KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Back-to-back outdoor padded practice days filled with energy, physicality and attentiveness closed the second week of Tennessee spring football with positive momentum under new head coach Josh Heupel.
The Volunteers held their first full pads practice on Tuesday, while wearing shoulder pads Thursday and finishing off the week in full pads on Friday. The squad reviewed the practices in position meetings and ended Friday’s workout – the fifth of the spring – with a live goal line team period featuring first team offense against first team defense.
“At practice today, they competed really hard,” Heupel said. “We went into a third-and-short situation down on the three-yard line, two plays to get the ball into the end zone. Just compete and nothing matters about what happened during the first 22 or 23 periods of practice. It’s all about how you finish at this point. We’re learning how to have a winning mentality. That’s effort, that’s attitude, that’s learning how to be a tough football team.”
Two months at the helm in Knoxville, Heupel also discussed his program philosophy that continues to be forged daily in the building.
“In what we do, it is going to be fast, it’s going to be fun, and most importantly, there are going to be real relationships that are formed. We’re going to be real in who we are, and as recruits see that, they’ll find out that this is a pretty special place to come play football, grow as a football player and grow as a man, more importantly.”
The Vols will take the Easter weekend off before kicking off the first of three week three practices on Tuesday afternoon.
The Chevrolet Orange & White Spring Game is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on April 24 in Neyland Stadium.
Season tickets for the 100th year of Neyland Stadium and the start of the Heupel era are on sale now at AllVols.com. Season tickets start as low as $300, with the Vol Pass and payment plan options offered. Fans can experience the Neyland Stadium 3D map to select tickets based on preference. Fans with questions related to seats, views and options can utilize the live “CHAT” feature on AllVols.com.
Head Coach Josh Heupel
April 2, 2021
“It was an awesome day out there. The sunshine came out. We had a ton of energy and it was fun to get out on the practice field again. We’re five days in, and it’s been awesome just getting around our players. They’ve learned a ton, and we’ve learned a ton about how to compete on the level we want to, how to bring the right amount of energy out to practice and the expectations. Guys are flying around and competing hard, but I think having a tremendous amount of fun too. We’re having to grow and build together as a football team.”
On any wide receivers standing out so far …
“I think we’re going to continue to grow and develop depth out there. Cedric Tillman has done a fantastic job of just being really purposeful in his work habits on the practice field. He’s playing faster as he’s getting more comfortable from day one to day five. Velus Jones (Jr.) has done a tremendous job. He’s a really strong competitor and brings a great amount of leadership to that wide receiver group every day in the meeting rooms, and that’s transitioned onto the practice field as well. Jimmy Calloway is having a good spring and a good start here. He’s a guy that is learning how to play with technique and with what we’re asking him to do. He’s getting better every day, but has the opportunity to extend the field and really make some plays down the field. I would never use the word ‘satisfied’ or ‘completely happy’ with any position when you’re five days into spring ball, but I like the purpose that those guys are playing with, and they’re starting to trust in what we’re doing. They’re starting to play with better technique which will give them the opportunity to go win down the football field. They’ve created some big plays in the passing game.”
On offensive lineman Dayne Davis’ role …
“He’s been rock solid since we’ve gotten here in the way that he competes, his attention to detail and how he competes out on the practice field. Those guys get graded every day, and the rotation up front in practice one was based off of how they graded out in everything that they were doing every day leading up to spring ball. Now, you get graded every day in practice. Based on that, that kind of sets the rotation as far as whether you’re playing with the ones, the twos or threes for the day. These guys compete really hard. Up front we have some flexibility with some of the guys that can play left, play right—they’ve had some experience doing that. The biggest thing to me is just our players learning how to play from snap to the echo of the whistle. There’s a lot of different teams you can use, but at the end of the day it’s about your effort. We use the word ‘attack’ here inside of our program and our kids are learning to do that. He’s been a guy that’s really consistent in the way he plays from snap to whistle.”
On what he has learned about his team physically through five practices …
“I’ll start not with the physical side of it, but with their attentiveness, their ability to be coached. They’re willing to take that coaching and try to implement it into the game, try not to make the same mistake twice. At practice today, they competed really hard. We went into a third-and-short situation down on the three-yard line, two plays to get the ball into the end zone. Just compete, nothing matters about what happened during the first 22 or 23 periods of practice. It’s all about how you finish at this point. We’re learning how to have a winning mentality. That’s effort, that’s attitude, that’s learning how to be a tough football team. There’s a drill that we did in day three, we call it ‘the Vol Drill,” that’s really about putting your face on somebody, getting your face in the right place, being able to run your feet on offense and defensively, shed and make a play. Day three was not anywhere near meeting the level of standard or expectation. Day five, we repeat the drill and there was a whole lot more energy, a whole lot more toughness. Our attitude was in a better spot, and we got a whole lot better. I think you have to gain in the inches every single day and it starts with our guys’ ability to be coachable, to have some of those winning attributes, the way they’re going to communicate with each other. We’re growing in that, learning how to shed some losing habits and gain some winning habits. Along those lines though, the physicality, our guys are growing in that every day. Day one in pads, not anywhere near where we need to be, but today we got out there full pads, second time we have been in that and guys competed and you heard pads popping at a whole different level than the first time we jumped into that.”
On his recruiting pitch on why Tennessee …
“It’s about developing relationships. It’s about pouring into kids. There is no substitute for that. In some ways, we’re a little bit behind schedule with the timing of when we got hired. The nature of that and then some of the questions surrounding our program. Our coaches have been working on that relationship building with those players. At the end of the day, this is one of the greatest traditions in college football, and we get to put a completely new-age approach on it. That’s the way we interact with our players, the energy we have in our building every day and who and what we’re going to be out on the football field. It’s going to be a place that guys can be able compete at the highest level, have a great attitude and are going to have fun inside of our building. I don’t care if that’s in the strength and conditioning area or the way we practice. In what we do, it is going to be fast, it’s going to be fun and most importantly, there are going to be real relationships that are formed. We’re going to be real in who we are, and as recruits see that, they’ll find out that this is a pretty special place to come play football, grow as a football player and grow as a man, more importantly. As we continue to go through this recruiting cycle, I think recruits are going to see that.”
On his offense being a wide receiver’s dream …
“I think for us, the ability to play with tempo, for those guys to be put in a position where we’re going to try to find ways to isolate them in a one-on-one position and then give them the tools to go win. I think at the end of the day, as a wideout, that’s what you’re looking for. The tempo we play, the number of snaps we get, the number of ball in hand opportunities that our skill players have, I think you put all of that together, plus the energy with which we play on game day and even on the practice field, I think it is a really unique offense for skill players and wide receivers to play in, and something they can absolutely flourish in.”
“Those two guys are fighting their butt off to get back at 100 percent. They’ve done a tremendous job just in the rehab process and have transitioned more into the strength and conditioning side of it, getting their bodies right and continuing to come back. They’ve done a great job in the meetings, sat in on a couple with the linebackers. Their attentive. They care. They’re pushing hard to get back and be ready to take a bunch of ownership and take a bunch of snaps at the linebacker position. Those guys are going to be allowed to do more and more as we go through spring ball, but don’t think any of them will be in full contact situations.”
On how well the staff is meshing together at this point, since working together for such a short period of time …
“Yeah, some truth in that, what you’re saying for sure. But, I think there is actually more connectedness than people probably realize. We got a group of guys that came with me from Orlando and have great trust in each other and the process and knowing the expectations and standards that I’ve set in how we’re going to operate. You’ve got a few guys that were not together on the defensive side of the football, but there is a connective piece between those guys. They’ve worked with each other at different stops, and Coach (Tim) Banks is a tremendous leader and has a great vision of what he wants to do. I think he’s building defensively, just the communication, the system gives us some flexibility. Building it the right way has a tremendous amount of buy-in and trust from the guys that are in that defensive staff room with him. I think our players have fed off of the energy and chemistry from the staff as well. Everyone’s in sync, communicating the same way and their standards and expectations are clearly defined and are coaching in a positive way. Coach hard, hold our players feet to the fire, hold them accountable, but at the same time we could go out and communicate in a way that’s positive and creates energy as well. I think that’s why the practice field has been the way that it has been.”
On how these quarterbacks are in the process of learning the system …
“Are they perfect in their communication and decision making? No, we don’t expect them to be. They won’t be perfect by the time we get to kickoff next fall. You’re never perfect in that journey. You could be a 12-year NFL Hall of Fame career guy, and you’re still training to get better at something every single day. Our guys are competing really hard, and I think they’ve been phenomenal in the meeting room. Their attentiveness to the details I think has in a sense of urgency within that has really increased over the last two to three practices. You coach some things before you get to the field. Once you get on the field, I think the understanding of the ‘why’ those things are important become even clearer for them. Their urgency in that has gone up. I think they’ve been really good. They’ve made a bunch of plays in the pass game, and they’ve had a bunch of things that haven’t gone their way either. They’ve tried to learn from it. They’ve been able to give great energy to the guys around them. They’re learning how to have winning habits. That’s on the field, that’s in the meeting room, and that’s in what they’re doing every single day. The group together has been really positive with each other while they’re competing with each other, too. We’ve got a long way to go, but the group is pushing to get there and they’ve been good to work with.”