KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The grind of training camp has kicked in and Tennessee coach Butch Jones is looking to see who can handle it.
"This is where as a mentally tough football team, this is where you have to fight through it," Jones said as the Vols finished their 12th practice of camp. "This is where you have to be disciplined in your habits and in your sleep. This is where you mature, this is where you grow up and this is where you find what's inside of you to fighting through the pans, the aches associated with training camp.
Jones takes great pride in having incredible energy and hopes that his passion has infiltrated the entire program.
"Everything is about energy," said Jones. "It starts with me, it starts with our coaches, it starts with our leaders. You have to get excited, practice is like recess.
"It is controlled chaos. You get to have recess, you go around and what do you love to do? You get to go play ball at recess. You have to keep in perspective, you work so hard for the opportunity to play football, every opportunity to get better is critical. It's about energy and that mindset."
Jones has alluded to possibly naming a starting quarterback this week. During his media session on Tuesday, he briefly talked about Justin Worley, praising the senior signal caller.
"Going through your progressions, there is a clock in your head as a quarterback and also understanding situational football and areas on the field," he said. "That was great to see. I see Justin gaining confidence practice-in and practice-out."
BATES USING VALUABLE RESOURCES
As freshman linebacker Dillon Bates explained, much of the uphill battle he currently faces is the mental part of the game. In balancing his freshman year of college, along with the aches and pains of fall camp practices, Bates also finds himself in team meeting rooms, learning from some of the best in SEC football.
"That's what I talk to coach Jones and coach Thigpen about," said Bates. "They say the hardest thing is the mental part of it. There are different levels to the game, especially at linebacker. You're getting alignments, getting set, getting your run read if it's run pass and then once it's passed, you have to get to your assignment. Once you get the mental part down, you're able to fly around and make plays. That's what I'm working toward right now."
One teammate in particular has transitioned into a mentor role for Bates, as the Tennessee legacy has worked alongside senior linebacker A.J. Johnson in fall camp. While Johnson is one of the most-vocal members of the Vols defense, Bates points out that it's not just the attitude but the lifestyle Johnson demonstrates that keeps him motivated.
"He's always energetic. He's always on the field and involved in something," said Bates. "Whenever a big play happens, he runs out to the person and congratulates them but also, he keeps them accountable. In the meeting room, he'll turn around and talk to you about what you messed up on, really talk to you and look after you in what you're doing."
Thankfully for Bates, football has not only become his lifestyle but it's a lifestyle he witnessed his father, Bill Bates, live by throughout a 15-plus year career. Every other night, the younger of the Bates men sits down to call his dad, whom he admits is one of the best resources available to him.
"He always tells me to slow it down," said Bates. "Just take everything in and every day, work on one thing at a time. Really, he's my greatest asset as a father and someone to look up to."
"Yes, we've thrown a lot at Dillon," Jones said. "Dillon is going to be a great football player for us and we need him to continue to mature this season but we're very pleased with him. He just has a great demeanor and it stems from his mother and father. Everything is the way he's been raised, brought up in a tough environment, a loving environment, and I can't say enough about him."
Pedigree aside, Bates continues to be inspired by the efforts of him teammates and coaches, while eagerly awaiting his chance to step in for the Vols defense.
"I can't really control whether I'm going to play or whether I can't play," added Bates. "All I can control is how I go about every day and go about making myself better out on the field. If something happens, somebody goes down and I'm out on the field, then all I can do is play my game and play to the best of my abilities."
DEPENDABLE JOHNSON DRIVEN TO BE GREAT
When looking for consistency on the practice field, Jones always knows he can find it in junior wide receiver Johnathon Johnson.
"With Jonathan Johnson, the best compliment I can give him and you guys probably know what I'm going to say, is his consistency," Jones said. "He shows up to work every day and makes plays for us. He takes coaching. Coach Z tells him one thing and that's it. You never have to repeat it and he never makes the same mistakes twice, so I've been very, very happy with Jonathan."
Johnson says his consistency comes from not only working hard on the field, but off the field, as well.
"Really just the main thing off the field is taking care of my body," he said. "And watching film, so when I go out there I know exactly what the defense is going to do. So that's really the main thing I try and do off the field (and) that makes me consistent on the field."
Johnson is also fueled daily by the nickname given to him by the coaching staff, which stems from his lack of notoriety as a high school and junior college player.
"We call him our two-star,” Jones said. "Again, it's a great illustration that stars don't mean anything. He's got a drive to be great. He's got that inner drive. He works every day and doesn't say two words."
Johnson's work ethic and consistency has also made a huge impression on his teammates.
"I love Johnathon Johnson," said sophomore wide receiver Marquez North. "He's very consistent in everything he does. He shows up on time and early to whatever meeting that we have."
North also praised the off the field and behind the scenes work that Johnson puts in daily.
"A lot of the people don't see the great things he does," said North. "He puts himself in a position to be great because he's that guy making the block in the hole. People don't see that. He's one of the most consistent guys in the receiver group and on the team."
NORTH HAPPY WITH INCREASED DEPTH
North knows that the wide receivers group has room to improve, but with a larger group to work with, North is happy with the team's potential.
"I feel good about everyone," North said. "Everyone is paying attention to detail. Coach Z is on us constantly trying to get us better with everything we do. He preaches detail. He's a perfectionist.
Rather than playing just a few, wide receiver coach Zach Azzanni hopes to play multiple players at the position. During his freshman campaign, North was a go-to receiver.
"As a freshman, coach Z prepared me a lot. It's really more mental than physical, but this year with a lot of us competing, it's going to be a lot easier for us."
Growing depth at the wide receiver position isn't the only thing that will help the group. North believes the addition of two strong freshman tight ends will help the receivers' success.
"Ethan [Wolf] and Daniel [Helm] are going to be great, I think," North said. "Everything is positive with them. They pay attention to the details, and they're real good athletes too."
The ability for them to help the receivers is there.
"They push vertical too. They have good hands."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)