KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Even though the Tennessee football team has no game this week, the Vols have used the bye week to focus on fundamentals and improve in all facets of the game.
Head coach Butch Jones and select players met with the media after Tuesday’spractice, while assistant coaches Brady Hoke, Charlton Warren and Robert Gillespie spoke to reporters after Wednesday’s practice at Haslam Field.
Vols Working Hard During Bye Week
Despite a tough loss to No. 7 Georgia last Saturday, Tennessee had no problem finding energy for this week’s practices and has put an emphasis on the bye week being a “work week” for the team.
“During a bye week, teams tend to take a different mental approach, but our guys came out and practiced like it was a work week,” Jones said after Tuesday’spractice.
The Vols are also using this week to grow even closer as a team. Junior running back John Kelly said he’s put it on himself to help ensure that the team’s spirits remain high and the bond between the players continues to stay strong and grow.
“All you got to do is make sure you are focused on keeping the team together,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “That’s really the main thing that I focus on every day I come in here. It’s just how can I help us be a closer team, we are already a pretty close team, but it’s always improvements that I can make, that we can all make.”
Bye Week Coming at Right Time
This year’s bye week has come at an opportune time for the Volunteers. The Big Orange have been able to get back to the basics and spend time improving individually and as a team.
“It’s really big because it gives our guys a chance to focus on fundamentals and details of things we’ve done well and things we can do better,” Warren said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think that when you can take a step back and really just focus on us and focus on us as a DB unit and us as defense, it gives our guys a mental break from having to worry about an opponent to just worrying about Tennessee.”
The bye week as also been convenient considering the amount of players on the team dealing with minor bumps and bruises. Not only has Tennessee been able to use this week to correct mistakes and get better on the field, but it has also provided an opportunity to recover for some guys that have been banged up.
“We’ve suffered some injuries, and we’ve had guys who didn’t practice last week because of injuries,” senior tight end Ethan Wolf said. “I think that’s a big thing that we need to get accomplished through this bye week, to gain back our health and to get all of our guys back on the field practicing together. The consistency in everything is something that we need and will benefit from.”
Gillespie echoed both sentiments when talking about the running backs during his time with the media following Wednesday afternoon’s practice.
“The last two days have been really good for those guys,” Gillespie said. “They’ve also been good for John [Kelly] as well, giving him a chance to step back and get a break for a little bit. When he has been resting, the other guys have stepped up and made some plays in practice.
“My confidence as a position coach has grown in them. It’s been a good week for them offensively and on specials teams as well. They keep getting reps.”
Game Details for South Carolina
Following the bye week, the Vols return to action by hosting South Carolina on Oct. 14 in Neyland Stadium. Kickoff has been set for noon ET and the game will air on either ESPN or ESPN2. Tickets for the game are available or AllVols.com or by calling the Tennessee Athletics Ticket Office at 1-800-332-VOLS.
Head Coach Butch Jones
On what he needs to see form his quarterbacks moving forward:
“Consistency. We need them to make the routine play and the routine calls. We need more of a command presence. They need to have a poise and a calmness about them. They also have to have accuracy. There is a lot that goes into it. I thought they came out and performed well like everyone at practice today. I like how they approached practice today. During a bye week, teams tend to take a different mental approach, but our guys came out and practiced like it was a work week. I think we got a lot accomplished today.”
On how he evaluates himself as a coach after a game:
“Yes of course, that’s definitely a part of it. When you watch the film you always look at it as your worse critique. Sometimes I will refer to practice meaning like how many times did we rep that play. Did we put our players in a position to succeed? I look at game management, sideline etiquette, style of play and more. I always approach it like I am my own worse critic. I take great pride in that. I’ve seen that we need to get back to our style of play and expectations of Tennessee football.”
On how he and the coaching staff have discussed getting back on the winning track:
“We spend a lot of time together. We have spent a lot of time together in the last couple of days going back over the entire season including the last game and looking forward to the next game. Again, we are adults. We are professionals. We are humans. Our focus is not on our feelings, all our focus is on our football team, program and recruiting. All we can do is to continue to work every single day and we will be fine.”
Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Brady Hoke
On defensive line strengths:
“I think some of the strengths are they come out here and they work pretty good. That pays out down the line. From that standpoint, I like how Kyle Phillips has come along. He’s a guy who’s been two years without the weight room basically in the offseason, so I like what he’s done. I like Kendal Vickers and his leadership. Darrell Taylor has had some really shining moments at times too. Jonathan Kongbo is getting better as a well-rounded defensive end. I think they’re all making improvement. Those five are the ones who have been playing the most. We have a ways to go still. I think our finish on some things has to be better.”
On freshman defensive lineman Matthew Butler:
“I think he’s gaining valuable experience and coaching, and not from me as much from the other defensive ends. I think those guys do a really good job of pointing out technique flaws, fundamental flaws and also effort flaws. He’s a freshman and we’re just going to have to keep working through it. He got six or eight plays last week, maybe nine, and from each play he’ll grow from it.”
Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach Charlton Warren
On how big the bye week is for his position group:
“It’s really big because it gives our guys a chance to focus on fundamentals and details of things we’ve done well and things we can do better. I think that when you can take a step back and really just focus on us and focus on us as a DB unit and us as defense, it gives our guys a mental break from having to worry about an opponent to just worrying about Tennessee.”
On the fundamentals that the defensive backs are focusing on:
“For our guys, it’s been about blitz tempo, it’s been about eye discipline, it’s been about playing the ball in the air, it’s been about good footwork at the line of scrimmage. Special teams have been a really big emphasis from the standpoint of each unit perfecting the details of their craft, whether it be punt return, hold-up technique, returns catching the ball, stealing five yards on a kickoff return – all of the little details that can make you a great team that sometimes you take for granted as you get in the hustle and bustle of the season. So this has been a good break for us from the standpoint of not preparing for an opponent, but really focusing on us.”
On Justin Martin playing improved football this year:
“I think we have to get better every day. I think [Justin Martin] is a guy that has come out and committed himself to working hard from the spring and on. He had a good camp. He’s been productive, but in every game there are plays that don’t matter until they matter and at times we haven’t been punished for things we have done wrong. I think that sometimes we get a chance to take a step back at times like this and say, ‘Hey we’re doing some really good things.’ When we’re good, we’re pretty good. But when we don’t do the details of our job sometimes we get hurt. I think he is a guy that has really taken the details into account and he is playing at a good level for us right now.”
On his assessment of how the defensive backs are playing:
“I think we have been committed to the small details of our coverage concepts. I think the guys as a whole have really started to buy into how important fundamentals and techniques of coverage concept are. I think we are really focused on making the plays that a defense is designed to make. Don’t do someone else’s coverage because you always end up giving up your responsibility. Those little things those guys have bought into and I think we are starting to get where we want to be, but we’ve got a long way to go. By far, we haven’t played great and we have a lot of improvement for these next couple of games.”
Running Backs Coach Robert Gillespie
On what he’s liked about John Kelly so far:
“John is taking what the game is giving him. He’s done a good job of taking care of himself during the week so he can go out and play well. He’s done what he’s supposed to do. He’s been consistent, and that is one thing that we talk about all the time as a unit. He’s had the same approach every week. His job is to go out and lead by example.”
On the importance of the bye week for the three freshmen:
“The last two days have been really good for those guys. They’ve also been good for John [Kelly] as well, giving him a chance to step back and get a break for a little bit. When he has been resting, the other guys have stepped up and made some plays in practice. My confidence as a position coach has grown in them. It’s been a good week for them offensively and on specials teams as well. They keep getting reps.”
Junior Running Back John Kelly
On keeping the team spirits high:
“All you got to do is make sure you are focused on keeping the team together. That’s really the main thing that I focus on every day I come in here. It’s just how can I help us be a closer team, we are already a pretty close team, but it’s always improvements that I can make, that we can all make.”
On improving as an offense:
“It just goes back to execution for the most part for the offense. We got to get more in tune with what we have going on and execute and make plays when we got the opportunities to make them. Because it’s been a few mistakes that we’ve made here and there, like a few penalties that we got to clean up but it’s just execution and just playing clean football, that’s really what we got to focus on.”
On the focus on South Carolina:
“We got all our focus on South Carolina because, of course, they are the next opponent, but I feel like every SEC game is almost like a rivalry game. See me being from up north I really never paid too much attention to down south football, but I did know that they said the SEC is the best conference. So every week we’re getting a great opponent when we playing a SEC game, so they’re definitely going to be a good opponent for us to play.”
Senior Tight End Ethan Wolf
On how he motivates himself and his teammates:
“I know its cliché, but whether we’re 3-2, 5-0, or 0-5, at the end of the day, at least for me personally, I’m a competitor. I’d be upset if I lost a coin toss. Just to come out here and love this game that I’ve been playing for so long – we all started playing this game for one reason, it was fun. So we just try and come out here and have fun. Today, I think the entire team had fun coming out here and playing football and getting away from everything going on in life, school and any type of drama that they may be involved in. Just to come out here and play the game that we love is motivation enough. But then again, we want to do some things that we’ve never done. We want to beat teams we haven’t beat. We definitely have a bit of a bad taste in our mouth from last year in terms of South Carolina, but right now we’re just focusing on getting better and becoming better players.”
On being a team leader and what message he wants to send this week:
“As a leader, you can’t just portray one big message. You got to individualize things to a certain group of people, because the advice that I give to the wide receivers isn’t going to pertain to the offensive line. A big thing that we’ve got to do is catch the ball and make plays. Something I said the other day in a meeting was that we’ve got to take that approach in practice as if it’s a game. I don’t know if we’re taking the idea of practice not as serious as we need to be, but obviously there’s always room for improvement. We need to just come out here and make practice as game-like as possible, and I think that if we can all do that – come out here with energy and attention to detail and kind of a plan of what we want out of practice every day – then we’ll take great steps through this bye week.”
On importance of bye week for offensive line:
“We’ve suffered some injuries, and we’ve had guys who didn’t practice last week because of injuries. I think that’s a big thing that we need to get accomplished through this bye week, to gain back our health and to get all of our guys back on the field practicing together. The consistency in everything is something that we need and will benefit from.”
Redshirt Sophomore Linebacker Quart’e Sapp
On leading the team in tackles against Georgia in his first start:
“It feels good. It was a journey to get here. I thank God every day just to be able to take the field and have no injuries and to have protection over me. I am really glad to be out there.”
On the mood of the team:
“Obviously, no one is happy with how the game turned out. We have to make some big adjustments and improve. Everyone has the attitude to prepare for South Carolina and move on.”