Head coach Butch Jones reiterated Johnson’s message to the team that they need to continue playing with intensity on the field and off the field. Jones said, “there are no off days. We need to expect more and demand more. That is the standard we live by. Everything is establishing a level of consistency.”
On Sept. 9, 2006, Johnson suffered a life-threatening injury on the field against Air Force. With just a few minutes to play in the game, Johnson went for a tackle and jammed his shoulder into the body of the Air Force running back Justin Handley. The hit caused nerve damage in Johnson’s right shoulder and ended his playing career.
His previous plans and aspirations for entering into the NFL were quickly shattered, but Johnson’s life sense his injury have been focused around “faith and perseverance.”
Johnson is now a motivational speaker and published an autobiography to share his story. Johnson used his dedication to football and his mindset towards laying everything on the line for the Tennessee Vols to speak to the Vols directly following Saturday’s scrimmage.
Jones said Johnson to be “one of the greatest illustrations of what a Vol For Life is.”
“(The message) was tremendous and our players needed to hear that,” Jones said. “It’s a pride and that’s who we are and it’s what makes us different than any other program in the country. That’s why we’re Tennessee: because of individuals like Inky Johnson.
“I learned very early about Inky and I’ve really tried to reach out to him, especially the last couple of weeks with getting him to come over from Atlanta to spend time with us. You’re going to see him around our program a lot.”
Having past Tennessee football legends return to his team is just what Jones is trying to show his players: that Tennessee is a legend and the Power T stands for tradition and power. Practice by practice as more Vols’ standouts return to their alma mater, the players are beginning to realize more every day just how important their job is and just how big the shoes are that they are expected to fill.
Jones said he was pleased with the approach of Saturday’s practice. It seems that his players are understanding these roles and are taking big strides in the right direction.
“I could feel the energy,” Jones said. “I could feel the intensity. Right from the get-go in our meetings to warm-ups. That’s a step in the right direction. That’s progress.
“We’re going to be a football team that our fan base is going to be proud of. Proud of the way we play and the way we represent this institution and this state and everyone across the country. But it’s going to be a work in progress in terms in how we play, but I thought we took a step in that direction. It’s the little things and mistakes that we can’t have.”
Johnson let the Vols know just how important football was and will always be to him. It’s not just a game, it’s not just a sport, but a way of life. It’s a family and it will teach these men how to have a family in the future. It’s the basis of life and it’s a way to grow not only as a player, but as a man.
HUNGRY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT
One young running back that has been thrust into the spotlight this spring is redshirt freshman Alden Hill.
Hill has found his way into the checkerboards at nearly every scrimmage, but that is not surprising to his teammates as he is known for being a work horse and putting in extra hours on the field outside of practice.
“I’ve been hungry since day one,” said Hill. “I don’t care if there are five backs in front of me, two backs, one back, or I’m the back. I’m coming out here every day and I’m going to keep working on the little things and focus on those. I don’t really care what the depth chart says, as long as I’m improving and doing my little things. I think that’s helped me be consistent this spring.”
All of the hard work Hill has been putting hasn’t been for naught. He’s work ethic has grabbed the attention of the head guy Butch Jones.
“He’s worked his way up there,” said Jones. Alden continues to get better and better. He still needs to continue to learn the little nuances of how to run the football and not bouncing things to the sideline. He’s an interior runner. He’s an individual who brings it every day. You can see individuals who have a mentality get better and bring it every day, they usually get better. He’s one of those.”
With Marlin Lane out of practice and Tom Smith injured, Hill’s reps have gone up. And you better believe he is going to take advantage of every rep he gets.
“When you get reps, take advantage of them,” said Hill. “I think whether the guys (who are injured) are here or aren’t here, whether I’m getting five reps or 50 reps, you just have to make sure you’re doing the right thing and be consistent and take advantage of that.”
“I think that I’ve came out to show that I can do it and I’ve handled the opportunities,” continued Hill. “There are some little things that I can still work on, of course. We’ll keep working on those and get past the good plays, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
In its last scrimmage prior to the Orange and White Spring Game, the Tennessee offense aimed to eliminate unnecessary mistakes.
“I thought it was pretty good today. As an offense, we showed improvement,” said quarterback Nathan Peterman. “Even though we had minor setbacks, we let them go and didn’t let them phase us.”
While the offense, as a whole, exhibited the ability to execute throughout the afternoon, turning the ball over within the 20-yard line was recognized as a necessary area of improvement.
“We had too many turnovers in the redzone and that’s on us as quarterbacks. But, after those drives, we responded well,” said Justin Worley. “We came out in different situations, and we executed against adverse situations. I think all the offensive coaches were glad to see that.”
With only two practices remaining before the Volunteers kickoff the annual spring game on Saturday, April 20, veteran running back Rajion Neal is confident that Tennessee’s QBs will continue to improve over time.
“They are young. Experience helps everybody and I believe, as time goes on, they are going to get it together,” Neal stated. “They are smart guys. They just have to start feeling comfortable and trusting everything around them. They just have to keep pushing.”
It was all anyone could talk about after practice – the one-handed interception by Justin Coleman in the back right corner of the south endzone. Jones said it was “one of the best plays he’s seen in a long time.”
All Coleman could say was that he didn’t run his route correctly. But, that discipline and knowledge of the plays and routes is what impressed his coaches Saturday morning.
“Everyone didn’t see that I messed up,” Coleman said. “I did everything wrong, at the beginning (of the play). Yesterday, me and a couple of defensive backs were working on finishing. I tried to develop a habit and at the end of that play, I just tried to finish and I came up with a big play.”
What makes good players great, though, is taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to them and making a play out of it.
“My mindset was just to deflect the pass, but I felt it stick to my glove and I just came down with it,” Coleman said.
Coleman’s grab was awe-inspiring to his fellow defensive back Brian Randolph.
“You can always count on (Justin),” Randolph said. “They hardly ever try him on offense because he’s just so consistent (on defense). He’s the most consistent guy we have. Today he had a nice looking one-handed pick.”
Coach Jones not only impressed by Coleman, but all of the cornerbacks this practice, saying they did take the opportunities they were given, but more consistency is needed.
“Obviously, the interception by Justin (Coleman) is one of the best plays I’ve seen in a long time,” Jones said. “But it’s just making the routine plays. That’s what being a great football player is about. It’s easy to be average, it’s hard to be good and it’s harder to be great. It’s a snap and clear mentality, but you’re always thinking of how you can improve.”
“Justin Coleman is one of those individuals who wants to be good and he wants to be great.”
Coleman believes he, and the defense, still have a lot of progressing to do.
“I have definitely seen a lot of progress (in the defense),” Coleman said. “Everybody is giving a lot of effort, and everyone wants to play. I’ve seen ten times more effort, and everyone wants to become a team and get better.
QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
(On personal biggest improvement this spring)
“Just being able to lead the troops honestly, and it’s a work in progress but I’ve made strides in that.”
(On offensive line improvement)
“Yeah, we’ve had guys move two or three positions over the course of the spring, so having them get use to a certain position is good. They really stepped up today. We met last night as a quarterback and offensive line group to go over a couple things. They’re a confident group and when they put their minds to what they want to do, they’re going to do it.”
(On QB competition)
“We are going to compete day in and day out, no matter what we do. If it’s lifting weights or throwing routes on air or different things like that, I’m not looking for an answer. If they want to tell the guys and everyone in our group an answer before spring ends, that’s their decision. Like I said, there’s competition day in and day out; so you have to bring your “A” game with these guys.”
(On having to be a leader)
“Yeah… after my interception I had three or four offensive linemen come up and say snap and clear, don’t worry about that and we’ll be fine the rest of the scrimmage. We responded well and having guys around to tell you that and me telling other guys that, it’s what we need.”
“Everybody is talking, signaling, and stuff like that; just having the repetition and seeing the signals, knowing intentions of what Coach Jake is going to call, how Coach Azzanni is going to coach guys, it’s improved greatly.”
(On receiver performance)
“I was very pleased with how they did. Like you said, we’re very thin right now. Vincent Dallas is out, Jason Croom, Jacob Carter, all these guys are hurt and banged up so we got to get them healthy. I was glad to see some of the new guys step in and do fine.”
QUARTERBACK NATHAN PETERMAN
“When the defense makes a play they are going to hoot and holler. So as an offense we decided that when we make a play we are going to hoot and holler. Competition is awesome. I am a competitor; everyone on offense is a competitor. We love it, we thrive off of it.”
(On not throwing downfield)
“Part of it might be because we are very short on receivers. We did a good job and we took what the defense gave us. Like Peyton said to us yesterday, you can’t go broke taking a profit. That is what we did today.”
(On Alden Hil)
“Without a doubt. Alden Hill has showed up huge this spring. You guys need to be talking about him the most. I was on scout team with him last year and to see his improvement from last year to this year is unreal. I think it really comes down to his work ethic in the weight room; he is there every night doing extra steps and getting them right. I am proud of Alden and happy for him.”
(On talking to Peyton Manning Friday)
“That was one of the greatest experiences of our lives. My life at least, I can speak for myself. We didn’t get to sit down with him one-on-one like I hoped to, maybe we will get to do that in June, but our coaches sat down with him so they told us what he said the night before and I took notes when he was talking in the team meeting. I think I had four pages of notes. I was just really happy to have that and when you come to Tennessee you get those kinds of opportunities.”
(On getting ready for the fall)
“I think summer is going to be a big part of it. Like Peyton said to us yesterday, a lot of improvement is going to happen over the summer. Getting around the wide receivers, the O-Line, figuring out our protections and making sure that everyone is on the same page to the exact detail of it is going to be big for us this year.”
DEFENSIVE BACK BYRON MOORE
(On getting turnovers today)
“It is emphasized every week. Every day we come out here, we play over 60-70 snaps. If you don’t get a turnover that is not good enough. That is not going to be accepted in our program anymore. When we come out our emphasis is on turnovers and ball disruption so patting the ball down and turning the ball over is going to be the main emphasis in our defense all year long.”
(On the redzone defense)
“Holding the offense to a field goal or no points is the goal. If they are in the redzone and we can keep them from getting six, that is a win to us. We had a lot of adversity as far as the situations this scrimmage so they wanted to see how we responded and I think we did well overall.”
RUNNING BACK RAJION NEAL
(On the competition among running backs)
“Always, it is a competition. And at the end of the day they are going to play the best players. If you are beating the guy by default or just pure talent and understanding, you are going to get the reps. What you do with them, you need to make the most of them.”
(On the fresh start with the new staff)
“I don’t feel that. We have a new staff. They don’t know me from another blade of grass out here. It has almost given me an opportunity to show the coaches that I can take the load. I can be your workhorse and your leader as a senior. It is not a burden, I am going to hold it down until my guys come back but I just have to do what I have to do and play ball.” .”
(On his good catches today)
“I just really want to do anything I can to help out this team. Catching the ball. Running it, I want to show everybody I can be diverse and be what you need me to be. At the end of the day that is what we all want.”
(On this being the last week of spring camp)
“A little bit. Not going to lie to you. Seeing as this is my last year, it came and gone. It is scary how fast it went. I just have to stay with it. I have the whole summer and all of the fall. I just have to get it in this short period of time.”
DEFENSIVE BACK JUSTIN COLEMAN
(On his spring camp)
“I think that I’ve had a decent camp. I’ve made a lot of progress from last year, but I still have a lot of progressing to do.”
DEFENSIVE LINEMAN MARLON WALLS
(On this week’s scrimmage compared to last week)
“I don’t know, I just think leadership. We’ll take the heat for that and we’ll get in as a group and watch a little film as a defense. We’re going to have to talk to each other as a defense. We’ll have to have a little heart-to-heart with each other because we can’t be a hot and cold defense.”
“We can’t play well one Saturday and then come back and fall off. We’re going to have to get in some guys faces and some guys will have to get in our faces. We have to take a step forward.”
WIDE RECEIVER PIG HOWARD
(On how Coach Jones has pushed him as a punt returner)
“He pushes us a lot, because at the end of the day, Devrin Young and I are returners. Situations like today better us for the games and he’s just trying to find a way to get us better each and every day.”
(On his goal line fumble today)
“I was just trying to make something happen, and I made a mistake that I plan on improving. I saw the defender coming and I tried to spin out of the hit. At the end of the day, he got a good lick and I didn’t protect the ball.”
LINEBACKER DONTAVIS SAPP
(On the defense’s goals)
“Don’t fall off. We need to come out with the same intensity that we came out with today, and we just have to keep that up throughout this last week.”
(On the turnovers today)
“They were big. We forced a turnover and then came right back out and made another one. Those are possible points that the offense could have had, and that is a big momentum-changer. Those turnovers are big swings in momentum for the defense.
“That was a big emphasis for us, this week. Turnovers have a direct correlation to winning and losing, so we came out with that in mind today.”
(On game readiness)
“We feel like we are headed in the right direction, but we know that we still aren’t ready. We still have a lot of work to do on the defense.”
DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
(On the defense’s mindset)
“I think we came out to play, with a good mindset and we came out to hit hard and that’s how we caused a lot of fumbles. I think we did disrupt the offense.”
(On his knee recovery)
“I would say it’s going well. Probably about 80 percent. Towards the end of practice is when it gets stiff. Mostly I feel good.”
(On staying positive when being down)
“A.J. (Johnson) always rallies the troops and breaks us down every time we run out, so he’s good at getting us together. We try to relate to the calls and communicate with each other.”
WIDE RECEIVER DRAE BOWLES
(On his touchdown catch at practice)
“It was great being able to know that I was helping my team out. I saw the corner bend on my route and I saw Nathan (Peterman) throw it at me and I just knew it was a touchdown. The fact that I was able to help my team just makes me happy.”
(On being picked early in the VOLympics)
“I thought it was a big honor to know that my teammates have that type of respect for me and I thought it was really special. I don’t feel pressure with (the competition) but I have the mindset to come in every day and work hard.”
(On improving every practice)
“Just being able to go to practice every day and watch yourself every day on film and just being able to learn is definitely beneficial. It allows you to be prepared, especially with the spring game coming up next week.”