KNOXVILLE — After Butch Jones announced on Monday that Tennessee’s quarterback position was open for competition, one of the biggest questions going into Saturday’s game is who will be starting against the Florida Gators?
On Jones’ radio show ‘Vol Calls,’ Wednesday night, the coach made it clear it might go all the way until the teams take the field on Saturday to know who will start under center.
“We will probably pick a quarterback starter at the conclusion of pregame warm-ups on Saturday,” Jones said.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian echoed Jones when he spoke earlier in the day.
“The guys are competing every day,” Bajakian said. “The process could go all the way into pregame warm ups.”
Throughout the week, Bajakian believes that it has been business as usual. Each quarterback is approaching practice as they always have and are competing and improving their personal play every day.
“Embracing competition,” said Bajakian. “Again, I feel like a broken record but we always talk about the process, but part of the process is improving on a daily basis and part of that is competing on a daily basis. Everyone has approached it with a mentality that they are going to compete and improve every day.
“There is a little more energy, that is for sure,” said Bajakian.
After Tennessee’s loss to Oregon this past Saturday, the Volunteers coaching staff has worked to instill one thing in their players’ minds--look forward and not backward. Team 117 travels to Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday and as this week has progressed, it is evident that they are looking forward to their next competition --the Florida Gators.
One of Tennessee’s newest mottos, “snap and clear,” has caught on quickly with the Volunteer defense.
“I think we’re fine,” defensive coordinator John Jancek said. “I think we recognize that we didn’t play very well. The guys, I thought, really hurt coming in on Sunday — seeing them around, it’s disheartening, but we have to snap and clear. We have to move on.”
Starting Monday, the ‘Orange Swarm’ switched their focus from a fast- tempo offense to a more up-front and physical offense.
“Florida, they want to knock you off the ball and get moving, so that will be challenging — great skill all over the field,” said Jancek.” We know we have our hands full.”
Due to multiple injuries, defensive depth has been a major question for the Vols this season , so Jancek and staff have looked to other players to step up in the respective roles.
True freshman Jason Carr and redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien are two players that are working hard to improve each week to fill in for defensive players, such as Trevarris Saulsberry, who was injured in Saturday’s game against Oregon. Carr and O’Brien have both spent extra time getting work in after practice, both on the field and in the weight room.
“They’re doing everything right, said Jancek. “ It’s just a matter of time before we start to see those fruits of the labor.”
While a main focus for the Tennessee defense will be containing Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel this Saturday, that’s not exactly what defensive backs Coach Willie Martinez is stressing to his men.
“We call it a plaster technique. Nobody should be coming out of coverage,” Martinez said. “We continue to practice that every day and we have to do a better job at it. Obviously, we paid for it last week and we have to do a much better job with our eyes. We didn’t have very good eye discipline and we have to do a better job this week.”
A former defensive back and National Champion with the Miami Hurricanes, Martinez continues to preach the No. 1 rule in the defensive backfield.
“A secondary player should never come out of their coverage until [the ball carrier] crosses the line of scrimmage,” said Martinez.
“Anytime you have a mobile quarterback, obviously that’s more of a threat to the defense. Whether it’s Driskel or anybody playing QB, if you’re mobile, that’s high stress on the defense. That’s never going to change and it’s been like that for a long, long time.
With three starting underclassmen across the secondary, Martinez is keeping it simple.
“Inexperience does hurt, but again, you just have to keep on coaching, help them with their eye discipline and execute the defense,” Martinez said. “Do your job. That’s what we’ve been saying since we’ve been here. If you just do your job, I think the outcome will be a lot different. That’s what we’ve been working on all week.”
A member of the Georgia coaching staff from 2001-09, Martinez knows how dominant the Florida Gators have been in the SEC East, and insists Coach Jones fully understands the importance of this rivalry.
“I think he knows,” said Martinez. “He knew right from the get-go, he knew the importance of the rivalry and the tradition. He knew it.”