Tennessee spring practice Week 1: A revised program
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Fifth-year Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has put a lot into the Volunteers football program since he took over in December 2012.
There have been plenty of ups and downs while laying the groundwork to its current state entering spring practices in 2017.
But with any program, self-evaluation comes after time.
Jones has revised his program and approach following a 9-4 season as SEC East preseason favorites. The self-evaluation started this off-season with the hiring or re-assigning of six assistant coaches, including bringing in a strength and conditioning director from the NFL.
Kevin Beard (wide receivers), Mike Canales (quarterbacks), Brady Hoke (defensive line), Larry Scott (promoted to offensive coordinator), Charlton Warren (defensive backs) and Walt Wells (promoted to offensive line) make up the new looks to the staff for Team 121.
But the revision does not stop with the retooling of the staff.
“Today I was a little bit more of a quiet coach,” Jones said following the Vols’ first day of spring practices. “I sat back and I took notes. I’m not only coaching the players, but I am coaching the coaching staff on our expectations on the grass and in the meeting rooms.
“I am excited we’ve got great teachers, great communicators, great coaches that have great experience. I am excited to get back and meet as a staff and say ‘Okay, tell me your guys’ thoughts — what can we do better?'”
Credit Jones for taking this non-stubborn approach as he seeks to take Tennessee to the next level.
The excitement has carried over to the squad. Numerous players voiced their desire for competing for championships, improving on back-to-back nine-win seasons and being a closer team in 2017.
Red-shirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Guarantano made the most headlines with his vision of seeing SEC championships in the future with this group.
“Every single step is watched,” Guarantano said. “I go to class, I’m being watched. I’m on Twitter, I’m being watched. I’m on Instagram. But that’s what comes with the job and being the quarterback at a big university – a university that’s soon to be the SEC champions, and it’s going to be even crazier in the future.”
Guarantano’s sentiment was echoed after the Vols’ second day of spring practices.
“On defense, you have to have all 11 guys playing as one,” senior safety Todd Kelly Jr. said. “When you have guys playing as one [but] one on [his] own, that’s when you have mistakes and big plays. So we are focusing on eliminating those big plays and catastrophic plays and playing as one with 11 people on the field.”
Junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. understands his role following departures from Cam Sutton, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Derek Barnett. “Embrace it,” he said. “We always talk about ‘next man up’ and ‘it’s your time,’ and it is my time. I have to embrace that role and be the leader. Be the alpha male that we always talk about.”
Senior tight end Ethan Wolf: “A lot of guys needed to self-evaluate their work ethic in the weight room, and a lot of guys have. I think this a new football team when it comes to a mindset off the football field and into the weight room and just in general. We have become more of a brotherhood than we have been in the past.
“The goals are bigger than nine-win seasons.”