KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Jacques Smith is ready for the fall.
The University of Tennessee defensive end is more energized than he's ever been at the end of any spring camp, which may be part of the reason the rising senior can't help but skip his sights ahead to the upcoming season.
"I'm definitely confident," the former Ooltewah star said after practice last week. "This year is a brand new year and Team 117 is a brand new team."
Smith and his defensive teammates have put last year's disappointment behind them with a fresh start under new head coach Butch Jones and defensive coordinator John Jancek, but not without learning a few lessons first.
The unit has experience how not to handle adversity and transition, and are approaching their third new system in as many years with more maturity and patience.
"We ended up in such a predicament that we didn't know exactly where our problems were," said Smith, noting last year's unit had problems in a variety of areas under Sal Sunseri. "Everyone started to get really frustrated and we couldn't find a way to solve our problems, then eventually we felt like we just started running out of time to turn it around.
"Things turned out the way they did and there's no excuses for it, but we're focused on a new year. So far, Coach Jancek has all the right answers for us, so we're really looking forward to it."
Smith said most of the team's energy comes courtesy of Jones, who is challenging the Vols to up their tempo and their effort.
Smith has endured some struggles during his career in Knoxville, but is motivated to become a leader and join his classmates in leaving a positive mark in their final season at Tennessee.
"We have a whole bunch of seniors this year and we have the right mindset that if things get bad, we're going to fight back and battle through adversity," Smith said. "Coach Jones has been preaching to us about effort. That can make a lot of difference in games like the three or four we didn't win last that came down to just three or four plays or three or four points.
"This senior leadership that is taking off with this team is going to allow us to change those tight games in those clutch moments and take us to the next level."
The Vols will hold two more practices Wednesday and Thursday before wrapping up the spring session with the annual Orange and White Spring Game at 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
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