Vols Focusing On Getting Healthy During Off Week Before Kentucky; QB Harrison Bailey Transferring

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Tennessee Head coach Josh Heupel's inspired Tennessee team is balancing getting healthy and fostering player development during its open week, and the coaching staff will turn its attention to an important recruiting weekend on the road.

The Volunteers (4-4) went through a light practice on Tuesday, put on the pads for an indoor practice on Wednesday and will have another workout on Thursday before breaking for the weekend.

Meanwhile, five star quarterback Harrison Bailey announced on Twitter that he was entering the transfer portal.

He said, "Dear Tennessee, Thank you for allowing me to pursue my academic and athletic career here at this prestigious university. I would like to thank everyone that helped me develop into the person I am today, on an off the field.

"To my brothers: I love you guys. We made a lifetime of memories over the last few years. Thank you for always supporting me through thick and thin.

"It's with a heavy heart that I would like to announce that I am entering my name in the transfer portal and exploring other options."

Coach Heupel stated at his press conference, "I said it after the ball game (at Alabama) too, it's important that we get a bunch of guys healthy here this week. That will be really important for us, and then, the opportunity for us to continue to sharpen our skills and get better too. A little bit more good-on-good work and then a little bit of Kentucky (preparation) too.

"Our entire staff will be out Thursday and Friday, (which is) really important for us. First and foremost, inside the state, and then continue throughout the areas we continue to go recruit. We need to finish this class and also push forward a little bit."

Heupel's team has established a clear identity eight games into his debut season. The Vols' swift offense is averaging a nation-high 2.89 plays per minute and putting up 37.4 points per game, good for 17th in the FBS and fourth in the SEC – in the first year in a system.

Defensively, the attacking unit is tops in the nation in tackles for loss with 70. Special teams has excelled in the kicking game, in coverage and in blocking multiple punts with both of those coming from true freshmen. All three phases have generated tremendous feedback on the recruiting trail.

"They see the brand of football that we're playing," Heupel said. "It's an exciting brand of football in all three phases of the game. They know we're going to be aggressive. They know we're going to play fast, not just in tempo, but the way our kids are able to cut it loose. They know we're going to call it aggressive in all three phases of the football game. It's something that is really attractive to players. The ability for them to see the environment inside of Neyland Stadium like it was a week ago and has been early in the season, is a huge part of the recruiting push that we have been able to make too."

Tennessee returns to action at Kentucky on Nov. 6. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

 Head Coach Josh Heupel Press Conference 

Oct. 27, 2021 

Opening Statement 

"Good day of practice with our guys today. It is the first day that we have been on the field. Monday was a brief lift for them, and yesterday we got an opportunity to kind of push forward on this week. You guys know, I said it after the ball game (at Alabama) too, important that we get a bunch of guys healthy here this week. That will be really important for us, and then, opportunity for us to continue to sharpen our skills and get better too. A little bit more good-on-good work and then a little bit of Kentucky (preparation) too. For our staff, huge week. The beginning of the week, a little bit of recruiting, but the back end of it is loaded with recruiting. Our entire staff will be out Thursday and Friday, really important for us. First and foremost, inside the state, and then continue throughout the areas we continue to go recruit. Finish this class and also push forward a little bit."
 
On how much work non-starters get during a bye week…

"Some of the guys that you're trying to get healthy have limited reps, or maybe very few reps during the course of this week. Those guys start taking the bulk of some of those reps. Some of your young guys get a little bit more of an opportunity to go out there and learn and compete too. You're balancing all those factors at every position and make sure that your young guys in particular get some growth this week." 
 
On cleaning up third downs on offense and on defense…

"Third-and-short from last week, during the course of the season there's been some times where we have been very successful. Last week, we weren't. Some of that was just identification in the run game, and some of it was just decision making where there are read opportunities for the quarterback. We have got to continue to clean those things up. Defensively, in particular on third-and-long, we have got to get it off the football field. Some of that has been quarterback extending plays from throwing the football down the field, and some of it has been quarterback scramble. For us, when we are in our four-man front and our three-man front, being able to have the ability to push the pocket, but then having rush integrity too, is going to be really important for us. When scrambles happen, we have to do a better job matching up at that point and taking one guy."
 
On Jimmy Calloway getting back on the field…

"I don't think it's just because of the drop (at Florida). Continue to push and press—and when I say press, just urgency in your preparation. Everything that goes into it off the field, on the field. We have a great belief in Jimmy as a football player. Velus sliding inside is a part of that reason, where those guys haven't had as many opportunities. We believe in Jimmy; he continues to compete and I know he's going to continue to get better every single week. I know it's important to him."
 
On the team's overall depth or lack thereof…

"For sure, this is the thinnest football team, just based off of numbers, that I have been involved with as a coach or as a player. At the end of the day, there is no asterisk next to this season. Our players and our coaches, it is what it is. You're either good enough or you're not when you walk off the field on Saturday. I love competing with this group. They are going to compete extremely hard. We continue to grow that way. There are some things that we've got to clean up that we can control that will help us play more efficiently at times."
 
On WR Cedric Tillman's success against Alabama…

"I think who you are, your maturity and how you approach everything every single day shows up in your consistency as a player. His consistency as a player is a direct result of who he is off the field. It's a direct result of the effort and strain that he puts in while we are in the building. Meeting, practicing and when coaches aren't with you, what he has put into it. He plays with great confidence because he understands his job at the highest level. The game is never moving too fast for him because of his preparation during the course of the week. That's why he's able to go out and perform and play extremely hard and efficiently."
 
On the excitement to hit the recruiting trail this weekend and the feedback his staff has received…

"In particular, inside of the state, the way our coaching staff has put an emphasis on it and communicated with the coaches in the area. As soon as we got an opportunity to get out—with COVID, obviously no spring recruiting—the way we've hit the state and will continue to, this week is a big part of that. Just developing relationships and a line of communication with the coaches here has been instrumental in us continuing to push forward on the recruiting side of it. We have great feedback from players. They see the brand of football that we're playing. It's an exciting brand of football in all three phases of the game. They know we're going to be aggressive. They know we're going to play fast, not just in tempo, but the way our kids are able to cut it loose. They know we're going to call it aggressive in all three phases of the football game. It's something that is really attractive to players. The ability for them to see the environment inside of Neyland Stadium like it was a week ago and has been early in the season, is a huge part of the recruiting push that we have been able to make too."
 
On what he will be doing this Saturday…

"I will definitely be around my family. My son and I will probably play catch and do something in the morning. My daughter will settle up on the couch with me in the afternoon and we'll watch some football for sure."
 
On offseason recruiting and the patience he had to have before creating a proof of concept…

"You're selling what you've done at previous places, and you're selling why you know it's going to happen here at UT. That's offense, defense, and special teams. It's the relationship and the energy and the program that you're building. Now that they get an opportunity to see the product on the football field, they know that those things reign true. The ability to play extremely aggressive on all three phases of the game. Our defense leading the country in tackles for loss. Offensively, the tempo, aggressiveness, and balance that we're going to have in the run and the pass game. The product is starting to sell itself, and I say that meaning that (prospects) understand what they're going to be playing, and there is a ton of excitement for recruits. It's a completely different feel when you have something that you're able to show them, that they can see. It's tangible to them, versus trying to sell them something that's from another school as far as the product of what you're putting on the field."
 
On how realistic it is to get a player in shape when they've missed some time on the field…

"It's difficult, but I do think those guys have an ability to come back. Can they handle a full game week one that they're back? I think that's asking a lot of them. But I think our rehab team, meaning our medical with Jeronimo (Boche) and then our strength and conditioning staff. The combination of those two things gets them back where they're a functional player when they are coming off of their rehab, versus just being the guy that's been in the medical room, and now you're just trying to grow as a football player. They've already started doing some of that functional movement with our strength and conditioning staff before they even get back into individuals and working with our entire group. I do think it's reasonable for those guys to be able to play and play at a high level when they get back."
 
On if he knew much about Hendon Hooker and how he played previously…

"Like all of the guys on our current roster, watched who was here. A small sample size with Hendon (Hooker), had watched some of what he had done at Virginia Tech. I think for Hendon, he's a great example of a guy that comes in, buys into a culture, has some maturity, has grown into a really good football leader inside of our locker room. But his consistency and his habits every single day. And then what we are doing offensively, being able to put him in a position, is why he's playing at a much higher level than he previously had. I think it speaks to Hendon, and I think it speaks to what we are able to do offensively to put the quarterback in a good position to be successful."
 
On how he evaluates his linebacker position and are any less experience players are in a better position to contribute…

"Those guys are continuing to get work with our defense and continue to grow. I've seen both of those guys play more snaps on special teams, continuing to play and grow in that way. I do believe that as we go down the home-stretch, those guys have to be ready to help us on the defense side of the football as well. Their growth is important to us as an entire football staff. Tons of positives from them. There are some things they have to do better. Some tackling when they're in space, some of it just scheme-wise being better. But, there are a lot of positives that those guys have done as well — fitting gaps, communication and making plays."
 
On Kamal Hadden's performance on Saturday and what he has seen from Byron Young recently…

"Kamal (Hadden) did a lot of positives. The last couple of weeks, has continued to get better week by week and more comfortable in our system. He's playing faster just with anticipation, and seeing things with his eyes. Everybody saw the punchout inside the 10-yard-line, a great competitive play by him, never giving up on the play. I think he's got a really high ceiling and is going to continue to grow. A guy that came here in the summer, your installs during the course of the summer, got banged up early in training camp. He's just had some nagging injuries, and as we got into week three and week four, he started to look a little bit more healthy and get more reps, gets his opportunity, takes advantage of his opportunity and plays at a really high level. I think it speaks to his ability to just continue to press and have purpose everyday—continue to grow as a player. It's a great lesson for a lot of our players. You don't know when your time is going to come. When it comes, you have to be ready for it. It's easy for a young player to get frustrated early when things aren't right, maybe you're not healthy. It's a great example of him just continuing to grow.
 
"Byron (Young) continues to make a huge impact for us defensively. His ability to rush the passer is something that we felt like he was going to be able to bring. He's got an electric first two steps. He does a really good job with some of our movement and twist games. Whether he's the guy that should be coming cleaner, or whether he's the picker too. I think he gets better every single week. He's a really young football player, just time on task and the amount of reps that he's had. Would have loved to have him week one and week two, but obviously we didn't. In some ways, that probably slowed his progress down a little bit. Game reps for him have been huge. You can see he just gets more and more comfortable each and every week. Our entire defensive line, him included, continues to get better with the fundamentals and technique every week too."
 
On how the culture and belief within the team is affected when players step up both offensively and defensively…

"I think it speaks to what we talk about. The next man has to be ready to step up and play at a really high level. I think there's buying in, just an overall belief in that. Whoever we line up, I think our guys believe in. I think it creates buy-in the more guys that you're able to play. It creates an energy inside of your locker room, inside of your building every day that creates positive momentum.
 
On the evaluation process behind recruiting a transfer based on statistics…

"I think as you move forward as a program, the culture is really important. The players, the first thing that you see on the video—I don't care if it's a portal player or a high school player—you want to make sure that they are smart, competitive, and love football. They have to be a great teammate too. That culture piece is really important that you build those things and recruit to it."
 
On having conversations with players that could potentially return as super seniors or pursue an NFL career…

"I think you get a gauge during the course of this week. Nothing is finalized during the course of this week. There is still a third of your season. For guys who are going to be super seniors, getting information at the end of the year, where do they stack up? What's their potential to have the chance to move on, be drafted high enough, make a team and be able to have a future? I think there's a part of the conversation. You start preparing some of that now, but you try to get yourself ready to gather the information at the end of the year and have a real conversation with them, and potentially their families as well. You try to give a gauge at the guys that maybe don't, are they just ready to be done, or are they thinking about coming back and being part of this football team again the following year. That's all a part of your final numbers with 85. Like I said before, I certainly think we're going to be able to recruit a full class this year with some of the changes in NCAA legislation. We'll see where we're at with the plus numbers."

De'Shawn Rucker – DB – Freshman
 
On blocking the punt against Alabama…

"Going through the week, we saw they had a weakness on their shield. Coach Ekeler was very excited for the opportunity we had. Throughout the week, we just went through it. Going through the punt in the game, they tried to come out in a sugar huddle and tried to hike the ball fast, which was actually the first time they ever did that. Never put that on film. So coming off, I had to stem the shield to slow his feet down. It was a rugby kick, so I just dove for (the ball) and got two hands on it. Once I blocked it, it was a big feeling for me—first big play ever. That's just the beginning steps for me, so a lot of emotion after that."
 
On being designated to block the punts…

"I was the designated guy on that one. When a coach believes in you, he gives you a lot of confidence and motivation to do it. So every time I go out there and practice it, I feel good to go out there and do it. When I came into the game and coach called (punt block), my eyes lit up. It was just that chance for me to make a big play, and I just took every moment of it."
 
On how much Tennessee works on special teams in practice…

"Special teams, you don't take a break off at all. Coach Ekeler emphasized that. He's probably one of the best coaches in the country on special teams. We have a lot of attention to detail, a lot of juice in practice, a lot of juice in the meeting rooms. Every time you step on the field for special teams, you're going like you're on defense or offense."

LaTrell Bumphus – DL – Senior

On how he feels since he came back from injury…

"Health-wise, I'm getting better. Every day you've just got to keep building days, getting better, keep going to rehab, stuff like that. On the field, I feel like I'm playing better, working on things I need to work on as far as using hands and playing harder. As a whole, I feel like we are playing hard but we need to correct the details for us to take the next step."
 
On limiting opposing running backs…

"In order to play at your best, you must make teams one-dimensional, so first you need to cut out the run. That's our main focus, cut the run out. As far as containing the quarterback, we still got to to get better at that. Each day at practice we're continuing to get better."
 
On Coach Rodney Gardner…

"He's meant a lot, man. I think he's, by far, the best coach we've had since I've been here, and we've only been together nine months. We took such a big step in a short amount of time and that speaks a lot of volumes."
 
On his play under Coach Gardner…

"Playing vertical, because in the pass we used to play side-to-side and that caused a lot of issues. We're playing on our line of scrimmage when we need to be playing from the other side. Now, I see us playing more vertical and getting tackles for losses."
 
Hendon Hooker – QB – R-Senior

On what the next step is in his game…

"Really, just minor details. I've been focusing a lot on my leadership and keeping guys in the game and keeping them coming full throttle throughout the game, no matter the situation, if we're up or down. We just keep pushing and chopping at the wood to just improve the offense and continue to move down the field with quickness and efficiency."

On how the coaching staff has helped him…

"They've helped me the most in confidence. Going out there and playing my game. They really just encourage me to go out there and have fun. We prepare hard throughout the week, so we're prepared to rock-and-roll on gameday. They really tell me to just go out there and do my thing."

On his football family…

"I guess you could say that football is our family crescent. The whole family is talking football, my sister and my mom. Since we are going to the football game, we are going to evaluate how my brother warms up. Just little things, we're going to nitpick at each other. But really, just enjoy each other's company."

Doneiko Slaughter – DB – Sophomore

On where his game is excelling…

"I am trying to excel, really, on bringing energy to my teammates. Making them more positive in their technique and being more confident on the field."
 
On the feel of season so far…

"Pretty well. I'm staying patient and knowing my time has come to have to make the best of the opportunity. Really just, doing my job whenever I get my playing time. So yeah, pretty good. Just staying patient."
 
On the mindset of the defensive back group…

"Really just, preparing throughout practice. People get beat up all the time in big SEC ball. So, we can't just be slacking off and playing (around) when we're going through film or we're going through installs. So, it really comes down to having all of that pressure on you to step up. I think, really, we are a real brotherhood and connecting with each other. As long as you depend on each other, you don't have to take that pressure on by yourself."

 


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