KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Spring practice of the Josh Heupel era is underway as the first-year Tennessee head coach put his Volunteers through a spirited, fast-paced indoor workout at the Anderson Training Center on Thursday afternoon.
Inclement weather pushed the first practice indoors, just hours after four Vols shined at Pro Day in front of dozens of NFL scouts and personnel representing nearly every league squad. Tennessee spent Thursday working on all three phases and implementing its new terminology.
“There’s so much time and energy and work that leads up to those moments where you get an opportunity to truly go out and compete the way you want to as a full team,” Heupel said. “It’s exciting. I’ve got notes full of things that we’ve got to correct as players, coaches and support staff for the next practice, but I love the energy and effort. If you get those things from your players — great energy, great attitudes — then you become a tough football team.”
Heupel, who has developed multiple NFL quarterbacks in his career, is seeking to get the most out of his quarterback roster that includes sophomore Harrison Bailey, graduate transfer Hendon Hooker and redshirt sophomore Brian Maurer this spring.
“We used the code word attack,” Heupel said. “That’s a big part of who we are inside of our building. At the quarterback position in particular, I thought they handled the tempo portion of some of our team sets extremely well and handled the communication piece of it. They played within themselves. They made some mistakes out there, but they did a lot of really positive things too. The thing that we’ve challenged our guys on is ‘Don’t make the same mistake twice. Be coachable. Accept the coaching in a positive way.”
The Vols’ second practice of the spring is scheduled for Saturday morning.
Season tickets for the 100th year of Neyland Stadium and the start of the Heupel era are on sale now at AllVols.com. Season tickets start as low as $300, with the Vol Pass and payment plan options offered. Fans can experience the Neyland Stadium 3D map to select tickets based on preference. Fans with questions related to seats, views and options can utilize the live “CHAT” feature on AllVols.com.
Head Coach Josh Heupel
March 25, 2021
“It’s been a great day for our program starting off with the Pro Day. It was a great opportunity, tons of pro personnel in here. An opportunity for our guys who have finished their careers to go out and perform in front of them and put their best foot forward. The players did a great job during the course of the morning representing themselves and our program and enjoyed the opportunity to talk about them, about their careers and who they are with the personnel that was here. We had great representation from almost every team. This afternoon was a really exciting day for us as, the guys that have been working in the first quarter of our offseason strength and conditioning program and then them having an opportunity on day one and practice and compete, make a bunch of mistakes, get a whole lot better during the course of it as well. There was a tremendous amount of energy and effort from those guys. They took coaching really well. They were really positive with each other. A lot of things that we’ve been working on as far as our accountability and the way we communicate with each other, players and coaches alike. I saw a lot of those things in a positive way today during the course of practice. I am excited as we continue go through spring here.”
On if any guys have switched positions …
“Not right now. Our roster has stayed status quo, as far as their homes where they’re starting out at. I think as we go through the early part of spring ball, we are going to find out a lot more about who they are as a player, their skillsets, how they fit into what we are doing, how they’ve grown in the offseason, taken coaching and are implementing the things that we are asking them to do. As we go through that process, you’ll find ways to move guys into a spot where they have a better opportunity to compete and earn an opportunity to play inside of our program.”
On his impressions of the team’s quarterback play …
“I think for everybody inside of our program, part of it is what you do right. We pushed back the start of spring ball a little bit to make sure that they got some of our installs and got a little bit of comfort with our terminology, verbiage and how you need to communicate in all three phases to give yourself an opportunity to learn how to play the way that we need to – play with great effort and technique and play from the snap to the echo of the whistle. That was a big emphasis today. We used the code word ‘attack.’ That’s a big part of who we are inside of our building. I thought our guys did that. At the quarterback position in particular, I thought they handled the tempo portion of some of our team sets extremely well and handled the communication piece of it. They played within themselves. They made some mistakes out there, but they did a lot of really positive things too. The thing that we’ve challenged our guys on is ‘Don’t make the same mistake twice. Be coachable. Accept the coaching in a positive way. Learn from it. Grow from it. Change from one rep to the next.’ As we called the team up today, that was one of the points of emphasis I made to them. I saw guys being really accepting of coaching and challenging themselves to get better from one rep to the next in a really positive way. I thought there was a ton of positive energy out there between players and coaches.”
On how he prioritizes what he wants to get accomplished during spring camp and his impressions of his defensive staff during Thursday’s practice …
“I think as an overall program, you’re in a race to become as good as you can as fast as you can. That’s the challenge for your players every single day. You’ve got to enter the building with great urgency and put pressure on yourself to soak in as much as possible, go out there, play and execute. At the same time, you’re trying to balance that to where your kids aren’t overwhelmed and they have an opportunity to soak in the information that they need to, go out there and compete. In all three phases, you’re balancing your installs. You’ve got to understand that it’s year one. Your system may be this, but it’s year one, practice one for your guys. So, you spoon-feed them. You give them an opportunity to soak in what you’ve done. That’s partially why we backed up spring ball, to make sure that they had an opportunity to get some of that information beforehand and get some of the playbook digested. You can push it as far and as fast as you possibly can before it gets to spring ball. You come back and now you’re back to a day one install. As your players came back to day one, I think they grabbed onto a whole lot more than we probably thought that they would as we got ready for practice one. I thought we handled that pretty well. Defensively, we’ve got great chemistry as far as our defensive staff. We’ve got a bunch of guys who believe in what we’re doing and who’s leading that room. There’s great confidence in Coach (Tim) Banks from myself and everybody inside of the defensive staff room. Some of those guys have worked together. I think that chemistry is important. There’s a great level of trust between those guys. Our players on the defensive side of the football can feel and sense that as well. They’re playing with great energy. I thought they did a really good job of communicating at all three levels today. Some points of emphasis for us are to eliminate busts and be able to line up, play assignments soundly and play with great technique.”
On the feeling he had during his first practice as Tennessee’s head coach …
“It’s excitement from the time we got a chance to meet with them this morning to the time you see some of your guys that are finishing their careers here have an opportunity to work out at Pro Day, then step on the grass, or the turf on the indoor, and have an opportunity to put everything together and go compete with 120 guys, the coaching staff and all of the support staff. There’s so much time and energy and work that leads up to those moments where you get an opportunity to truly go out and compete the way you want to as a full team. It’s exciting. I’ve got notes full of things that we’ve got to correct as players and coaches and support staff for the next practice, but I love the energy and effort. If you get those things from your players — great energy, great attitudes — then you become a tough football team. It’s a lot of fun to coach that type of group.”