UT Sports Information
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — We’re only 10 days away from the 128th season of Tennessee football and players and fans alike are eager for the first official whistle to sound.
The expectations, the competition and the hard work pulse throughout the Vols’ roster and are particularly palpable on the defensive side of the ball, an area that head coach Jeremy Pruitt has focused on emphatically throughout fall camp.
None of those measures have fallen short on junior defensive lineman Matthew Butler, who is currently the most experienced in his group with 17 games under his belt. Pushed quickly into a guiding role after senior Emmit Gooden went down with a season-ending knee injury during camp, Butler has already prepared to step into that spot.
“I know there’s a high expectation for me and I just try to meet it every day,” the Raleigh, N.C., native said. “Whether I had been here for a day or for as long as I’ve been here, that’s just the mentality that the whole team takes into everything.
“I’m very eager. We’ve been putting in the work not just all spring and fall, but really since the beginning of our careers — we’re just ready to play games.”
Butler, who was named 2018 Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll, is unfazed by the pressure that comes with a lead role and he largely credits that to his experience in the VOLeaders Academy last year. VOLeaders Academy aims to inspire student-athletes to find ways to use their passion of sport and their influence to enact positive change that transcends their athletic success.
Through the program, Butler and 18 other UT student-athletes traveled to Rwanda for 10 days this summer to learn about how sports impact the country’s culture. While there, he found that some of those experiences could also help him on Saturdays at Neyland Stadium.
“It was an awesome experience, being able to go to a different continent and a different country and learning how other people live,” Butler said. “It’s not really so much different from America. Then, when you’re there, you’re thinking how can I get better at football because you feel like you might be behind. But then at the same time, learning all of those things makes you a better person, leader and football player.”
Focused on improving in every aspect from a season ago, the Vols defense continues to learn and develop as camp comes to a close.
“I feel like we’ve progressed a lot from day one,” said Butler, who registered 13 tackles through nine games in 2018. “If we get tough coaching, we’re able to capitalize on that coaching. If we get praise, we’re able to capitalize on that praise. At the end of the day we’re just trying to get better.
“There have been a few little tweaks because of coach Derrick Ansley, but we’ve really caught on to everything and we’re understanding not just our assignment, but how the whole defense is around our assignment and what our assignment contributes to the whole defense.”
Bumphus Takes to the Defense
At the end of the 2018 season, junior LaTrell Bumphus joined the defensive line. After playing tight end for the first two seasons of his collegiate career, he has made one of the biggest adjustments as he embraces a new defense.
At 6-3, 273 pounds, Bumphus is looking the part, but he has also been impressing the Vols staff in fitting into his new place on the field.
“The guy that has probably stood out, that we think has the potential is Bumphus,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker told media last week. “Bumphus has really improved and is getting better as a football player. His body has changed. He’s playing defensive end and it’s been really good to have him there. And, he seems to enjoy it. He enjoys practice. He enjoys getting better. So that’s been a plus for me. He’s embraced it.”
The Savannah, Tenn., native, echoes those sentiments and wants to help the team wherever he can.
“It’s just something I can do and I am going to do what they ask me to do,” Bumphus said. “I am feeling better (about the position). I kind of played it a little bit in high school ,so I have an understanding of it. With all the coaches and players, they help a lot as well. I am working with all the coaches because they are doing what is best for me. They know what the next step is I need to take.”
Player Quotes from Wednesday Media Availabilty
Senior DB Nigel Warrior
On the benefit of understanding the different positions in the secondary:
“You’ve got to learn it. The benefits of those is making plays and knowing what the next man has, so if he’s out there and he asks the question, ‘ hey, what I got?’ We can tell him right then and there. Tell him and go on and get the job done.”
On if he enjoys playing the STAR position:
“I enjoy every position on the field. It’s just good to actual know what you have to do because, like I said, going back to what I just told him, it’s good if somebody asks you a question and you get to tell them [the answer]. That means you’re learning. If you get to teach somebody something, you’ve learned it twice. Being at NICKEL felt pretty good and I hope I get to play that role also this year.”
On the hardest thing about learning and teaching a new defense:
“I’d say just the different concepts. It’s just got to be embedded in your head. It’s kind of hard to take everything at one time and then think you’re going to go out there and do it. It takes time, so learning those things, it has its complications, but it also has its benefits.”
On the difference it will make having Derrick Ansley as the defensive coordinator:
“I feel like it will have a difference, but in the end it all comes down to the players. Going back to the second time being in Coach Pruitt’s program, this is on us. You know what I’m saying? He can call the calls and do all that, but at the end of the day we’re the one’s that make the plays, so it comes down to us. I’m thankful for coach Ansley – don’t get me wrong on that – all of our coaches, but at the end of the day it comes down to the players.”
On the different looks Coach Jim Chaney has brought to the offense:
“He’s hitting us with all type of stuff. That’s a good question. They just coming with a lot of ammo. Like I said, they’re making us better. They have us seeing formations that we haven’t seen, they going out of formations that we haven’t seen to formations we have seen. Things like that. Eye discipline. They are helping us with eye discipline. At the end of the day, I’d say that’s what’s really going on, eye discipline.”
Junior DL Matthew Butler
On the defensive line’s progression:
“I feel like we’ve progressed a lot from day one. If we get tough coaching, we’re able to capitalize on that coaching. If we get praise, we’re able to capitalize on that praise. At the end of the day we’re just trying to get better.”
On his experience with VOLeaders in Africa this summer:
“It was an awesome experience, being able to go to a different continent and a different country and learning how other people live. It’s not really so much different from America. Then, when you’re there, you’re thinking, how can I get better at football because you feel like you might be behind. But then at the same time, learning all of those things makes you a better person, leader and football player.”
On how much he’s looking forward to the season opener:
“I’m very eager. We’ve been putting in the work not just all spring and fall, but really since the beginning of our careers. We’re just ready to play games.”
On being one of the defensive line’s more experienced players:
“I don’t really think about it often. I know there’s a high expectation for me and I just try to meet it every day. Whether I had been here for a day and for as long as I’ve been here, that’s just the mentality that the whole team takes into everything.”
On if he understands the defensive system better in coach Pruitt’s second season:
“For sure. There have been a few little tweaks because of coach Derrick Ansley, but we’ve really caught on to everything and we’re understanding not just our assignment, but how the whole defense is around our assignment and what our assignment contributes to the whole defense. When you know that, you’re going to know football and when you know that, you’re going to excel as a pass rusher.”
Junior DL LaTrell Bumphus
On how fall camp has been:
“It has been good. We are all striving each day to get better at the things we need to do.”
On if he feels better at the defensive line:
“Yes sir. I am feeling better. I am working with all the coaches because they are doing what is best for me. They know what the next step is I need to take.”
On what the biggest challenge is to changing positions:
“I would say the biggest challenge is learning the technique and understanding why I need to do what I need to do.”
On pass rushing and if he likes it:
“It’s just something I can do, and I am going to do what they ask me to do. I kind of played it a little bit in high school, so I have an understanding of it. With all the coaches and players, they help a lot as well.”
Junior WR Josh Palmer
On how he feels the offense has progressed:
“We are coming together. Going in every practice. We just finished camp, and I feel like we have come a long way since Coach (Jim) Chaney came in. I feel like we are all coming together as one and working hard.”
On the 17 practices and if it is time to play someone else:
“Yeah it is. In film, it gets a little boring watching the same players over and over. It has been great. Camp was helpful and now all we can focus on getting ready for the season.”
On where they have made the biggest strides:
“Mentally. We are a lot more bought in. We learn the game. We are more physical. When I say bought in, I would say more of coming together. It is more so that after last season we realized that we wanted a lot more and we are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”
On how he is feeling confidence wise compared to last season:
“I am more confident. This camp was great. We all worked hard. As a receiving corps, we all pushed each other. Confidence is pretty high amongst the team.”
Redshirt Junior OL Marcus Tatum
On the shuffling of the offensive line:
“I like it. It is really just developing a healthy offensive line throughout the season. There is no way you can stay with the same five throughout the whole year. People get hurt, injuries happen every day. It is great to develop a cohesive offensive line at all positions.”
On having more depth compared to years past:
“It is a lot different. We’d been going out there to some practices in the last couple of years with like six or seven people who can actually go through a practice. Now, it feels good to get through indy [individual periods] and get to the team periods and not be winded because we only have six people.”
On the differences with coach Jim Chaney implementing his offense:
“Just consistency. Being able to have a coordinator in spring then in camp, it feels good to have a solidified offense.”
On having the same strength coach for two years:
“That means a lot. That’s probably the biggest difference. They know our weights, they know our strengths and weaknesses, they know how our bodies develop, they know what works for us.”
On how he feels after gaining weight this offseason:
“I feel a lot more solid. The hits don’t hurt as bad. I know when I was younger, after the games I just felt way more sore. Practice and everything. Now, it’s just normal practice.”
On the mentality of the offensive line and if there is a difference in the way he plays:
“I’m just tired of losing. It’s really embarrassing to go out there and have everybody blame it on us. It usually is our fault most of the time. I just want to make a difference. I don’t want to be that whole excuse of why we are losing and why this university is falling apart.”