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Jones likes defensive toughness but critical of offense

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. ( Butch Jones preaches mental toughness in everything the Vols do. On Saturday, he was happy how the defense showed its mentality as they controlled much of the scrimmage situations in Saturday's practice at Neyland Stadium.

"In terms of the practice, I want to see how we compete, I want to see the carry over from the course of the week and when you get an opportunity to compete in 102,455 and you put your fundamentals," said Jones. "You put your technique, you put your mental toughness, you put your physical toughness, everything that you have worked on throughout the course of the week, this is your time to be rewarded. I really wanted to see how they would respond."

The defense drew praise from the head coach following the ninth practice, the second inside Neyland this spring as they Vols are two weeks from the DISH Orange & White Game (April 25 at 4 p.m.).

"I thought our defense came out," said Jones. "I liked their mental approach. I did not like our offense's approach. I thought we were stale, I thought we had no mental effort, I thought we had no intensity about ourselves. I think it showed. Now we started off putting them in some demanding situations with situational football, with coming out."

Jones continued to put the Vols in situations during their practices, including a full period of overtime scenarios on Saturday.

"I thought today from a practice standpoint was productive because of the different situational football scenarios that we put them through with the different elements of overtime," he said. "We did some special teams work as well. For our young players, which that is really most of our football team, it is just an overall consistency.

"It is their consistency in approach, it is the intensity that it takes to perform at a high level every time that you step onto the football field or step into the meeting room. They are still learning that process. To me the focus, the concentration, we have to get much better as a football team."

Jones was quick to cite several standouts, who continue to emerge on the defensive side of the ball this spring.

"I thought Kendal Vickers is an individual who is starting to show up," Jones said. "I thought Todd Kelly Jr. had maybe his best practice of the year. I think that is a byproduct of Evan Berry. Evan Berry is having a very good spring and that is what competition brings. You better bring your `A' game each and everyday you step on the football field. Now we need more people bringing their `A' game as we continue to move forward."


Team 119 isn't perfect. To think not a single receiver could drop a pass or that a quarterback wouldn't make a mistake is unrealistic. You'll hear it first from starting quarterback Joshua Dobbs that the team has things to work on but what you'll hear more often than not is improvement.

"We've had some drops but with our receivers we talk about having mental toughness all the time," Dobbs said. "You have adversity during the game and a couple drops in the game, you'll be able to snap and clear and catch the next one. We're tuned to grow in that, and our receivers showed that today. They showed that they were mentally tough. They'll definitely improve moving forward next week."

Although it may be frustrating, Dobbs understands that mistakes happen.

"It's fine. Drops happen," Dobbs said. "That's a part of the game. Our receivers know. We talk about it all the time `snap and clear mentality.' Snap and clear and get the next one. They did a good job of that today and not letting that affect their play on downs in the next plays."

"Timing can always improve, but we did some good things in pass games and receivers made plays out there. We're going to continue to grow as an offense and in the pass game continue to install new things. We definitely took a step forward today."

With six more practices this spring, the team is working every day to improve, trying to make itself better than it was the week before. Dobbs sees that improvement and finds comfort in the direction of a team that is as hungry as ever for success.

"We're taking steps forward every day, every time we step on the field from our leadership, from our cohesiveness and just coming together as an offense and improving," Dobbs said. "We're taking step forwards every day and we'll continue to do that."

"We have a team that loves football and loves to come out here and compete. It obviously shows as soon as we come out. We keep score, and we're competing to win. That shows in our team, in our team chemistry. We just have to keep pushing guys forward and pushing through the nicks and bumps and just finish out spring football on the up."


After nine practices, Vols' freshman Jack Jones couldn't be happier with his decision to become an early enrollee and participate in Tennessee's spring football practice.

"I'm really glad I did it," said Jones. "I know that if I was sitting at home watching this stuff, I'd be mad that I didn't [enroll early]."

College football has been an adjustment for the in-state product from Oakland High School in Murfreesboro. Although the young offensive tackle has made some mistakes this spring, Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones says that Jack Jones is simply going through the process that all young players must undergo.

"I love Jack Jones. You can see his athletic ability, his leverage, he is tough. His mind is just swimming right now. That is a byproduct of being a young player."

Jack Jones admits that spring football has not been easy for him, and says that the fast-paced tempo of the Vols' offense has been the biggest adjustment. Still, Jones says he feels as though he is getting better each day.

"With every practice, I'm feeling like I'm improving a little bit and I'm kind of taking steps forward," said Jones. "Every practice, you've got to to find something to work on and get better at it, and keep going and be able to see the complete transformation from the first practice to the spring game."


Effective communication is something that often times has to be practiced and worked on. For Cameron Sutton and Team 119's Orange Swarm, it now comes natural from a bond that only they share.

"It's just that family bond that we have," Sutton said. "We're always around each other even outside of football. We're spending time with each other on the weekends, week days, having events with each other. We know it's going to be easier on the field to communicate.

"That's what we have to do on the field, talking a lot on the field and just having that mindset that we have each other's back. It just takes us a long way."

First entering the program, the communication didn't come as easy, but after hours and hours with one another both on and off the field, it's natural. The desire to want to be around one another never ends.

"At times when I first got here it felt kind of forced because we weren't as tight as we are now," Sutton said. "I think it just comes natural now. We're always `Hey, what are you doing' or `Let's go hang out' with a group of guys. We're always around each other. We always want to be around each other.

The communication and family bond that the team shares does more for Sutton than just improving in the game. It also makes him more comfortable in his position.

"We're all tight on the string back there," Sutton said. "We're all communicating. We're all locked in and focused on each other, so it's easy for us to play the game."


Several younger members of the Vols' secondary have stepped up and are making notable contributions this spring.

Junior Malik Foreman has put in work in the offseason and says his confidence is at its highest this spring.

"I haven't really had a role on defense since I've been here really," Foreman said. "I feel like this year is my year to step up and help the defense, help this team win. I feel like just taking that all into account. It's helping me push myself each and everyday."

Sophomore Rashaan Gaulden is becoming known for his physical style of play. The work he's put in on the field this spring has drawn praise from his teammates, including Foreman.

"Rashaan's playing very physical and that's what you need at the nickel position," Foreman said. "He's playing with his hands a lot better than he did last year, and he just knows the defense overall better, so I feel like that's helping him play faster and make more plays."

Foreman attributes much of the competition and increased level of play in the secondary to camaraderie among teammates.

"We're very confident and one of the reasons is we're so close," Foreman said. "We don't want to let each other down, so when you have that pressure not only from yourself, but from other teammates, it helps to push you to be the best player you can be."

This is something Todd Kelly Jr. echoes.

"There's a lot of competition all over the field and that's what we want," Kelly said. "That's what Coach Martinez wants. That's why you recruit. You want guys to come in here and compete. And we're also friends, so it's pretty cool.

"We like to talk to each other whenever we make plays and we congratulate each other as well. So it's all a healthy relationship and we love to just come out here and compete. At the end of the day, when it's a Saturday, no matter who's out on the field we're going to support each other and we all have confidence in each other."

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