KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- There was only one voice that spoke at the end of Tennessee’s football practice on Monday.
Coach Butch Jones addressed the media without the usual group of players going ahead after a session that he said didn't meet the expectation that he and the staff laid out for the team.
"Everything is based on merit and today I'll be the one speaking to the media," Jones said.
"Our players are going to earn the right to talk to the media, it's an honor and a privilege to represent this great football program in the way we practice."
The second practice in shells was met by the hottest afternoon of camp thus far, something Jones knew was going to be a test of the young team's resolve. Jones admitted that he expected there would be days like this one from a mental standpoint, but said that couldn't be acceptable, particularly when the team's physical conditioning was up to the challenge.
"We have to stop using youth as a crutch and an excuse," Jones said. "It is what it is and opponents don't care. Everything is about a culture, an expectation."
Beyond earning the right to speak to the media, Jones wanted the team's focus to stay squarely on themselves and moving on to the next phases of camp, from team meetings to their physical recovery. Players are also in the final exam period of the second session of summer school.
"I told you our patience would be tried and our patience is being tried," Jones said. "I think our players are competing, we're just not there yet in our standard and expectations. We'll continue to work on that and develop that, but I want all their focus on that."
Jones reminded the team and the media of the challenge that awaits when Utah State comes to Neyland Stadium in just 27 days.
"We can't waste one single opportunity to improve this football team," Jones said. "We'll get better and work through it. This is a learning opportunity."
ROBERTSON FLIPS TO OFFENSE
Coming out of Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Jashon Roberston was a two-way standout at defensive tackle and offensive guard. After three days on the defensive line in his college career, Robertson switched to the offensive line and worked at guard. As the Vols look for depth on the offensive line, the move gives Jones and offensive line coach Don Mahoney more options.
"Jashon Robertson we're trying right now at offensive line, so we moved his position to the offensive guard," said Jones. "He showed some things in practice that we liked, so we moved him to the offensive line. I tell you what, Jashon is one of those individuals. Love him to death. Always has a smile on his face. Loves the opportunity. He's tough. He's extremely competitive, and he's doing a great job for us."
Robertson was honored as a First-Team All-Midstate selection as a senior in 2013. He helped the Big Red to a 10-2 record with his play on the O-Line and D-Line with 74 tackles including 14 for a loss of yardage.
HEAD COACH JONES TRANSCRIPT
(On what he didn't like about practice)
"Just a standard and an expectation by which we are going to practice and you go through the highs and lows of training camp but what you want is a consistent approach and I really haven't seen that consistency in performance. A lot of it is players going through it for the first time but we can't allow that to be an excuse. They need to focus on football and academics and finishing school strong. But we are going to come out. When we step out on the grass, it is two hours of mental effort and mental intensity in everything that we do. That is the standard, that is the expectation, that is the way we coach and that is the way we are going to play around here. And when it doesn't meet up to those standards and expectations there is repercussions. We have to focus on getting better as a football team."
(On if he has done this at other schools)
"Every team is different but every team that we have coached has played with a hard edge, has had a mentality and it is a process, your practice habits, your consistency, but it is also leadership. Leadership is at a premium right now. We don't have very many leaders. We talk to our team about, do you invest your time or do you spend your time? You can come out here and just spend it or you are investing it. Then the next thing in the evolution of a team is, are you hearing yourself or are you talking to yourself. You have to control your mindset. It got a little hot out there today but again we are going to play in some heat games. Every team is different, has different dynamics, but all I am concerned about it what is going on here."
(On the player's approach to practice)
"I didn't like the approach yesterday, again, everything is a standard, from the minute we walk on the football field, we don't walk, we run. You look at Antonio Brown, one of the best wideouts in the National Football League, talked to the Steelers, he hits the ground, it is a standard and an expectation, you run from drill to drill. You get your extra work in. That is what is embedded in this football program and I just didn't like our overall approach and consistency and we have to set the tone.”
(On the dramatic change after the first eight periods)
"Yeah. You know, when we got into some team situations, we had way too many balls on the ground and you know we talk about executing. We have to be a team that we cannot beat ourselves. If it's mental penalties, that's a big thing this training camp. Mental penalties. Jumping off sides. Lining up off sides. Illegal procedure penalties. We had 17 of them last year. That's inexcusable. A lot of it is on the shoulders of the quarterback. He manages the offense with his verbal commands, with his voice inflection. So it's all the little things, the small details, but we had trouble at times even snapping the football today.”
(On the player coach representative response and actions)
"Yeah but it takes more. They have to learn how to speak a little bit more. It's easy to lead when things are easy. The great leaders have to lead in difficult times and we were quiet. We are a quiet football team. You can't have that. We want energy, we want passion, we want guys coaching each other, we want that communication from player to player and coach to coach and it's got to be on every single repetition. We will get there.”
(On whether today's struggle was physical or mental for the team)
"I think, for the most part, it's a lot mental. You know, that's why we call it mental conditioning. Everything is happening extremely fast. You know, when you throw in a playbook of schemes, whether it's offense or defense, your style of play, how you line up, your technique, winning your one-on-one matchup but also then throwing in a special teams playbook.”
(On Josh Malone)
"Josh Malone, he's going through the rigors of being a wide receiver at this level. He has to learn how to push his way mentally through the sore legs that comes with the inordinate amount of running that the receiver position does. That will come over time. The thing we can't do, is we can't waiver. We have to stay the course and we have to keep demanding. And we will, and our players expect that from us."
(On any position group stood out in terms of consistency)
(On quarterback accuracy) "It's gotten worse. We have to go back, we have to look at our mechanics. A lot of it though is also our wideouts and tight ends and running backs running full speed routes. The great thing is we don't have to be game ready yet. We have ample time to get game ready, and we'll be able to do that. I love our players. They've done everything, and anything, that we've asked of them. But the standard is high. Nobody is going to come into Neyland Stadium, or we go on the road, and say, ‘Oh they're the youngest team in the country. Let's give them a break.’ Uh-uh. If anything, it's a heightened awareness. So we have to be mentally tough.”
(On mistakes magnified because of youth)
"It's very uncommon. And the thing is, some position groups, there are no older players that have played a lot of football to be able to lead them. So, you know, the freshmen are kind of out there. So the individuals that do have experience, their leadership has to be dynamic. They have to step up. And they're trying, but we must get better.”
(On the difficulty this time of year)
"It's a great challenge. This is the second year in all my years of coaching I haven't been through this. You're in the rigors of final exams, final papers. We had a great first semester, the best semester we've had. I believe our freshman class had a 3.3 overall GPA for the first semester - that's very, very good. We need to finish strong, so obviously they have school going on, they have football going on, but it's not an excuse. You have to learn how to manage your time, budget your time, and when you walk in the doors of the Anderson Training Center, all focus, all attention-that mental effort, that mental intensity- is taking the accountability to be a better football player today.”
(On balancing patience with sense of urgency)
"That's a great question, and everything is a sense of urgency. We'll have patience. We'll go in. We'll teach off the film. We'll correct. We'll get it fixed. But I think today just exemplifies the sense of urgency that this team has to have because our margin of error is very, very small. And if you're a competitor, you get to prove people wrong. You get to prove. We should be hungry. We don't have an individual on this football team that has played in a bowl game. That should motivate you.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)