimarya Mixon is another defensive lineman that has Stripling looking forward to this season.
"I'm really excited about Mixon's future," Stripling said. "Right now, he's playing inside. He's probably a little undersized, but he's going to get really big."
Alongside true freshmen Johnson and Mixon, junior college transfer Owen Williams is expected to do big things for the Tennessee defense. "He's one of the strongest guys in the weight room," said Stripling. "Owen was really going strong early, kind of hit the wall, but he has a little bit of [Corey] Vereen in him."
"He has a little bit of that Vereen-ism in him that nobody is going to outwork him," said Stripling. "He has a long way to go and he knows that but I like his attitude."?
WEAPONS MAXIMIZING OPPORTUNITIES
Tuesday's spring practice #12 was all about maximizing in every aspect of the game and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian saw just that.
"As much as it is the young quarterbacks, it is the young receivers, the young running backs, young tight ends," Bajakian said. "We have placed an emphasis on moving fast and playing with great tempo and always playing with great effort. Our guys have made strides in that this spring."
Such strides throughout all of the offense, especially with the wide receiver unit, have Bajakian looking forward to Saturday's Orange and White game in Neyland Stadium.
Veteran senior Devrin Young has maximized this spring in the wide receiver position instead of at running back.
"It's definitely been a positive move for him," said Bajakian. "He has taken to the position. I think it's a little more of a natural fit for him. He's done a good job this spring." ? Young's positive outlook has younger wide receivers maximizing each time they have possession of the ball as well.
"Marquez [North], day one came in with a very positive attitude, a very mature approach," said Bajakian. "As much as anything, he wants to be great. He has the type of mentality that you are looking for in a receiver- now it is developing consistency and refining those techniques."
Bajakian has also been impressed by early enrollee and freshman Josh Malone.
"Josh- we've moved him around a little bit more, put a bit more on his plate, so he's taken it all in stride and he continues to grow and develop and get better every day," Bajakian said. "For him, the big thing is going to be playing with an effort level and a condition level that we need in this offense."
Young, North and Malone aren't the only wide receivers that are expected to see playing time this Saturday and this coming season though. Bajakian looks forward to seeing A.J. Branisel and Josh Smith catching passes too.
"We have all those guys who have been through an entire offseason and all the incoming freshmen who have an opportunity to go through skill development, spring football and summer training. It is a great opportunity to learn and develop."
NO STOPPING JOSH SMITH
Nothing can keep sophomore Josh Smith down. The Knoxville native encountered a rough winter and spring, but his tenacity and grit have struck a chord with the coaching staff.
"He loves to play," coach Zach Azzanni said. "The one thing I can say about him, which I hope I can say about every player, is he's tough."
The wide receiver wasn't cleared to play until right before spring practice, causing him to miss the team's skill development over the winter.
A bout with the flu earlier this spring deemed more problems for the sophomore as he had to miss two practices, as well as dropped some weight from the flu.
"He came back from the flu and they told us to limit him," Azzanni said. "He was really weak and lost about 10 pounds. I wasn't sure he could play more than 10 plays."
But during last Saturday's practice in Neyland Stadium, Smith proved everyone wrong.
"My man played about 60 plays that day," Azzanni said. "He didn't want to come out. I almost had to carry him off the field, me and his dad, but that's the type of player he is. He's a tough kid. His instincts come out and he loves to play."
Smith caught a long touchdown pass from quarterback Riley Ferguson on Saturday, highlighting one of the biggest plays of the day for the offense.
"It was huge," Azzanni said. "I was so proud of him.
For him to come out last Saturday and do that, I was really happy for him. He's playing with some confidence and swagger which he needed coming off last season."
Smith saw action in 11 of the Vols' games last season, making four starts. He finished the 2013 season with 12 catches for 182 yards with one touchdown.
THE EDUCATION OF EMMANUEL
Freshman Emmanuel Moseley continues to learn how to play in a college secondary in his first months with the Vols. The high school quarterback and cornerback has pleased defensive backs coach Willie Martinez with his progress through 12 practice sessions.
"He has been able to produce and make some plays when he is given the opportunity," said Martinez. "He's made mistakes also, but he plays with a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and the willingness to be really good at something, and he has earned that right right now."
Moseley and fellow freshman D'Andre Payne are gaining knowledge every day and Martinez appreciates their willingness to be so attentive.
"I think that he has a lot to learn, but he is doing a pretty good job right now," said Martinez. "I think he has done a really good job to be honest with you. I've been very pleased, not just him, but all of them, all of the newcomers."
Here are sound bites from the assistant coaches after Tuesday’s practice.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
»(On being surprised by the young tight ends)
"They surprised me. We knew they were very athletic, we knew they had great ball skills, they have come in and have played with a level of physicality that is encouraging. They lack a little bit in their physical development and that is obviously the job of Coach Lawson and our strength staff but I know those guys are going to a do a good job in the weight room. They are eager to learn, these tight ends, their futures are very bright."
»(On the quarterbacks)
"We are always hoping to see more consistency. We want to continue to improve, we don't want to take two steps forward, one steps back. To be a great quarterback you have to, sure you will have your error throws and a couple stumbles here and there, but you would rather it be once every 400 plays instead of once every 20 plays."
»(On Mack Crowder)
"I love the mentality that Mack Crowder brings to the offensive line. We emphasize playing with great effort and he has done a great job as a leader in that regard."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
»(On Jakob Johnson)
"He's done a great job. He's made some really nice plays. As we moved him to the defensive end position, he's done a really good job and picked up things very quickly. I'm pleased with his progress and he's going to continue to get better and I think that's a position he can really help us at."
»(On Curt Maggitt)
"Curt gives us a dimension of pass-rush that we haven't had. Having his ability to rush the passer coupled with his leadership at the position has been a big boost. He's done some good things. He has to continue to learn and progress, but certainly, I'm excited to see him rush the passer."
»(On Colton Jumper)
"Colton, it's all new for him. He's swimming. He's hit the wall. He's just scratching and clawing right now, but I love his attitude. He's engaged and he asks questions, so we'll just keep grinding with him."
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH STEVE STRIPLING
»(On his overall thoughts)
"Most pleased that we're starting to find a comfort level out there, that as we cross-train them- Jordan Williams is playing various positions for us. Now there's getting to be a comfort level that whoever is on the field and understanding details like points on the quarterback which was an issue last year and being coordinated, those kinds of things. You're looking for those improvements. I'm also looking at this point right now that we can get into the fine details of football- the FBI, we call it "Football Intelligence," you know, it's a pre-snap analysis of what's going to happen and those type things. I think for a while we're just lining up. We're hurrying to get lined up and there hasn't been a lot of pre-snap analysis and those types of things. We're hoping to see those kinds of improvements as we finish the week."
DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
»(On the safety position)
"We are just continuing to try and improve. We've had a couple of kids out, of injuries, so they have missed some reps, some valuable reps that are developmental that have hurt them so we are going to go through the process, keep doing it. Obviously, we've got Brian (Randolph) as a solidified one of the starting positions and it's really kind of open for the other one."
»(On the competition)
"I like the competition part, and you know we've moved guys around, and we've done it for what we think is the right reason, to get some guys some different looks and opportunity to know what to do at different positions so that if something happens in the fall where you've got to not necessarily play the second-team guy, but play somebody who is the next best guy, the best guy that's best prepared for that situation so that has allowed us to do that, but it's spring so I think the summer and what they do in the summer time leading up to camp will be big as far as the depth we are looking for."
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH ZACH AZZANNI
»(On the consistency of Von Pearson)
"I think he's changed a lot. He was awful the first scrimmage. He was less awful the second scrimmage and he was a little less awful the third scrimmage. I tease him with that. There was marked improvement from scrimmage one to scrimmage three, just on our style of play and the things we do with our consistency. I don't think he ran the right route one time in the first scrimmage. He just went out there and freaked out a little bit, which is why we scrimmage, go in Neyland Stadium and see what happens. The other day he made some plays. He got to where he was supposed to be. He got there how he was supposed to get there and all of a sudden he was like, `Wow, this works.' I think there's definitely some vast improvement with him. The other thing is he has so much energy and juice that it's hard to stay mad at him for more than about 10 seconds. He's going to be fine. He's fun to coach."
»(On Marquez North's areas needing improvement)
"The next step for him is playing wideout, understanding the game a little bit better, and his breaking points and nuances that playing at receiver that he didn't have last year. Once he gets those things down, I think he'll be a little bit better at understanding press coverage and how to get open. Those things are going to help him a lot. He needs to improve in those areas."
RUNNING BACKS COACH ROBERT GILLESPIE
»(On Jalen Hurd's growth over spring practice)
"He's a tough kid. He's very competitive and hates to make mistakes. He's not afraid to jump in and go with the ones, which are things you don't know until a kid gets here. I've seen him wanting to get in there and make those mistakes. I've told him `I don't mind you making mistakes, that's how you learn.' Just the fact that he's not afraid to jump in with the older guys, he takes coaching really well, he takes his teammates pulling him along and doesn't fight the system, he's a willing learner. That's one thing you don't know until you get a chance to get here and coach them."
»(On Marlin Lane)
"He knows that his time here is almost coming to an end. I had a conversation with Marlin [Lane] and said look at those rafters- 2007, that's the last banner that we put up here. One day, you're going to have to bring your kids back here and they're going to ask when you played and you're going to point up there. Are you going to leave a legacy? Are you going to leave a mark here? I think those are the conversations that we've had that he understands, `right now my time is coming to an end. I want to be a guy that when I leave here, people miss me when I come back in the building.' It's just something that snaps in every person. The light of the end of the tunnel- they start to see it and they want to come in and they want to be a leader. He's done a great job. I'm pleased with him on the field but I'm even more pleased with him with the way he is off the field as a leader for the group."
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH DON MAHONEY
»(On Kyler Kerbyson and Mack Crowder)
"I think those two guys learned a lot from watching those guys last year, even the year before, so I think from a knowledge standpoint, as hard as it was to not play they learned a lot mentally. They are really sharp players, if they have a missed assignment something really kind of weird happened on the play or I did a poor job of teaching because they are really sharp guys. I think they paid the price with that part and now they are just hungry to show what they can do. They are winning on both ends now, from cutting it loose on the field plus mentally what they have gained watching those guys."
LINEBACKERS COACH TOMMY THIGPEN
»(On Jalen Reeves-Maybin)
"Yeah, he has kind of taken over where Dontavis Sapp was at, as far as one of those play-cover downs, communication to non-stop verbiage. We just challenged him to mental errors, you know, just simple mental errors, things that he has made some mistakes on that he has never made mistakes on because if we don't work on it in two or three days, then you kind of get left in the back-burner so for him to make a lot of simple mistakes, but some of the more complex things he was right on. For him, it is just going to have to be consistency."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)