UT Coach Butch Jones at Thursday's news conference in Knoxville.
KNOXVILLE (WBIR) -
Training camp kicks off Friday, exactly 30 days from the first football game for the Volunteers.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said his players face a lot of challenges this season, but compared to last year, they're more prepared. At a press conference Thursday, Jones said one of his main priorities is to inspire his players to "earn the right to win."
"The key in being the best team we can possibly be is managing the natural adversities of a long football season," he said. "It's striving to be the best football team we can possibly be. That's our only goal."
The Vols will officially begin their 2014 training camp with a nighttime practice on Friday.
This year, the Vols will try to build off of last year's 5-7 finish. Jones admitted Thursday that his team isn't where it needs to be, but many players have improved significantly. Right now, the Vols have 11 people who can squat more than 600 pounds, a feat no player could accomplish this time last year.
"I sat here last year quietly concerned about our strength levels," said Jones. "We're still not where we need to be, but our bodies have changed."
Jones has yet to name a starting quarterback. With the recent departure of Riley Ferguson, it appears to be a two-man race between Justin Worley and Josh Dobbs. Nathan Peterman will also get a shot to compete for the starting spot by the time the Vols take the field on Sunday, Aug. 31 against Utah State in Neyland Stadium.
"It doesn't matter when we name one - all three will be ready," he said. "As we saw last year, all three will have to be."
Fans won't have to wait until the first game to see the Vols in action. UT will have an open practice on Saturday, Aug. 16. Gates will open at 6 p.m. ahead of the practice at 7 p.m. Parking will be free.
Jones said he hopes Tennessee fans will continue to rally behind his players in Neyland Stadium as they develop into a powerful team. He said fans are already investing in the Volunteers, which makes him work so much harder.
"People can feel the positive energy that surrounds Tennessee football. And we're going to need them," said Jones. "We love together. We died together. We do everything together. That's Vol Nation."
"Our patience will be tried. Our fan base - we get to raise this football team and watch them mature week in and week out," said Jones.