Solid Vol OL Play Paves Way For Kelly's Early Season Surge

1967 National Champions To Be Honored On Saturday

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - by special to The Chattanoogan.com
Tennessee running back John Kelly (4) leads the SEC with 349 rushing and 402 all-purpose yards through three games this season. Part of the reason is the solid line play of the Vols' offensive line.
Tennessee running back John Kelly (4) leads the SEC with 349 rushing and 402 all-purpose yards through three games this season. Part of the reason is the solid line play of the Vols' offensive line.
- photo by UT Athletics

Tennessee assistant coaches and players spoke to reporters on Tuesday and discussed the team's progress over its first three games.

UT's offensive line has been very productive, paving the way for 402 yards per game and junior running back John Kelly, who leads the SEC with 349 rushing yards and 540 all-purpose yards.

"Every position on the field and the way they're playing impacts play calling and how things are going, especially that group up front," Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott said. "We've done a really good job with all the moving pieces we've had to move around and shake up from week to week, all the way through camp, and a lot times right up until we're getting ready to go out on the field. These guys have done a really good job."

Offensive line coach Walt Wells said that his group is progressing and improving on its physicality and communication. Freshman offensive lineman Trey Smith, a starter in all three games at right guard, has stood out in both the running game and the passing game, demonstrating why he was rated as ESPN.com's No. 1 overall recruit for 2017.

"Trey is coming around and learning," Wells said. "He came out and played well against Georgia Tech. Then he came back against Indiana State and learned that you have to work your craft every day in college football. You can't let up even against certain teams because they will embarrass you. It is college football, and everyone was probably one of the best players on their high school teams. Whether it is FCS or FBS, it doesn't matter because they are a good football player. He learned that in Week 2. In Week 3, he came out and played with one of the better 3-techniques that we have seen. He did a nice job against Florida."

Smith echoed his position coach's evaluation of his development, saying "there's a lot of stuff I need to improve on."

"Just being an offensive lineman, you're never really going to have perfection," Smith said. "There are a lot of people that play in the NFL for like 16 years and there's still always something to work on. So I think that I'm doing an okay job right now."

Kelly Is Spark of the UT Offense

Kelly is ranked 11th nationally in rushing. His five rushing touchdowns are tied for the most in the SEC and fifth in the country. Kelly also leads Tennessee with 16 receptions and ranks sixth nationally with 540 all-purpose yards.

Kelly's tackle-shedding running style fueled Tennessee's second-half rally against Florida last week, bringing the Vols back from 10-point deficits before the Gators took the win on the final play of the game.

"When you're a running back you don't want to get tackled, so I'm doing everything I can not to get tackled," Kelly said. "Just trying to impose my will on people when I'm running the ball when I get opportunities to do so and that's really just where it comes from."

Kelly, who is also one of the most respected players on the team, has also won over teammates with his vocal leadership in practice and in games.

"My mom used to always say I talked too much anyways, so I guess it's still going," Kelly said.

Scott described Kelly simply as "a football player," adding that "He's prepared, he's competitive, he wants to win, and you can't have enough of those guys on your football team."

Kelly's ferocity on the field and genuine personality off it have made him a model teammate. Wells said that Kelly spoke to the offensive line on Monday and thanked the unit for paving the way for his success over the first three games.

"There are times when I just look at John and I'm like 'wow,'" Smith said. "He was running over people, he's a full-contact back, and that's what I really love about him. JK gets me hyped in games just by the way he plays. The violence with which he plays, it really motivates me. If a guy's going to run that hard, what is blocking for a couple seconds so I can help spring him free?"

1967 National Champions To Be Honored Saturday

The 1967 National Champion Tennessee football team will be honored at the end of the first quarter on Saturday as part of the 50th anniversary reunion weekend for the team. The 1967 Volunteers fell to UCLA in the season opener before winning nine straight, including victories over Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss. UT finished No. 2 in the final polls and was selected as the national champion by Litkenhous. Led by Head Coach Dough Dickey, the Vols earned a berth in the Orange Bowl and also won the SEC Championship with a perfect 6-0 mark in conference.

The Vols take on UMass on Saturday with a noon kickoff on the SEC Network.

Additional Quotes

Larry Scott, Offensive Coordinator

(On Marquez Callaway taking responsibility for Florida’s interception return for touchdown)
"That’s what you hope you start to get with young players, is that they understand and they’re not willing to point the finger at anyone or say ‘it’s not my fault’. We talk all the time about accountability, and that shows growth in a young player right there. Now, there’s probably a better chance he won’t come back and do that again. And that’s just being accountable to your mistakes and how everything and all the pieces fit. And there’s not one person all the time who has to take the blame or point the finger, it’s not that. We’re a unit, we’re a team. And part of that is guys accepting accountability for when they make a mistake.”

(On using two running back sets with some of the young running backs)
"I like to try to get all of our players the ball as much as we can when needed, when appropriate, and when it fits the structure of what we feel like we can go attack the defense with. The more you can keep those guys involved, the better off you’re going to be with the development of young players.”

(On the offensive line’s performance through three games)
"Every position on the field and the way they’re playing impacts play calling and how things are going, especially that group up front. We’ve done a really good job with all the moving pieces we’ve had to move around and shake up from week to week, all the way through camp, and a lot times right up until we’re getting ready to go out on the field. These guys have done a really good job. I think it’s just going to be a continuing scroll with that group as we continue to move forward and put the right pieces together because there’s going to be movement. I think it’s going to be a positon that we’re going to see, we’re going to have to be able to play some guy at different places at different times.”

Bob Shoop, Defensive Coordinator

(On giving credit during being down in the fourth quarter to players)
“This week to be down two different times in the fourth quarter against Florida, I thought it was a tremendous credit to Coach Jones, to the staff, and to the players specifically to battle back and put us in a position to win the game.” 

(On last play)
“Our strategy on the last play was watching him come out of the huddle, and if they come out of the huddle in a Hail Mary type formation call timeout and reset the defense. They did not do that. We took away the play that they ran which is the irony of the whole thing really.”

(On catastrophic plays)
“I can’t really say, but I think we need to all focus in as a defense so we don’t have those big plays happen on us at all.”

(On individual effort in fourth quarter)
“I give Justin Martin all the credit in the world, that was just a tremendous, tremendous, play. Rashaan Gaulden was all over the field, blitzing, had an interception, gave the offense the ball in field position to score at the end. So there is some really, really good individual efforts out there that are spoiled by obviously the finish of that game.”

Trey Smith, OL

(On his performance through three games)
“I think I’ve played okay. There’s a lot of stuff I need to improve on, a lot of stuff Coach Wells and I keep talking on. Obviously just being an offensive lineman, you’re never really going to have perfection, there are a lot of people that play in the NFL for like 16 years and there’s still always something to work on. So I think that I’m doing an okay job right now.”

(On John Kelly and how his running style helps the offensive line)
"I love watching his film. There are times when I just look at John and I’m like ‘wow.’ He was running over people, he’s a full-contact back, and that’s what I really love about him. JK gets me hyped in games just by the way he plays, the violence with which he plays, it really motivates me. If a guy’s going to run that hard, what is blocking for a couple seconds so I can help spring him free.”

(On the physicality he brings to the offensive line)
"We all bring something to the room. My high school coach, my mentor, has always told me to be the most physical guy out there. A lot of times I want to bring good physicality, and I learned that from Jashon, just watching the way he practices. Coach Wells talks about how we have the same mentality at times to sort of destroy people. So I really learn that from him.”

Darrell Taylor, DL

(On how quickly they were able to put Florida game behind them)
"We went over to film
Sunday, and then we talked about it a little on Monday and then we were ready to focus on UMASS."

(On seeing seniors possibly going down with season ending injuries)
"It is pretty tough because they are veterans, they know a lot of stuff on the field and off the field. We need them. It’s pretty tough, but we are going to get through it."

(On fatigue contributing to losing edge in fourth quarter)
"I don’t think it’s a fatigue thing. I think it’s a matter of we need to focus the whole game, and make sure that we sustain that focus throughout the whole game."

(On Coach Shoop talking about catastrophic plays)
“I can’t really say, but I think we need to all focus in as a defense so we don’t have those big plays happen on us at all.”

John Kelly, RB

(On how he developed his running style)
“When you’re a running back you don’t want to get tackled, so I’m doing everything I can not to get tackled. Just trying to impose my will on people when I’m running the ball when I get opportunities to do so and that’s really just where it comes from.”

(On the run game opening up after his long run late in the first half)
“It was just like a man check for us.  We just had to get in our huddle and basically establish that we have to be playmakers, whether that was the o-line or any running back that touched the ball, we just had to be playmakers. The running game kind of opened up a little bit because I felt as if the defense was kind of gassed and we were just taking it to them, so it ended up opening up some lanes later on in the game.”

(On what he says to motivate the team in practice and during games)
“Just as far as talking to my guys, I try to motivate them and let them know that we’re still in it and we’re fighting together. That’s really just what it is. My mom used to always say I talked too much anyways, so I guess it’s still going.”

(On what he’s seen from Trey Smith as a freshman so far)
“He’s a fierce competitor and he’s dominant. He wants to try to dominate his guy every chance he gets. I definitely love that about Trey’s game is that he wants to dominate his player. That’s really how I try to run the ball as well but with Trey having that big body, it’s evident and you can see it when he does it.”

(On the ability for the team to stay focused for this week’s game)
“Well it just goes back to the whole snap and clear mentality. Honestly, we shouldn’t treat any game any more or any less. Every opponent is just another opponent for us. Honestly, we just have to make sure the maturity of our team stays up to par and everybody is ready to play for this early game because this is probably the earliest game we have on the schedule, so it’s going to be different for a lot of guys as far as the body clock.”

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)



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