PROGRESS BEING MADE AS VOLS NEAR SEASON OPENER

 

PROGRESS BEING MADE AS VOLS NEAR SEASON OPENER

via utsports.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – With just 10 days until the season opener, Tennessee head football coach Josh Heupel talked about the work that still needs to be done leading up to  next Thursday’s contest against Bowling Green during his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon.

“We’ve got a lot of work (to do). We will balance it, and we do that during the course of the season, too,” Heupel said. “I think good teams continue to get better as you go through the season, and a part of that is still continuing to work on your fundamentals, your technique by position, but then get some good-on-good work as well during the course of the season. I think it’s imperative that you do that inside your program.

“This week will be a combination of both those things. We’ll start with a little bit of introductory into our game plans on offense and defense, but there’s still going to be a lot of good-on-good work this week.”

While Heupel knows there is still lots of work to be done, he expressed that he was pleased with where the team was at just over a week out from the season opener.

“As a coach, you’re never where you want to be. As a coach, you always see the things that you’ve got to continue to improve on. I love this team’s effort and energy. The way that they’ve learned how to approach walking up the stairs and going to meetings and being consistent in those competitive behaviors that you’ve got to have,” Heupel said.

“During the course of training camp, throughout the summer, throughout spring ball, we’ve gotten better. I think about the first day of full pads in spring ball and where we are today, we’ve continued to grow. We are unfinished, and you’re always continuing to push forward, but I like this group of guys. They care about themselves and their teammates. They care about representing the state of Tennessee the right way.”

Kickoff for next Thursday’s opener against the Falcons is slated for 8 p.m. ET. Tickets for the Bowling Green game, as well as season tickets and mini plans are available on AllVols.com.

The video and full transcript of Monday’s press conference can be seen below.

Heupel Press Conference Full Transcript

Opening statement… 

“Good morning. I know that there are a lot of Tennesseans that are being affected by the recent floods. Just want them to know that our thoughts are with them, we’re thinking about them, in particular the mid-state. A lot of fans that are located there, and I just want them to know that we’re thinking about them.

“We got started today with a little bit of our Monday routine. As we go through the week, it’ll be kind of a combination of some game prep and some good-on-good work that we’ll get through the course of the week. With that, I’ll open it up for some questions.”

On the quarterback competition… 

“No decisions have been made. Those guys have been great, continue to compete. We’ll see where we are here at the end of this week.”

On the improvement of the quarterbacks’ accuracy as a unit… 

“We’ve continued to get better, absolutely. More in sync. And it’s everybody. Routes being on time, being disciplined in it, and then quarterbacks’ fundamentals, technique, all those things. As you get into competition situations, 7-on-7, team situations, their decision making plays a big part, and their bodies getting in the right position, too. But I like the progress that we’ve made there.”

On the balance of game prep and 11-on-11 work… 

“We’ve got a lot of work (to do). We will balance it, and we do that during the course of the season, too. I think good teams continue to get better as you go through the season, and a part of that is still continuing to work on your fundamentals, your technique by position, but then get some good-on-good work as well during the course of the season. I think it’s imperative that you do that inside your program. This week will be a combination of both those things. We’ll start with a little bit of introductory into our game plans on offense and defense, but there’s still going to be a lot of good-on-good work this week.”

On his assessment of the current state of the program… 

“As a coach, you’re never where you want to be. As a coach, you always see the things that you’ve got to continue to improve on. I love this team’s effort and energy. The way that they’ve learned how to approach walking up the stairs and going to meetings and being consistent in those competitive behaviors that you’ve got to have. During the course of training camp, throughout the summer, throughout spring ball, we’ve gotten better. I think about the first day of full pads in spring ball and where we are today, we’ve continued to grow. We are unfinished, and you’re always continuing to push forward, but I like this group of guys. They care about themselves and their teammates. They care about representing the state of Tennessee the right way.”

On where the team is in terms of vaccination percentage…

“We continue to move the needle the right direction. Here as we’ve gotten through training camp, guys have continued to do that mostly on their off days, but we’re progressing, and we’ll continue to progress here as we get close to kickoff.”

On how he feels about his special teams units…

“I think you’ve got some real experience with Paxton (Brooks). His consistency as a kickoff guy (and) as a punter is important to our program. He’s a guy, in some respects, I think it’s easy for fans or a staff to take for granted in some ways. The snappers have been really competitive throughout training camp. They’re going to continue to compete this week before we decide who’s going to be the first guy out there on game day. Field goal battle has really been the same way. Those guys are competing in a really good way. We’ve put them in a lot of competitive situations ending practices (with) mayday field goal situations, trying to put them in a real, live situation. We’ve finished every scrimmage with those guys having to drain one at the end. I like what they’ve done.

“Special teams wise – returners – some experience there with Velus (Jones Jr.). He’s done it at a really high level. Still have competition at the punt returner spot, so we’ll see how those things unfold this week. Our guys as whole though, collectively Coach (Mike) Ekeler does a great job of motivating every single day, (teaching) great energy, great effort, playing with really good technique. We’re going to continue to grow that way as we go through the season, but I like the importance and attitude that our players have about how special teams affects the game.”

On how Joe Milton has handled not being here in the spring and the quarterback group as a whole…

“Well, him not having spring is just what it is. For him, yeah, he’s got less time on task in what we’re doing offensively. He spent a ton of time in May learning what we were doing before everybody was back in June.

“The quarterback group, as a collective group, has spent a ton of time and energy really becoming refined in what we’re doing. I thought where the guys that were here in spring ball, how they showed up in training camp fundamentally and technique (wise), completely different. Joe has really progressed during the course of our training camp. You look at the first half and then the second half, (he’s) much more comfortable in what we’re asking him to do and has great ownership.”

On if the players know who the starting quarterback is and if there is a value in them knowing that by a certain date prior to the season…

“They don’t. I said it in the beginning, once we’ve had a guy who has earned it and proven it in some respects, not just to the staff but to the teammates, then you’re able to announce the guy. I think our football team has great trust in all three of those guys—the way they’ve competed, continued growing and gotten better. When we’re ready to name a guy, we will.”

On if there is a particular area on the team that has grown a lot since the spring…

“The first one would be our linebackers, with who we had, the number of bodies or lack of bodies that we had at that position during the course of spring ball. Getting a couple of guys back healthy off of injuries helps. They’ve come back and competed at a really high level. The additions that we’ve brought into that room and the culture inside of that meeting room is completely different than it had been. Coach B.J. (Brian Jean-Mary) has done a fantastic job of leading those young men. They’ve had real buy-in. Competition has been a huge help in creating that type of culture as well.”

On if any of the tight ends have stood out during preseason camp…

“Our two guys that have been here and have played have done a really good job. Hunter Salmon is a young guy that is continuing to do a really good job. Miles Campbell has done a really good job as well. That’s a position that we’re going to have to continue to cultivate and grow as we go through the season. For the depth part of it, as we lost Austin (Pope), requires us to place more of an emphasis on developing those young guys.”

On how he thinks his players have adapted to the new playbook and formations that the coaching staff has installed…

“Offensively, our kids do grasp what we’re doing. I think during training camp, because you’re constantly installing, you get to game week a week from now and you’ve put in your package—in some ways it becomes easier for them. I think they have a good understanding of what we’re doing. They’ve gotten on the same page with the quarterbacks. They’re handing the tempo portion of it extremely well. They’re handling from the whistle to the next snap in a much better way. That’s a position that we’ve got to continue to develop guys at though as well as we go through the season. JaVonta (Payton), like (Joe) Milton whom we talked about earlier, is a guy who’s only gotten 14 or 15 practices in what we’re doing. He’s a guy who’s really come on here in the last four of five practices, as far as comfort and understanding how we want to play and then being able to play the play.”

If the Vols are still in fall camp mode and how are they going to get ready for the game next Thursday…

“This week is a different combination because we’ll get some scout looks and practice squad looks. We’re trying to anticipate what we might see from our opponent (Bowling Green) on game night. At the same time, I think it’s important to build your football team, so we’ll be ready.”

On how he feels about the depth on the offensive line…

“At that position, we’re thinner there than you would want to be, but I think the guys have grown tremendously, especially the guys in our starting five have started to grow. At that position you’re going to get banged up. The versatility that guys have to be able to move from left side to right side or multiple spots inside helps our team.”

On the depth at wide receiver…

“There is some depth there. We got some young guys who are doing well like JaVonta (Payton) and Jalin Hyatt who were hurt for a portion of spring ball and have started to grasp what we’re doing. I think we can play five or six guys in a game and they all can compete and play at a high level.”

On if freshman Julian Nixon has found a home at tight end…

“I do think this is a home for him. In high school, he played on the outside a lot but he’s fairly new to playing inside the box. He is a smart kid and is learning how to compete consistently. He is a natural pass catcher and he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”

On the flexibility of the defense…

“The defensive backfield, I think there is flexibility there, you have guys that have played multiple positions. We’ve stressed that since we got here. As you go back and look at spring ball, the summer, and this fall training camp, guys have been put in multiple positions. As someone gets nicked up, or you want to change up the matchups during the course of the game week, the flexibility of guys playing multiple positions (is important). At the end of the day, the more you know, the more comfort you have, the more ownership you have. It creates flexibility during the course of the season, too. I like that group. They have a clear understanding of what we’re doing and are able to play the snap as fast as they are. Just one of the things that, when I first got here, having conversations with our players, that was something they struggled with. I think they like what we’re doing with the defensive side of the ball. Being multiple but being able to line up and play football.”

On Brian Maurer’s departure…

“With Brian, we just had a conversation with where we were at, at that point in training camp. Ultimately, he decided that he wanted a different opportunity for his future, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

On a deep running back room…

“We still have a competition at that spot as we go about this week before getting into game prep. That is a room where you are going to end up playing five guys, maybe six, during the course of the season. Even if you aren’t the one or the two that is running out there the first week of the season, continuing to grow and mature (is important). Everything has been earned inside this program from the moment we got here. They’ve competed in a good way, some of them got to continue to grow, but we are going to continue to cultivate that.”

On the traits of a starting quarterback…

“Physically there are a lot of different traits. Some are big, some are small. Some are freaky fast, some have a big, strong arm, some are great anticipation throwers. At the end of the day, I think competitive spirit is the number one thing they’ve got to have. They’ve got to be wired in a way that they’re going to compete, in the building when they are with their teammates, or by themselves, every day. I think that leads to a leadership trait, too, in that 10 other guys, but ultimately 120 on the football team really buy into you and that starts with your work habits. The guys competing for the job here have all done that in a really positive way. There are similar traits between all of them, but there are some differences too. At the end of the day, as the head coach and as a staff you have to trust that guy with the ball. He’s going to be your lead decision maker and he’s got to be sound at what he does.”

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