UT Athletics Director Dave Hart and head coach Butch Jones, from left, celebrate their team's 24-17 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville. Photo by Adam Lau/News Sentinel
KNOXVILLE, TN (UTSports.com)--(Opening Statement ) "Well good afternoon. It's great to see everyone. Before we get started and talk spring football I would like to congratulate Holly and our Women's Basketball team. I know we're all looking forward to their game tonight and I'm looking forward to watching them play. So congratulations and wanted to wish them the best of luck.
In terms of moving forward, all of us are obviously very excited for the start of spring. The thing for us is we have to maintain a high level of consistency throughout the course of spring. We can't have any highs and lows. We just have to have that consistency in performance that we talk about and a workman-like approach that our players have really demonstrated throughout the course of the offseason.
It was a very productive winter. We made tremendous games in the strength and condition arena which we needed to. That was one of the sole purposes of really pushing back the start of spring football. Playing the inordinate amount of true freshmen and having the youth that we have in our football program we felt their overall development in the strength area, had suffered the consequences of playing early, not having the ability to redshirt players, put them through an offseason conditioning program during in season. We were able to bump that back and I think the results speak for themselves.
Just some facts on our offseason, PR's are what we call personal records and we had 115 personal records on squat. 75% of our team set a personal record this offseason. We had 89 PR's on the bench press and 76 personal records on the 225 repetitions on the bench press so on the average just about every person raised their squat by 50 pounds. On bench 25 pounds per person and 225 bench repetitions we increased an average of three reps per person on our football team. When you say the best of the best, our best squatter was Kendal Vickers and you're going to notice they're all young players which is very exciting. In the squat Kendal Vickers had 710 pounds and a 225 rep Jashon Robertson had 33 reps so again we're really excited about that because that was an area that we felt as we continue to progress and move forward with this football team we needed to get bigger and we needed to get stronger and that is a direct correlation to getting physical as well. Being better tacklers, being able to maintain blocks. We thought that we made great strides. Dave Lawson and Michael Szerszen, everyone on our strength and conditioning staff did a tremendous job in preparing our players. It is also a tribute to the work capacity and commitment that our players have made as well.
This spring will present, as we all know, many challenges. I think it's a snapshot still of where we're at in our football program in terms of depth. We're not there yet. We're still a couple recruiting classes away but we're going to be forced to be creative in the way we practice. We really only have five true healthy defensive linemen and not only does that hurt your development as a defense but it really sets back your development as an offense in terms of our offensive line and being able to play football, play situational football and do the things that it takes to really develop an identity and develop a football team in the spring.
I know we spoke about it on signing date but I'll review. There are nine individuals that will not go through spring football: Derek Barnett, Jason Croom, Alex Ellis, Marcus Jackson, Jakob Johnson, Darrin Kirkland, Curt Maggitt, Danny O'Brien and Kyle Phillips. Those individuals will not go through spring football. Dillon Bates and Marquez North continue to progress so each day will be an evaluation process on their health of how much they can go through spring football. Jalen Hurd will be noncontact and Chance Hall will have limited reps so again when you look at those numbers of the quality of players, the quantity, it's going to be a great challenge in how we structure practice. However, it's also exciting because it gives other individuals great opportunities to really prove their football identity, and to really continue to progress and get better.
We'll actually have two practice formats. Have never done this but again have never had the inordinate amount of injuries that we have this spring. So when I talk about two practice formats, on practice days of Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, our injured players will just lift and basically go through an off day. The days that are off days with film and lifting for our players that are going through spring football, they'll do walk throughs and different things to try to simulate the mental repetitions, the mental effort, the mental intensity in the physical reps that they're allowed to do. So we have to make sure that Darrin Kirkland continues to progress. We have to make sure Jakob Johnson continues to progress and all the individuals that are injured. "
"It is going to be a challenge but that is what we need to do to get better. Everyday is an accumulation of knowledge and we have to make sure we are accumulating that knowledge each and every day.
"When I look for improvements of this football team, we have to take monumental steps in certain areas when you start with situational football. We have to get much better in the area of third down offensively and defensively. Ball disruptions from a defense, we need to create more turnovers, we need more tipped balls. When you look at really the flavor of college football and even in the National Football League is it a line of scrimmage passing game. With all the run adjustments with down field passes, the three step game, tipped balls are now becoming a premium. We take great pride in ball disruptions. We have to take a great step in moving forward from a defensive standpoint with ball disruptions.
"Explosive plays on offense, we have to make sure we become a much more explosive offense and there is a lot that goes to it, it is not just scheme, it may be some different things schematically that we will put in offensively. But it is really second reaction plays as well. You have to rehearse those each and every day to make sure that when you have a second reaction play you can capitalize on that. Whether it is scramble drills or different things that are associated with second reaction plays. It is more than just scheme. It is being able to high point the football, it is the quarterback putting it in the position where only the receiver can come down with it, it is wide receivers blocking on the perimeter, it is our offensive lineman getting off on second level blocks. So a lot of that goes into creating explosive plays.
"And then fundamentals, it is like everyday we need reading, writing and arithmetic, as Al Davis used to say. It is the same thing, we need fundamentals every day. We have to make sure that we are focusing on the small details of what it takes to play winning football at each and every position group. All nine position groups. So we have to make sure we are getting the fundamentals down.
"As I talk about, we are building our identity for Team 119. Everyone has to take pride in executing their assignment and they are responsible for their own self-determination and becoming a better football player each and everyday. We are going to compete to what we call `Earning the Jersey.' The right to represent that orange jersey and what it stands for. Every player will be graded after every practice if they have earned that jersey. That have earned the right. It is not given. It is earned with everything that we do.
"I am looking forward to it. I know our players are looking forward to it and I will answer any questions that you may have."
(On Alvin Kamara) "We have been very limited because we just haven't had a football present at skill development. But I see an individual who is very elusive, very light footed, very quick and explosive. I am really excited to see what he can do when we get the pads on and get the ball in his hands. But I have been very impressed. Not only with his work ethic and his mentality but also the way he has come into our football program. He has been very quiet, he is just gone about his business. And right now he is developing into a leadership role on our football team."
(On reps at running back) "It is going to be a challenge. Jayson Sparks is on campus, school start walk-on that is going to get some valuable repetitions but we have to pick our spots with Jalen [Hurd], the great thing is, he is going to be available for spring practice. He will just be non contact. And then Alvin [Kamara]. We have to do a great job with that. Again, when you look at our deficiencies right now of a football program in terms of overall depth they don't balance out because on offense we have worked to where you have depth now on the offensive line, we don't have that luxury at the defensive line and now at the running back position as well."
(On rumors regarding Treyvon Paulk returning to the team) "No new developments, no."
(On other injured players) "All those individuals are kind of status as we go. So right now they will be full go but again that could change. They are basically day-to-day evaluation, whether it is a practice day or off day."
(On Dimarya Mixon and LaTroy Lewis stepping up with so many defensive lineman out) "Now is your time. I told them that in our team meeting last night. This is a big, big spring for Dimarya Mixon. We moved him back to defensive end, his natural position. LaTroy Lewis, he has been in our football program now for a number of years, he will never have a better opportunity than what he is presented with this spring. Kendal Vickers is another individual who is about 285 pounds, he has worked exceptionally hard moving to defensive tackle. We are hoping that he can be the Jordan Williams of this football team. And he has worked hard. Now go take advantage of your hard work. So I am excited to see what these guys can do. With Andrew Butcher coming in, is another individual who is going to get premium repetitions. So this is going to be a great opportunity for everyone at the spot."
(On is the Dimarya Mixon moved to defensive end is permanent) "He has dropped weight, he is about 260 pounds, give or take a few pounds. So he looks great. He has really showed some great speed in our off season program. So now it is being able to translate that onto the football field."
(On who will get reps at punter) "I am trying to get Alex Jones to graduate school early but his mother won't let me do that. Trevor Daniel will be an individual that has really showed some promise. He has a very, very strong leg. Now with Trevor, it is just a high level of consistency. So I am excited to work with him. We are also going to try to give George Bullock some reps at punter too and see what he can do."
(On reevaluating practices with so many players out with injuries for spring) "We look at all of that. Everything is charted in our program. I chart number of repetitions, accumulative repetitions, in terms of also, special teams. Also the amount of time we are out on the football field. So yes we will keep things moving and compete in everything that we do. There will be a point system. We will compete in the red zone, we will compete in third down. I want it to be extremely competitive but we may have to back off as spring ball continues to progress. We have thought about all of that and there is always a plan in place. But we never want to be on the football field, total of more than two hours, and that includes stretch, that includes walk-thru, that includes everything."
(On set backs for his third spring) "The biggest set back is the injuries having nine individuals out and a number of individuals that are day to day. That really hurts the progress of your football team. But again, if you look on the positive side it also allows for many opportunities. We are night and day from where we were spring one. Just our work capacity, our mentality, our players doing the extra. They understand the culture, they understand the standard. They understand the expectations but again, like I said earlier, it is also a snapshot of we have not arrived. We are a long ways away from where we need to be from a competitive depth standpoint to be really able to compete at a high level and an elite level."
(On improvements from each spring year) "Absolutely. Each year I have seen great, great progress. We have some great competition battles going into the spring. And again, every though we only have five healthy defensive linemen, those are valuable repetitions that are going to lend itself to competition when August camp starts. I am excited to see the continued progress of Jalen Reeves-Maybin. I am excited to see Alvin Kamara. We could have two very dynamic running backs in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. I am excited about that. I am excited to see the progress of Ethan Wolf and our offensive line, how much better is Jashon Robertson, how much better is Coleman Thomas, the continued progress of Dontavius Blair. Emmanuel Moseley, I want to take a moment too while I am talking about Emmanuel Moseley, of all their thoughts and their prayers for his family and the car wreck they went through going home from spring break. That is a young man that does everything right in our program, high character and I think we have all seen the pictures on Twitter of that car and for him to walk away with no injuries is remarkable. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as they continue to heal from that auto accident."
(On 2015 goals) "We have basically one goal and that is to be a better football team every time we step into the Anderson Training Center. Everything else will take care of itself. We have to work on being a much better football team. I spoke about it earlier, everyone is responsible for their own self-determination. If every individual in our football program improves individually then we improve collectively as a football team. That is where earning the jersey, earning the right, all that is associated with it. There is an expectation on this football team but it all comes from inside, it comes from us."
(On the biggest changes in the football program) "The culture. You go through a five-step process of creating a culture. Number one you have to build it, the next you have to live it, you have to value it, you have to reinforce it and you have to fight for it. We have that culture in place. Our players understand the standard, they understand the expectations, they understand the competitive character that is associated in our football program. But also the character off the field. I always talk about the logo never leaves you. The fourth-and-one Wednesdays that we do. Our players understand what is expected of them. There is also an excitement, there is an energy. I thought last year's football team was very close, I believe this football team is even that much closer. There are no hidden agendas. We have the right people on board. We just have to continue to progress and get better. I have loved being around our players so far, I like their work ethic. I like the leadership. Now we have to continue to create adverse situations throughout the course of spring, that is how you really learn from your leadership. That is how you develop toughness in three areas, mentally, physically and emotionally. We have to push them to their limits everyday to make sure they are developing in those three areas as well."
(On how comfortable he is with the leaders within the team) "They've done a great job of leading when we haven't been around. And a lot of that is developed in the offseason because we're very, very limited in the time we can spend with our players. But we'll know a little bit more as spring ball continues to progress. It's just like Josh Dobbs. We want a CEO quarterback. And what does that mean? We want him to own the football team. We want him to take accountability for everything with our football team and with our offense. And for Josh to continue to move forward, you know he has to really work on his quarterback fundamentals of the imperfect quarterback fundamentals - throwing of wet balls, bad snaps, different things where a play breaks down. And I think the next phase of Joshua Dobbs is learning how to run for the football. Taking care of his throwing shoulder. You know Coach DeBord came in and right away, three things when he runs the football: touchdown, first down, get down. Protect yourself. And there's a skill to being able to run the football. And we've talked to Josh. And you know Josh has worked exceptionally hard but there's a lot of things that our football team has done in the offseason that really them up to have a great spring football session as well."
(On the benefit of having a quarterback starter from day one compared to previous seasons) "Well there is. First of all the repetitions he's been able to gain and that he will gain with our first-team offense. Our players view him as their leader. And he's really grown. He's grown leaps and bounds from being very vocal, from a leadership. But also setting the standard. There's many a nights where I look out and I'm like `What the heck is going on? The lights are on in the indoor.' And it's Josh and a bag of footballs and nets. And I think Coach DeBord has really helped him in terms of some throwing mechanics that he's been able to point out on video. And then Josh being to do it on his own. But also I think, maybe not the competition battle for number one, but as we all know the competition battle for number two and number three, and then when Sheriron Jones gets here in June. That's going to be a great battle. I think Quinten has done a very, very good job of all the quarterback intangibles. He's worked exceptionally hard. Jauan has done a great job as well, but I think Jauan is a little bit behind in terms of the quarterback intangibles. He's a great athlete, he's very driven, he's very competitive. So I think he'll continue to progress with the amount of repetitions throughout the course of spring."
(On how this winter has been different for Josh Dobbs compared to previous seasons) "Confidence. Driven. He's experienced some success. He understands what's out there. And I think it's really confidence. And you know, you have to fight complacency. That's a human condition. And I have not seen any complacency with anyone on this football team. And Josh has been driven. He's just got that different look in his eye. And the other thing is, in terms of confidence, he's leading others. He's not setting the example, he's leading them vocally. He's been very demanding. He set up all the offseason throwing on his own. So he's really taken ownership in that position."
(On the offensive line competition and the opportunities for Dontavius Blair) "Tremendous opportunity. And we won't really know until the pads go on. Playing offensive line is like a fist-fight in a phone booth although kids don't know what a phone booth is today, so I had to educate them what a phone booth is. But you know, the fine details, the fundamentals, the quick thinking part of it, the toughness, mentally, physically that goes into it. It's a technique oriented position. But again, Jashon Robertson needs to continue to progress. Coleman Thomas, Dontavius Blair, Ray Raulerson, you know competition but also depth as well. Brett Kendrick, I'm excited to see you know another year in our program and the weight room and being able to translate that on to the football field. And Brett was able to gain some valuable repetitions last season long. You know, having Jack Jones here and Chance Hall here, you know even though Chance will be limited. Again, that's competition. Competition is extremely, extremely healthy - Dylan Weisman, Mack Crowder. So it's going to be a great battle. And when you ask me the difference from spring one, spring two, and spring three is there one thing that's set it back, I would say again it's the overall depth. And the injuries on our defensive front, because I just named all these individuals. How do you progress? You get repetitions in the spring. Well we don't have that luxury. So every rep is critical. Every rep has to be a winning rep. Every rep has to be a quality rep. That's why when I started the press conference, I talked about consistency. Team 119 has to maintain a consistent approach each and every day."
(On how much having Coach DeBord will help the offensive line improve) "Invaluable. He's been a great resource for Coach Mahoney. And I think Coach DeBord has been a great resource for everyone in that offensive room. And when you look at an individual who is a winner, who has the knowledge he has at every level of football, we've really taken advantage of it. But not just our coaching staff but our players. His office has been a revolving door. That office has never seen the traffic it's seeing. And just players coming in and wanting to spend time with him, and pick his brain and talk about all the great players they've coached. But also the standard, the expectations. How he's handled our players from team meetings to individual settings has been very healthy for everyone."
(On how the defensive line practices will change with little depth) "Well, a lot of individual. A lot of one-on-one repetitions. A lot of half-line. We'll do some half-line team, some half-line work in the run game, pass game - which we've always done, we'll just do a little bit more. And then when we go to team environments or team settings those have to be quality reps. And you know like Heather pointed, we may cut it short a little bit. As long as I feel we walk off that practice field and we gained our number goal that we accomplish that we're a better football team walking off that field than when we started practice, I'll be very satisfied."
(On how likely it is the defensive linemen will receive more technical coaching than usual) "Absolutely. And they're going to have great coaching because not only do they have Coach Strip and Coach Stewart, but a lot of the individuals that aren't participating will also be coaching them. And a lot of times when you're injured, you can gain as much information of anything of actually coaching the position because you're verbalizing it, you're looking for the technique. So they're going to have a hands on approach with these individuals. But again, it's the toughness, it's the fundamentals, it's the fine details and they're going to be at a premium."
(On managing the hype the team is receiving) "Well first of all, praise and blame it's all the same. I don't listen to any of that. I know what we have inside. And that's what I like about our players. They've had a consistency in approach each and every day. They have not been entitled. They have not had a bad work day. But also I think it's a compliment when your program has those expectations placed upon them because they see what's going on here at Tennessee. They understand how far we've come from year one to year two to year three. And really the people inside the program know how far we've come. We've come night and day. It's not even a resemblance of the same football program when we walked in. And that's not to take away from anyone on Team 117 or Team 118. I love those kids. But it's night and day, and I think that's respect for what's gone on here. And I also think in the world of recruiting, it places a lot of unfair expectations on these individuals that are 17 to 22 year-olds. But that's where we want to be. The standard and the expectation is always going to be high at Tennessee. That's what we expect and that's why individuals come here. They want to play at the elite level. They want to play at the highest level, and they want those standards and they want those high expectations."
(On offensive line flexibility) "Yes, we will have some individuals who will play center and guard, the interior of our offensive line. Then we will have some individuals who will plays strictly tackle, like Dontavius Blair. He's going to only play tackle. Here are your assignments, here are your fundamentals, here's your details, focus on that. That's really based on the individual, of how much they can handle. The older players, as they continue to progress in our program, they can handle more. Jack Jones, Chance Hall, they will be predominately tackles right now. Brett Kendrick will be predominately at tackle, but we will also mix him in a guard. Coleman Thomas, even though he will play at tackle, we will also play him at center. We want him to compete with Mack (Crowder) and Dylan (Wiesman). Center has really been his natural positions. It's really based on the individual, physically and mentally, what they can handle."
(On tight ends looking to contribute) "We will see when the pads go on. Neiko (Creamer) has had a very productive off-season. Neiko is very athletic. Now we will see when we put the pads on. A.J. Branisel, will be full go. That is another area we will have great competition with Ethan Wolf and A.J. With Alex (Ellis) being out, that's another opportunity for A.J., and Neiko to really assert themselves on our offense at the tight end position."
(On Dillon Bates' return) "Dillon continues to progress. Again, he will be day-to-day, but Day 1, he's full go, 100 percent. Dillon is very instinctful, but he is also a very intelligent player. We will mix him around at the MIKE spot and also the WILL spot as well."
(On importance of spring for the wide receivers) "(Spring is) very big. The chemistry between the quarterback and the wide receiver, it could be the tight ends and the running backs as well, but that chemistry is absolutely critical. They need to stay healthy. We need to get a full spring football out of them. We have seen glimpses of what they can do. Now we need to see it on a consistent basis is. All of the individuals you have named have worked exceptionally hard this off-season.
"The thing about playing quarterback, you change the culture of practice every single day. You have the opportunity to change the culture. What does that mean? You work with every position from the quarterback spot, whether its the offensive line, the tight ends, the running backs, the receivers, you interact with all of those position groups. You set the culture. So when you talk about Josh and his leadership, that's a big part of of it as well. I want to see that transform on the practice field. I want to see him set the culture. I want to see him set the temperament, and when you have that, that allows a Quinten Dormady, a Jauan Jennings to see, this is how it's done. We are starting to get to a point in our program, where we can have younger players see our older players and say `that's how its supposed to be done, watch him.' That's how you work in the off-season. That's how you work when the lights aren't on. "I talk about living in a SportsCenter society. Everyone turns on SportsCenter and what do you see, you see the highlights, so players, everybody thinks that's easy. What people don't see is the behind-the-scenes work. Everything that has gone into that to make those highlights. Now the players in our program are seeing that with players staying over and doing the extra. Great, isn't just doing what's expected, its doing more. Finding time on your own to be the great. That inner drive to be the best."
(On Dillon Bates' weight) "He will continue to gain weight, I don't want to mis-speak, he's in the 230-pound range. If we can get Dillon to a bout 240, that's ample to play MIKE backer. Everyone wants to talk about MIKE, and SAM and WILL. But, what you have to look is, `what's our competition, what do our competitors run?' How many 21 personnel teams? How many downhill run teams? How many spread offenses are we playing? Obviously, Arkansas is going to challenge us physically, we all know that, that's their style of play. But, again, its based on the offenses that you are seeing, that dictates where they play defensively, particularly at the linebacker position."
(On still being a young football team) "It's invigorating, its exciting, more so, is having the right people in your program. That's what matters. It doesn't matter whether they are freshmen or seniors, its having the right make-up. The right make-up of team chemistry. There are a lot of football teams that don't win because of the powerful word called chemistry. It's a brotherhood. It's trust. Trust is earned over time, it's earned by their peers. It's having the right mix.
"There are some positions, being very, very young at the defensive tackle position, having Shy Tuttle, his repetitions are going to be critical. And wen Kahlil McKenzie gets here. The thing that is concerning, and again, its a snap shot of where we are in the program, its at certain spots, having the young people having to perform early. But its also invigorating because you get to teach them your style."