Transcript: Mike Ekeler Talks Spring Ball, Vols Prepare For Saturday Scrimmage

Vols STC/LB coach Mike Ekeler / Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football wrapped up its 10th practice of the spring on Thursday evening as the Volunteers prepare to hold their second scrimmage on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.

This Saturday’s scrimmage is closed to the public. First-year Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel leads his squad into the Chevrolet Orange & White Game at 4 p.m. ET on April 24 in Neyland Stadium. Admission is free.

Ekeler, who returns to the SEC this season, discussed his outside linebackers and special teams units with members of the media following Thursday’s practice. The Vols return senior punter and kickoff specialist Paxton Brooks, who averaged 43.6 yards per punt last fall.

“From our placekickers, we have a really good battle going right now,” Ekeler said. “Then you have Paxton (Brooks) from a punting perspective the other day he was just banging them out there. I think on six punts, he was averaging about 55 yards, and he’s putting them right exactly where we want them. I’m pleased with it every day those guys are coming to work and working on their craft.”

Junior college outside linebacker Byron Young continues to impress in practice alongside sophomore Bryson Eason.

“(Byron Young) has really made a ton of improvement,” Ekeler said. “He’s got some speed off the edge that you’re looking for. Bryson Eason has more power, and he’s done a great job. Those guys pack their lunch pail every single day. They have got an unbelievable attitude and the bottom line is they love ball. Every single day, they raise their game.”

Season tickets for the 100th year of Neyland Stadium and the start of the Josh 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.

Special Teams Coordinator and Outside Linebackers Coach Mike Ekeler
April 15, 2021

On his OLB group …

“(Byron Young) has really made a ton of improvement. He’s got some speed off the edge that you’re looking for. Bryson Eason has more power, and he’s done a great job. Those guys pack their lunch pail every single day. They have gotten better every single day. They have got an unbelievable attitude and the bottom line is they love ball. Every single day, they raise their game. Those two guys I have been really, really pleased with.”

On the momentum and productivity …

“Again, what I’m noticing right now is that we have a bunch of guys that love to play. They believe in what coach (Tim) Banks is doing defensively, and they’re flying around and getting used to the tempo of our offense. Our offense, they play faster than heck now. It’s a process of putting in a new defense and then playing with that sort of tempo, you have to make split-second decisions and those guys are understanding now they have to beat them back to the ball. They have to get the call. They have a second to process what their responsibility is and then they go execute. Again, it’s been a process, but every single day we’ve seen these guys take steps forward. Every single day they just love to go out there. They’d practice every day if we’d let them.”

On the returners and the return game …

“Well, it’s kind of funny I’ve been joking around with coach (Kodi) Burns, who’s coaching our returners. The other day we had 119 catches of punts. It was rapid fire out there. I told him that’s pretty disappointing we didn’t get 120. Come on man.’ We’re evaluating a lot of guys. From a special teams standpoint, spring practice especially when you’re new, all you’re doing is taking every single player on your roster and evaluating their skill set every single day. We’ve got a big spreadsheet, and we literally talk about the six different phases and say, ‘alright Tommy can do this, he’s probably not going to be on this one.’ Marking their skill set, plugging them and putting together the pieces of the puzzle.”

On Byron Young and playing edge …

In that position, it’s really kind of a hybrid position. We will be moving them around a lot of times. Sometimes they’ll be a stacked backer. Sometimes they’ll be out wide in the boundaries. Sometimes they’ll be in the field. They’ll be running all kinds of blitzes, all kinds of stunts. Really the idea is not to let the offense find them. With (Byron Young)’s skill set, he’s got unbelievable speed. The guy is extremely fast and he’s bends really well so he can hit that corner and dip and rip and rub and beat them to the edge. He’s really doing a good job working on his counter moves, and I’m really excited about him. That guy, he really truly every single day just coming out and competing. I love the guy.”

On the kicking game …

“From our placekickers, we have a really good battle going right now. We’ve really looked at everyone and I think Chase (McGrath) today was 5-of-6. Toby (Wilson) is doing a nice job. Then you have Paxton (Brooks) from a punting perspective the other day he was just banging them out there. I think on six punts, he was averaging about 55 yards, and he’s putting them right exactly where we want them. I’m pleased with it every day those guys are coming to work and working on their craft. I think we have a talented group.”

On Bryson Eason …

“He’s got a really, really quick first step. He’s got great short area quickness. He’s extremely tough. He’s really just learning what it’s like to play on the line or play outside linebacker. Every single day, you are seeing big strides from him. He’s getting more and more confidence. It’s been fun to watch him grow and see his confidence level raised every single day.”

On embracing the community and city of Knoxville …

“I don’t mean this as disrespect to everywhere else I’ve been because I have loved every spot I have been, but I absolutely feel like I have died and gone to heaven here now. This place is everything I love. It’s got the mountains. It’s got water everywhere. I tell you what, I can’t wait to get my boat here. I am still looking for a place on the river. I want to ski to work every day. I love this place, great town, unbelievable town. People are so friendly, and I hope to be here a long time. I love it.”

-UT Athletics

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