KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Larry Scott spoke reporters at Wednesday’s press conference in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.
No. 18/18 Tennessee (5-2, 2-2 SEC) takes on South Carolina (3-4, 1-4 SEC) on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium with a 7:15 p.m. ET broadcast on ESPN2.
Mike DeBord | Offensive Coordinator
With Alvin Kamara expected to miss this weekend’s game against South Carolina due to injury, sophomore running back John Kelly will look to get more work in the backfield, teaming with starter Jalen Hurd. DeBord has been pleased with Kelly’s play this season, especially his standout performance against Texas A&M when he logged 89 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
“John Kelly will be the guy that gets his reps. We have felt really confident with him because we saw what he did in the A&M game. He has confidence right now and he is excited to play and we are excited to have him in there. He has got the ability with the speed and quickness and he is also a bigger back and has the ability to do both. We will get in the game and see what they are giving us.”
Bob Shoop | Defensive Coordinator
The Vols are expecting to have middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. back for Saturday’s game. Kirkland missed the last five games after an injury against Virginia Tech sidelined him.
“Darrin has a lot of the leadership qualities that you need in a Mike linebacker and you miss one of your best players for five or six weeks and it’s a challenge. Like I said, Colton Jumper has done a great job replacing him, but to have a player of Darrin Kirkland’s caliber out there is going to be a real boost for us.”
Larry Scott | Tight Ends Coach/Special Teams Coordinator
Scott spoke about how UT’s coaches stress the importance of special teams to the younger players.
“Just getting them to understand, like you said, the importance of special teams plays at this level of football and how important they are and what they mean. It is not a play off, it’s not a play where I don’t have to be focused or dialed in and understand technique or fundamentals and all of those different things. Just the level of urgency you must have, as well, because we are talking one play here and one play there but that one play could be that play, at any point in time, to make the difference. Whether it’s field position, whether it’s in against a punt team like Alabama who played well the whole time and it is one play. One kick, one missed tackle, one guy not being where he is supposed to be — it makes a difference in the game.”
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“Well I think he has improved with the long ball. He is a lot better at throwing the long ball and that is where it all starts. I think he has felt more comfortable and back in the Georgia game we were in no back formation and we had a play call and he checked out of it and we scored. He has taken more ownership of the offense. I have always told him that if he sees something better then we should go do it. I have never put hand cuffs on him and told him to play football. I make him feel like it’s his offense and when he checks something, you hear on the headset ‘Wow he has really got it and he took control.'”
Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop
(On playing Jumper and Kirkland Jr. together)
“I think we’ll find a way to put our best 11 players on the field for what the situation calls for. Right now we think Colton Jumper and Darrin Kirkland are two of our best players so I think you’ll probably see them on the field at the same time.”
(On players in the secondary stepping up during the bye week and performing well)
“Anybody and everybody you know. The guys that have been playing a lot have played a lot of reps because they play on special teams so much. So this gave us some opportunity to see some younger players. Evan Berry, he’s not necessarily a younger player, but has practiced pretty well. Stephen Griffin has been a solid backup and played special teams. Baylen Buchanan, those guys continue to practice well even on the off week.”
Tight Ends Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Larry Scott
(On the benefit to the younger players seeing upperclassmen still playing hard on special teams)
“At the end of the day that is probably the most significant thing that grabs their attention. If a guy who is playing 50-60 snaps of defense is out there and he’s doing the right things — he is in, he is having meetings, he is paying attention in meetings, he is executing his role every day at practice on special teams and in games and being recognized for that — [then] they start to understand that it is critical and it is important. It is just the leadership of the older guys creating that culture for them to understand that.”