Butch Jones Press Conference
Tennessee hasn’t held a single preseason practice, snapped a single football nor made a single solo tackle. Yet football season essentially began on Wednesday with the Butch Jones press conference.
With fans’ hopes on high, news emanated from the press area in Neyland Stadium. Here are the most relevant points that first-year Volunteer head coach Butch Jones made during his press conference:
Rightfully so, Jones is setting the stage for a rough season. Those that are dreaming of eight or nine wins this fall need to be a bit more realistic. However, Jones isn’t ruling anything out.
“I’ve said it and I’ll continue to say it that I think this team will be defined by how we handle adversity, how resilient we are,” Jones said. “As we know the schedule is a great challenge.”
Clearly, Tennessee’s program needs to be built for the long haul. A bowl trip should be considered a success even though the Vols are shooting for more. Credit Jones for setting the bar high while realistically assessing UT’s personnel.
“Are we going to be the most talented team this year?”Jones said. “No, we’re not. We all understand that, but talent doesn’t win championships. Teams win championships.
“Last place I was at we won two championships in a row and I believe we were voted fourth or fifth in our conference. But I thought we had the best collection of individuals who bought into a goal. They held each other accountable to the standards and expectations of the football program.”
There seems to be some uncertainty with strongside linebacker Curt Maggitt. Linebacker coach Tommy Thigpen said recently that Maggitt is 90-percent recovered from his torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last season.
“He worked hard in rehab, and he works hard each day to get back to 100 percent,” middle linebacker A.J. Johnson said. “We will see when the count comes how he will do. He was strong through the injury, but sometimes he wouldn’t be able to work out with us. For the most part though, he’s been leading and being vocal, sometimes more vocal than me. I look up to him as he tries to lead us even though he can’t be out there with us, and he is still working hard to be the best.”
If Maggitt has been that limited during the summer, he may be somewhat or very limited in preseason camp. If that’s the case, expect the linebacker to be rusty early in the season.
“I do think we have to be patient with him,” Jones said. “It’s going to be a process of going through what he’s been through, but I know he’s excited to get back out there on the football field.
This is yet another case where Jones has to suffer from the previous staff’s mistakes. With a myriad of injuries, Maggitt shouldn’t have been on the field last season when he suffered his knee injury.
Marlin Lane is on the right track for now. The junior running back has drawn the ire of two coaching staffs. Now he seems closer to at least satisfactory status.
“Marlin will be back and he has done everything to warrant reinstatement to this football team, but he also understands the expectations and the standards and he is going to have to earn his way back,” Jones said. “Nothing in this football program is given.
“It’s a right, it’s an honor and it’s a privilege to play for the University of Tennessee, so he understands that and he has to start rebuilding that trust with the coaching staff, his teammates and that started this summer.”
Brian Randolph’s health shouldn’t be a significant issue moving forward. The safety said that other than a few inches off his vertical he’s the same player he was last season before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“I’d say I am pretty close to 100 percent,” the sophomore said. “I feel like my speed is back and my agility and quickness. I feel like my last thing to come back is my jumping ability. I’m about 95 percent.”
Said Jones, “He’s probably 92-93 percent, but again everything is about competition and you look at the safety position, I feel like that’s one of the positions right now where we are going to have great competition, but also Brian improves our special teams.”
Dontavis Sapp is a coaches’ favorite. Sure, Johnson has more ability and so does Maggit when healthy. But Sapp, who figures to be UT’s starting weakside linebacker, has drawn rave reviews with his work ethic.
“Absolutely love him,” Jones said. “He’s done anything and everything that we have asked of him and it started from day one. I thought in the spring, he was one of our most consistent players. He could start on every single special teams that we have and make an impact in the game that way. He’s one of our starting linebackers. I think he’s explosive.”
Sapp was largely overlooked by UT’s previous coaching staff. That won’t be the case this fall.
“It was kind of tough waiting on my turn,” the senior said. “I know the playbook, and I feel like I could have played ever since I got here.”
When Peyton Talks, Butch Listens
Jones isn’t afraid to turn up the heat. Many wondered why Jones decided to have an open practice for the fans during preseason. Perhaps it was for publicity? Nope, there was another goal in mind.
“That idea was born in my office talking to [former UT quarterback] Peyton Manning,” Jones said. “[NFL teams] have the luxury of preseason games…They understand how their players are going to perform in stressful situations.
“We’re going to treat it like a preseason game and I want to create pressure situations. I want our offense to have to execute one-minute drill. I want our kickers to execute when there are people in the stands. I don’t want us to perform the first time, August 31, against Austin Peay.
Cornerback Eric Gordon is officially off the team. Most knew that was coming. However, Jones confirmed that it’s official: UT’s best cover corner is gone from a secondary that was woeful last season.
Jones refuses to confirm nor deny when it comes to new uniforms. With a grin, he cited tradition and recruiting as reasons for either – or both.
“Well, I will tell you this: in today’s world of recruiting and the age that we live in, that’s something that has kind of been important to programs,” Jones said. “I respect the great tradition that we have here. I think I’ve proven that. Everything is about our tradition, but we will continue to look and evaluate that.
“If that’s best for us, we will do that. There may be something coming, but everything that we do and if we do it, will respect our traditions here at Tennessee.”
That leaves one big gray area.