“I challenged them today,” said Jones, who continues to work through a sore throat from all his coaching during practice. “I challenged our leadership; I put them in stressful situations. For the most part I thought they responded. Every day is one day closer.
“Day 3, I think we continued to progress, just really looking for a high level of consistency in our mental approach, our mental preparation, and then our intensity on the practice field. Being able to be able to go right from pre-practice, the stretch, and maintain that level of intensity all the way through whatever period we end. I think that has kind of been a work in progress. I thought today we took a step in the right direction.
Jones is known for putting his players into individual battles during practice. This is something the Vols are clamoring for just days into practice.
“Sometimes I watch our demeanor, the way we approach the practice field, the look in our eyes, if we need something to start off, something competitive,” he said, “we do it or I will find an individual who really isn’t dialed in and to shock them right there I put them into a competitive situation. The great thing is now they are all coming up to me and asking to be in those competitive situations, I like to see that.”
North turning heads
With a new season comes a new tradition and this year, head coach Butch Jones has implemented the black stripe on newcomers’ helmets. Freshman wide receiver Marquez North is proving to his coaches and teammates that he wants to earn that traditional orange stripe.
After just three days, North has the sidelines buzzing and his head coach talking.
“In three very short practices, and in a very small time, (Marquez) has proven he is going to be one of our play makers,” said Jones. “He is dynamic, he is strong, he is physical, he can run, and we need him offensively. What you see is when your players bring him up, it is a level of respect right now that they have for him. He is extremely intelligent; he knows every single receiver position on the field already. We are very excited about him.”
From the opposing side of the ball, North’s performance has been noted.
“He’s a big receiver with a lot of speed, so I’m pretty impressed with him,” senior linebacker Brent Brewer said, “He’s doing big things out there.”
On the offense, his teammates are gushing after just three days of action.
“Marquez has done really, really well, especially his first,” said tight end Alex Ellis. “We watched the one-on-ones with the wide receivers the last two days and he did really well. He kind of stuck out a lot.”
With progression such as North and other freshmen have shown, it won’t be long before orange is the new black.
The two-deep is deep
There is one thing for certain on the defensive line this season. It is full of seniors.
Six defensive linemen are in their final go around on Rocky Top. And all six of them are listed on the two-deep heading into fall camp.
But every senior knows that their job is not safe.
“We are going to fight for that starting spot,” said redshirt senior Marlon Walls. “The depth chart is nothing right now we just have to compete and do what you can to stay here. I have to watch the film because I know I have a great guy behind me in Corey Miller, he is pretty good guy and he is fighting.”
The competition doesn’t bring animosity to the defensive linemen of Team 117. Thought they are competing every day, they are still a family.
“We work hard each and every single day,” said senior Jacques Smith. “It is not a competition, it is a brotherhood. We watch film together, we eat together, at night we are going over plays before we go to bed to make sure that all of us know it. You never know what happens and if one of us goes down, whether it be me, Marlon, Corey, the next guy has to step up. We all want to win, don’t we?”
The linemen are raring to go. After taking more of a blocking role last season, the line is ready to get out there and attack. With that they have the scheme they are comfortable with (4-3) and a great leader in Steve Stripling.
“We believe in Coach Strip, his numbers prove themselves,” said Walls. “He is allowing us to cut loose a little bit. As long as you are in the right spot he will let it go if that is what you are comfortable doing. We have the right personnel for the 4-3. Guys are a lot more comfortable. And for us it is effort. [Coach Strip] preaches effort. Pushing yourself at the end of the play. 63. Six seconds, three great strains. That is something you can control as a player, what you can do. We are excited.”
Coach Stripling wants his players in the backfield attacking the quarterback. And for an edge rusher like Smith, that is music to his ears.
His pinned back ears.
“Being able to pin our ears back and go is something that this defense allows you to do. We lost confidence as a defense, being in the 3-4 on the D-Line. Going back to the 4-3 we knew we were a great defensive line. We know the scheme; we are all great football players. Being able to attack the offense like that in the spring and get at them it boosted our confidence. That is something that we try and get better at each and every day. Those little things boost our confidence going into this season.”
“I just have to keep consistent with my play and go out each and every single day and continue to be the leader that I am for this team and give my all as a Vol.”
Having bounced around the defensive backfield over his first three seasons, senior Brent Brewer is finally settling into the second line of defense.
Seeing time at both the Sam and Will linebacker positions, Brewer is making progress, but says he needs to work on the fundamentals.
“I’m getting better,” said Brewer. “I’m still trying to adjust to the line, going against big guys every play and then just reading run or pass. I’m coming along pretty well. I’m just trying to get in there and do what I can.”
Brewer has the luxury of having a man at his side that has gone through this change before. Classmate Dontavis Sapp made the jump from defensive back as a sophomore.
“He’s come a long way and doing good things out there,” Brewer said about his teammate. “I’ll talk to him to see which things I can do better and how he went about the transition.”
One major benefit of making this move for any player is speed. However, you can run fast, but have to know where to go.
“You can use it a little bit, but I have to learn to read the linemen first and then go,” Brewer said. “I’m a little hesitant right now trying to read everything. It’s coming along; I just need to get in there and go over some film with coach and I’ll be on track.”
Coming into his last camp, the 6-foot-1 senior stressed he wants to go out on a good note and be remembered for 2013.
“Just come out and do the right thing, be a leader for these young guys and show them how to do things around here,” said Brewer. “Then to change this program around from how it’s been the past few years. This year we can change things as seniors. When we come back, we want to be known as something for something, not losing and going 5-6.”