Quotes: #11 Vols Locking In on Both Sides of the Ball for SEC East Showdown vs. Rival Gators

Quotes: #11 Vols Locking In on Both Sides of the Ball for SEC East Showdown vs. Rival Gators

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 11/12 Tennessee was back on the practice field Tuesday morning in preparation for its SEC opener on Saturday afternoon against No. 20/22 Florida at Neyland Stadium.

Assistant coaches Brian Jean-Mary (linebackers) and Jerry Mack (running backs) took to the podium on Tuesday to preview this weekend’s SEC East showdown with the Gators.

A focal point for the Vols defensively this week will be containing Florida’s dynamic quarterback, Anthony Richardson, who has shown the ability to be effective with both his arm and his legs.

“He’s a great athlete, and not just a guy who runs fast,” Jean-Mary said of Richardson. “He can make moves in space and has a live arm as a quarterback. He’s the total package … You see the athletic ability pop off the screen in certain plays. He’s going to be a big-time challenge for us.”

 UT’s experienced and deeper linebacker group will play a major part in trying to slow down Richardson and the Gators’ offense.

“When you get to a program, and you build it the way we want to have it built, every week should be a fight to see who’s going to be a starter,” Jean-Mary said. “No one is going to stand out over another one.

“We look at it like we have three starters. For us to be successful, all three of those guys are going to have to play like starters. We don’t look at it any different when either guy is on the field. We’re going to play like we have three starters on the field.” 

One the other side of the ball, Tennessee knows it will need to be balanced offensively this week in order to find success against a stout Florida defense. After seeing the success that South Florida had on the ground against UF last weekend, Mack knows it’ll be important for the Big Orange to establish the ground game early and often.

“You can see we took a step last week against Akron, just for the simple fact we got different bodies involved, different people involved,” Mack said in regard to the run game’s improvement through three game this season. “You saw a glimpse of Dylan Sampson in the game, Jaylen Wright did some good things, so I think it is just kind of a work in progress. We have done a really good job of improving in the pass [protection] aspect of it, but we have to continue to do a good job of being pad plus two, not fumbling the ball, not turning the ball over.”

Saturday’s sold-out contest is set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on CBS. ESPN’s College GameDay will also be live on campus at Ayres Hall on Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon ET.

Transcripts and player quotes from Tuesday’s media availabilities can be seen below.
 

Linebackers Coach Brian Jean-Mary  

On Juwan Mitchell’s performance Saturday… 
“For someone who hasn’t played in a full calendar year in live action, I thought he did a really good job of getting lined up and getting the defense aligned as far of the rest of the eleven guys. The communication part, which is what we were a little nervous about, we thought he did a great job. Made some plays, a little out of control at times, but we were pleased and think the best is yet to come. For his first game (this year), I thought he did a really good job.” 

On his opinion of Elijah Herring’s performance after watching film… 
“Elijah is super talented. As a freshman, he made two really big-time plays, and if you ask him, he probably got a minus on both of them because it wasn’t exactly the way we wanted it to work. But the great part about guys that are aggressive, play with a bunch of energy and play fast, they can overcome mistakes. That’s where Elijah is right now. We said from the beginning we think he has a really bright future, and I’m glad he was able to go out there. Even working through some of the mistakes that he does make, he does play fast. He’s been productive in all three games that he’s played in, so we have been very, very excited about him.” 

On what Jeremy Banks is doing better this year… 
“I think that is playing under control. He is letting the game come to him a little more. I think Jeremy in the past was see it and read on the run, and sometimes that got him in trouble when you’re blessed with the athletic ability that he has, to maybe overrun the football or get out of position. I think he’s done a much better job of reading, reacting and putting himself in a position to make more plays. Jeremy playing under control is one of the best linebackers in the conference, and I think he has done that for the most part these first three games.” 

On what makes Florida QB Anthony Richardson dangerous outside the pocket… 
“Last year, I think his GPS got to a 23 (miles per hour), so that would make anybody pretty dangerous. Great athlete, and not just a guy that runs fast. He can make moves in space and has a live arm as a quarterback, so you have to respect his throwing ability. He’s the total package. I know when he gets in space, there are some designed runs for him. He’s a threat along with their other three very talented running backs. He just adds to it. You see the athletic ability pop off the screen in certain plays. He’s going to be a big-time challenge for us.” 

On assessing his linebackers in pass coverage… 
“I think we have gotten better. Obviously, still not perfect. I feel like we left some plays out there especially in our zone concept. We had a chance to get our hands on some balls and maybe even take some the other way. In the Pitt game, we were actually in good coverage and actually got our hands on some balls and did not finish the play, so I think it’s still a work in progress. We are multiple, so we ask our linebackers to be in different spots on the field in our zone coverages. I think we are getting there, but we would just like to see the production increase, especially with the underneath coverage in our zones.” 

On Aaron Beasley’s commitment leading him to being so successful… 
“I think Aaron has always been a committed player and I think for the most part, 99.9 percent of the team is showing higher levels of commitment. I always tell those guys, ‘If I’m the smartest guy in the room and I’m the only one that can make the adjustments, we are in trouble.’ Aaron comes in there, Pakk (Kwauze Garland) comes in all the time, Elijah Herring, even Jeremy (Banks) and Juwan (Mitchell), they’ll come in if they have questions. Aaron has just taken it to another level just because he knew about some of the struggles he had last year, and he has made more of a commitment to becoming a better football player all the way around. You can see that by the way he has played in these first three games.” 

On his evaluation of Kalib Perry… 
“Kalib is still learning to play the position, like we talked about earlier. He was kind of a jack of all trades coming out of high school playing quarterback, receiver, DB. He’s still learning how to play linebacker. Even in the process of learning how to play linebacker, you see the production. He just kind of finds the football, which is a skill obviously that you can’t always teach. He kind of finds the football on his own even though it’s not always the right way. He has been productive in getting to the football, and I think he’s another one, big athletic kid. When you talk about guys that can run, jump, change direction, he has the total package. Obviously as coaches, we want him to be the finished product yesterday, but we understand it’s going to be a work in progress. We’re happy with where he is right now. We think he is another kid that has a chance to be a really good football player.” 

On how you simulate a mobile quarterback in practice… 
“Obviously, I think (Anthony) Richardson kind of stands alone when it comes to athleticism as far as the quarterback position. I thought (DJ Irons) last week, when you watch him on tape, he came in as a dual-threat quarterback and actually had some positive runs versus Michigan State the previous week. We actually practiced a lot of quarterback run going into that game. We actually are bringing some of the same defenses that we ran in that previous game. We were able to rep them for Akron. Obviously, he did not run the ball a lot, whether it was due to injury or whatever. He was more in a drop back phase, didn’t pull the ball as much, but we were prepared for it. I just bring that up to say with the talent (Anthony) Richardson has, we actually feel like we’re a week ahead as far as actual quarterback running game. Obviously, he’s a different animal, but some of the defenses and some of the fits we’ve prepared for.” 

On his evaluation of the linebacker group outside of the tackle box… 
“As far as the linebackers and how they’ve played outside on the perimeter, I think we’ve done a good job. With offenses now and the spread, the way that it challenges you from sideline to sideline. All those guys are going to have to make plays outside the box. I think we’ve done a good job playing off blocks and tackling in space. Obviously, it’s never going to be perfect, but I think we like where we’re at right now.” 

On the dynamic between starting linebackers Jeremy BanksAaron Beasley and Juwan Mitchell… 
“They’re all mature. When you get to a program, and you build it the way we want to have it built, every week should be a fight to see who’s going to be a starter. No one is going to stand out over another one. We look at it like we have three starters. We treat Aaron (Beasley) like he’s a starter, I think he’s earned that with some of the play that he’s had in these first three weeks. Juwan (Mitchell) was the starter coming out of camp, so we wanted to make sure he got right back in the mix. For us to be successful, all three of those guys are going to have to play like starters. We don’t look at it any different when either guy is on the field. Everybody wants to start. Everybody wants to play every snap. You want that type of competitiveness, and you want that kind of fire. Obviously they can’t, so we go about it that way. We’re going to play like we have three starters on the field.” 

On sensing if the team wants to earn more success… 
“The success is always measured by who’s the one saying you’re successful. We’re 3-0, I think we all thought we would be at that point when we first started the schedule. And now that we’re going into SEC play, we would hope the whole team has that mindset. We’ve proven a lot, we’re 3-0, but our number one goal is to try to win the SEC. You can’t do that without going through the SEC schedule. You know, we have our first opportunity now, so I would think the whole team has got that same fire in their belly. We started the way we thought we were going to, but now we have to make sure we’re even hungrier to go into this SEC slate, to go out there and try to get victories every week.” 
 

Running Backs Coach Jerry Mack  

On the health of the running back group… 
“Right now, we are all available and ready for practice. Everybody was out there today, full-speed and full-go, guys looked really good. A couple of them, we just have to be smart with how we rep them. Some of those injuries and things that happened in the game, just bumps and bruises, wear and tear throughout the course of the game.”  

On how they balance the workload with the running backs…   
“We have been through this battle before, as far as rotating guys, making sure we do a great job of prepping guys throughout the week. A big part of that is how we go about prepping them as far as in the meetings and on the practice field. We have to be smart. We cannot wear their bodies down just because we have a body or two not available at some practices. We have a good plan, and we kind of have some precedents from last year.”  

On Jaylen Wright’s performance against Akron…  
“Jaylen has done a really good job of trying to change his running style from being a true freshman last year. We talk a lot about vertical runs, getting the ball more downhill, and being a lot more successful doing that. You can see he was trying to be a lot more physical running the football, breaking more tackles, things that you did not really see from last year for two reasons. One, because of his youth coming to games. Two, just from a standpoint of he did not know, was playing like a high schooler at times. This year, he went through spring, had a little spell during fall camp, but we talked about a lot of things as far as playing underneath your pads and playing behind your pads. That is one of the things he has to get better at as he moves forward and continues to grow at the running back position. But for the most part, [I] really saw a violent guy trying to break tackles, trying to be more physical with the ball in his hand.”  

On how he would assess the running game through the first three games…  
“[It is] a work in progress, continuing to improve every single day. You can see we took a step last week against Akron, just for the simple fact we got different bodies involved, different people involved. You saw a glimpse of Dylan Sampson in the game, Jaylen Wright did some good things, so I think it is just kind of a work in progress. We have done a really good job of improving in the pass [protection] aspect of it, but we have to continue to do a good job of being pad plus two, not fumbling the ball, not turning the ball over. We did not turn the ball over at all last week, which is really good for us.”  

On his confidence level in the running backs compared to the beginning of the season…  
“[I am] probably more confident, because now we have gotten the chance to see an older Jaylen Wright have some success on the field. He has had some games where he has had some long runs. He has a couple of touchdowns under his belt. This time last season, we were not at that point. We were not at a situation where we felt really comfortable putting him in the game, and we were not comfortable with some of the things we asked him to do. We tried to limit and minimize the playbook to put him in the best situation, but now, I think he has everything at him. He has the entire playbook under his belt. Obviously, I wish we could have seen a little of more of Jabari [Small] last week. We were really excited about seeing him have that breakout game this year, but I told him just to be patient because it is on the way. We have total confidence in what he can do, and he has continued to practice well.” 

On how South Florida had success running the ball against Florida last week…  
“First of all, South Florida did a really good job from a formation standpoint, we thought. Shifting, motioning and trying to create some leverage and create some different gaps on that defense versus Florida. The other thing is the quarterback ran the ball extremely well. That was a big part of their success. The quarterback was able to have success running the ball, whether it was designed runs or whether he scrambled. I think, for us, that is not always a part [of our offense]. We try to do a good job of attacking that defense however we see fit, depending on what our personnel looks like and how healthy people are. Just from [South Florida’s] standpoint, I thought the shifts, the motions, the treys, and also the quarterback run game gave them a chance to be really successful.”  

On if Dylan Sampson has earned his trust to play in a big game…  
“He definitely has. [It is] not only what he does on the practice field [but] how he carries himself in the building. I think all of those things play a big part in when you decide to give a guy the football. He has our entire livelihood in his hands when he carries the football, and we trust Dylan 100 percent to step on the field and execute whatever assignment we have, whether that be running the ball or blocking at the best of his ability.”  

On the importance of the Florida rivalry…  
“I grew up watching Peyton Manning try to beat [Steve Spurrier] all the time, so from a young age, I understand how important this is. When I was growing up, Florida and Tennessee were the top teams in the [SEC] East, and they would battle back and forth every single year. So, walking in the door, I always understood how important this rivalry was.”  

On how much Jabari Small was able to practice today…  
“He was able to do everything. He finished the entire practice, 21 or 22 periods. He did every part of practice. We did not have to limit him from a standpoint of his health, it was more of us being smart with the workload. That is no different than what we normally do during the course of the week. We are always monitoring those guys, working with our GPS system that we have on those guys to make sure that we are not overworking them so they can be prepared. It was a little hotter than normal and more than we probably expected at practice, so just making sure body maintenance, post-practice and before meetings and things like that, they do a good job of getting in the cold tub and getting in the treatment room and doing those types of things. From a standpoint of how we monitor, it is no different than what we have been.”  

On Justin Williams-Thomas and the progress he has made…  
“Justin is coming along. He is doing a good job. He got some playing time last week and got a couple of carries. I think he had one run in a third-and-short situation, and he kept his feet driving on contact and was able to create seven yards as opposed to just one yard. Those are some of the things that we continue to talk to him about, just being a violent runner with the ball in his hands, the authority that he has to hold with. He is in a reserve role right now, but he always knows that his number could be called at any given time. You see how fast we end up getting down the depth chart a little bit in the game against Akron, same situation could happen each and every week, so all of those guys have to be ready and prepared to play no matter what.”
 

Junior DL/LB Tyler Baron 

On why it is so difficult stay in pass rush lanes when facing a mobile QB such as Anthony Richardson…  
“It’s just us really being conscious and making a consistent effort of keeping him in the pocket. Gap integrity is so important. Say the outside rushers get high and the inside is not on the same level, you create seams. We just have to do a good job at staying in unison and make sure we keep him corralled this week.” 

On what the rivalry game means to him being from Tennessee…  
“To be honest with you, I look at it like every other week.”  

On his feelings coming into this week in terms of pressure created by the defensive line.. 
“I think that we are doing a good job up front, as well as everybody in the front seven. Just creating edges and getting in the backfield. We’re just going to continue to be us and continue to do what we do, and nothing more really.”  

On his excitement to play another big game and try to build off the successful start to the season… 
“For me, I’m really excited just to give my team the best chance to win. That’s all I’m really concerned about. However, I get that done, however we get that done as a unit, we just want to win and come out on the best side.” 
 

Senior DB Trevon Flowers 

On the problems presented by mobile quarterbacks such as Anthony Richardson … 
“Being able to contain him. Keep him in the pocket. Good scramble drills. Just kind of being disciplined and not missing our gaps and playing for quarterback run as well. Knowing that he is a great athlete, and able to move and run. Understanding that there is kind of like two running backs back there. You cannot just all bait on the one running back, you have a quarterback that can run as well. Being able to play disciplined and fit our gaps.” 

On the improvement of disguising coverages in the secondary… 
“Tremendously. That’s what we’ve worked on all season. If you watch the film, that gives the rush a couple more seconds to get there. Allowing us to make plays in the backfield, a lot of coverage sacks, a lot of things like that to get off the field. A lot of quarterbacks, once their first read goes away, they kind of have to look for their next option. By that time, hopefully the rush is getting there. Disguising is huge in any game, so that’s definitely one of the biggest things we’ve worked on.” 

On watching all the levels of the defense come together… 
“It is amazing, but we know what we put into it all off-season. We know how hard we have been working. The culture we have set, the details, how hard we have pushed each other. We prepare for it. We work for it, so that’s what we are going to get out of it.” 

On facing Florida’s receivers… 
“We’re in the SEC. They have good athletes, of course. Almost every team does. We have to go in there like they’re the best receivers in the world. They’re fast, they’re strong, they can play football. We just have to be the more physical team and play smart.”

-UT Athletics

Vols LB Juwan MiItchell / Credit: UT Athletics

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