KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Coach Butch Jones had his target set on Tennessee's mental focus on Wednesday as the Volunteers held an evening workout at Neyland Stadium.
Jones gave players the morning off on what was originally scheduled to be one of UT's two-a-day practices. While the team got their legs back with the extra rest, the intensity of the night session was not where Jones felt it needs to be with the opening kickoff just 18 days away.
"First of all, it is controlling the things that we can control," Jones said. "That is our effort, that is our mentality, that is our fundamentals, that is just our overall intensity and physicality. Those are the things that we can control, being a disciplined football team."
The team work focused on situations and Jones specifically mentioned pre-snap penalties and big plays as areas where Tennessee didn't take care of the mental details, leading to the breakdowns.
"Everyone has to come out and everyone has to play," Jones said. "It is game speed repetitions. It is just responsibility. It is every player’s responsibility to get ready to play each and every time you step on to the football field. As a football player you never stay the same, you either get better or you get worse through your habits."
Jones did see players step forward, fighting for starting roles and playing time on both sides of the football and on special teams. He admitted that he uses the word "consistency" a great deal, but said it continues to be what he's looking for because consistency separates good from great. It also separates the players that have the mentality to move forward and those that need to improve that focus.
"Some individuals are starting to distance themselves and some individuals are kind of enduring," said Jones. "We can never endure a practice, you don't get better, some of them are just getting by and you have to embrace it as an opportunity to continue to improve your skill set."
Jones is hoping to name a quarterback in the next few days. With three players in the race for the job, Jones has been impressed with their competitiveness and improvements.
"I think it's important for our football team moving forward that they know who the starting quarterback is," Jones said. "I've been pleased with all three individuals lately. They've done a very, very good job of handling the volume of the offense that we have, but more particularly taking care of the football and making great decision with the football, having command of the line of scrimmage."
Senior Justin Worley and sophomores Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs have upped their performances throughout camp.
"He did," Jones said of Worley stepping up in Wednesday's night practice. "I see the confidence growing and growing, I thought Nate Peterman and Josh Dobbs did some great things."
Jones is looking for steady play.
"Just the overall consistency, I know they have word bingo going on, you hear the word consistency all the time because consistency is what separates average players from good players to great players," Jones said.
"Consistency in our snaps, we are still not there with the accuracy with our snaps, being perfect. To run our offense, our center has to step it up with their shot gun snaps. Again, pre snap penalties, tackling, we did a lot of special teams live as well. We have great video evaluation to be able to go back and look at our coverage teams as well."
As Butch and his staff near an announcement, he will go through hours of valuable film before a final decision.
"We'll go back tonight," he said, "we've charted every single throw every quarterback has made in practice. We're very to name a quarterback soon."
MALONE'S GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Fall camp has been a tougher transition for freshman receiver Josh Malone than most. From the grind of daily practice to the mental-endurance challenge of memorizing the Vols offense, it's no secret that he has struggled through several recent practices.
Jones also hasn't shied away from calling Malone's name over the practice microphone, not only in recognition of mistakes but when noticing the positive improvements worthy of praise. And tonight was a night for praise.
"He's had a tough camp and I'm very proud of him. He fought back," said Jones. "He's been battling some injuries and I thought tonight, he really stepped it up. So it was very encouraging."
So much of Malone's training this fall focuses on the mental and physical part of his game. As Jones points out, the coaching staff has complete confidence that the offensive play side will come. One part they do not have to worry about is Malone's maturity and attitude, not only toward his struggles but toward his visible improvements as well.
"Josh Malone is a very prideful individual," said Jones. "He expects to do great things and it's a part of that maturity level. When things don't go quite as well or the way you plan it, which is life, how to you handle the next snap? How do you bounce back? And I thought he bounced back exceptionally well and was very proud of him tonight moving forward."
JONES KNOWS FAN BASE WILL SHOW
The Vols are set to host their fan appreciation open practice on Saturday night. The night is a fan event, but has multiple purposes for Jones.
"It's very important," Jones said after the team's second session at Neyland on Wednesday night. "I know our fan base will respond and again, we're going to treat it almost like a preseason game. There are so many unknowns with this football team. How will they respond when there are people in the stands? Will the stage be too big for them or do they block it out?
"You know, that's all clutter and distractions. You always have to focus between the white lines and play football. So again, it will be a great evaluation tool for us and see how they compete."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)