KNOXVILLE — When your face the No. 2 team in the nation, every little thing counts. That's been the focus of Butch Jones and the Vols as they prep for Oregon.
"I think as we continue to move forward it is taking care of the little things," said Jones as he met with the media on Tuesday afternoon. "The little things add up to the big things, it is the small details, it is the discipline that it takes to go on the road. Playing a tremendous opponent, a great opponent, a hostile environment.
"I think that is what the message has been, the focus, the disciplined football, being fundamentally sound. We have to have a much better effort tomorrow in practice, not where it needs to be to go on the road and compete against a great football team like Oregon."
Jones is challenging the Vols as they prepare for their biggest challenge to date.
"I just think growth and maturity, I think confidence, I think leadership, obviously winning as well," said Jones. "But I think they are all by products of each other, they all play off of each other, they are all complimentary items.
"It is really each individual taking pride in their performance, that standard, that expectation, taking care of your body, getting enough sleep, hydration, pushing yourself beyond that limit when your voice of convenience kicks in. That is how great teams push through, that is how they evolve."
The mental approach is key for the Vols every moment they are consumed by the game.
"I just think it is a lifestyle that you have to live each and every day," said Jones. "Are we better than we were in spring football? Yes. Are we better now than we were at the start of training camp? Yes. But we aren't anywhere near where we need to be.
"Playing the schedule and the demands that we have, it is going to take great resiliency, great leadership, and a toughness about yourself, thick skin, playing one snap at a time. That is why we practice like we do, that is why we coach the way we do. I tell you this - these players want to be coached, they want to be taught, they want to be lead. Now it is them taking the next step in doing it on their own."
Smith back; Maggitt close
The Vols defense has missed some key players through the first two games of the season.
Senior Jacques Smith, who injured himself during fall camp, and junior Curt Maggitt, who is coming back from an ACL injury, will look to return to the gridiron shortly.
Smith will likely play vs. Oregon according to head coach Butch Jones. Though he has been at every practice cheering his teammates on, he returned to action today, orange jersey and all.
Curt Maggitt still has a little way to go.
"He is progressing," said Jones. "I will know more as the week goes on. Is he doing more than he did last week? Yes. Is he 100 percent game ready? No. But I see each week, each day, I see him getting better."
Linebacker Brent Brewer can't wait to see his teammates back in action and believes their presence makes a huge difference.
"I think it will help a lot [to have Curt back]," said Brewer. "He is a specimen out there. He is doing a good job coming back."
"Curt is a great player," continued fellow linebacker Dontavis Sapp. "He works hard. He always has a motor going at 100 miles per hour. He would be a tremendous help if he came back in and helped us in the game Saturday. Depth is always great, especially when you're going against a team that's going fast. Curt will get out there and take the risk."
Smith's leadership approach is what Brewer misses on the field.
"[Jacques] is one of the leaders on this team," said Brewer, "so every time he is out there it changes the game, it changes the team. It gets our defense popping."
Jones just wants to be able to put the best, most healthy, 11 players on the field Saturday at Oregon.
"We just have to get the best 11 on the field," said Jones. "If they are not 100 percent we aren't going to risk anything. Everything we do is about the player, making sure he is ready to go."
Randolph is back
There was one key element missing in the Vols 2012 defense, safety Brian Randolph.
Randolph, though just a sophomore, had already developed into one of the team leaders having already racked up 22 tackles and two pass break ups before his season ending injury against Florida.
This season he has brought down nine players and recorded two key interceptions in the endzone en route to becoming the first Vol to receive SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors since Eric Berry in 2008.
"He is extremely valuable," said head coach Butch Jones. "We talk about being smart football players and football intelligence and Brian is extremely smart. That is obviously going to help and we are going to need that all day Saturday."
Senior Brent Brewer, who used to play alongside Randolph in the secondary before moving up to linebacker, echoed his coach's sentiments.
"He is a really smart guy," said Brewer. "It is easy for him to come out there and pick up everything and find other guys to do their job too."
Linebacker Dontavis Sapp knows that Randolph has his back out there on the field.
"Brian Randolph is a great player," said Sapp. "He knows the defense in and out, he's a smart guy. He's always making the right calls, communicating well with the linebackers, so it's great to have him back."
"He always works hard," continued Sapp. "He's always doing the right things. It's working out for him."
Dobbs dupicating Mariota?
Trying to combat the Ducks' offense is a tall task. How about trying to duplicate it?
That's what the Vols scout teams are trying to do this week. Yes, the Vols are running a pair of offensive scout teams to keep up with the pace Oregon runs its offense at.
"We've got two different scout teams so they just rotate in and out," said sophomore defensive back Brian Randolph. "They are extra fresh out there."
The man at the helm of those scout teams is true freshman Joshua Dobbs, who is doing his best to mimic the Ducks' signal caller Marcus Mariota.
"He's a good look for us running the pitch and stuff, nice quick cuts," Randolph said of Dobbs, who donned Mariota's No. 8 in a black jersey at practice on Tuesday.
"We've just got to have everyone do their assignments. If we've got contain, you've got to have contain. If you've force, you've got to force it. We've got to not try to do too much and just do our own jobs."
As one of the newest linebackers, Brent Brewer needed to make an immediate connection with his teammates this past spring in order for the Vols to be successful this fall.
Brewer, who moved up to the linebacker position to add some speed, feels as though the team has accomplished just that.
"We are out there working together," said Brewer. "We are brothers, we hang out during the week and watch film after practice and are bonding a lot more than we used to. They are becoming brothers to me."
Until Brewer actually saw game action, he likely wouldn't be able to know how much the LBs had gelled.
Two games in, and the gel is set.
"It's just about knowing the defense, knowing what their job is and them knowing what my job is," said Brewer. "Everybody can work together and just get to the ball and play off of each other."
Dontavis Sapp, a four-year linebacker is one of the most veteran players at the position.
He, and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, believe the linebacking corps is ready to go.
"Like Coach Thigpen always says, we have an old group," said Sapp. "We've seen a lot. We've been through a lot, so when we see things, it's not too difficult to break things down and go make plays."
Leaning on the line
The best way to deal with a high-powered, high-scoring offense is plain and simple... Keep them on the sidelines.
To do that, Tennessee will depend on its front five, the most experienced group on the field for the Orange and White.
"We want to establish the line of scrimmage," said senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James. "It's up to us seven with us five [linemen], Rajion (Neal) and Marlin (Lane) to get things going for our offense."
Along with establishing the ground game, getting the defense off the field and converting third downs will be especially important come Saturday.
"Third down is always important, but it's very important this game," James said. "We want to keep our defense off the field as much as we can. Also, we want to put up points and we're going to have to convert on third down to do that. To be good on third down, you have to be good on first down."
Senior right guard Zach Fulton knows that sustaining drives will be key in keeping the Ducks' explosive offense off the field.
"We just need to maintain our offense and do the same things we've been doing," said Fulton. "We know we have to sustain drives this week, and that's because we don't want our defense on the field that long."
Being veterans and the most-seasoned group on the team, the offensive line views this week's trip to Eugene as a tremendous opportunity.
"We put the blinders and a hardhat on [this week]," said James. "We just go to work all week and have a great week of practice so we can go out there and play a great game.
"If we know our game and play the way we can, I feel like we can play with anybody in the country."
Senior center James Stone passed along a similar message.
"Every time you step out on the football field you have a chance to win," Stone said. "Every time we step out on a football field we are playing to win that football game."