Quotes: Vols Utilizing Open Week to Build on Successful Start

Quotes: Vols Utilizing Open Week to Build on Successful Start

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Following its big win over rival Florida in the SEC opener and some well-deserved rest with an open date this week, No. 8/9 Tennessee was back to practice on Wednesday morning.

Head coach Josh Heupel and select players spoke with the media following Wednesday’s session at Haslam Field to recap the memorable victory over the Gators and talk about the team’s goals during the open week.

The offense once again showed why it is one of the best in the country during last Saturday’s win against Florida, racking up 576 total yards and averaging 8.2 yards per play. Making the performance even more impressive was the fact that the Vols were playing without their top receiver in Cedric Tillman.

Heupel was extremely impressed with how the entire offense didn’t skip a beat despite the absence of one of its top weapons.

“Saturday was a great example of this being the greatest team sport there is,” Heupel said. “The next man inevitably is going to have to step up, and we saw that in multiple ways throughout the course of the game.

“Ramel’s (Keyton) catch was a great example, but that’s just one play that he made on Saturday. The greatest tribute you can give to him is, there wasn’t anything that was different about what we did. You can see the trust that Hendon (Hooker) had in him and when the ball went his way, he came away with it and made plays.”

Keyton believes that his big day was the direct effect of all of the hard work and repetitions put in over the offseason.

“Coach Kelsey Pope said I worked for that one,” Keyton said. “The whole offseason we were working, all of the receivers really. We just worked for that. We’ve got to continue to make those plays. We don’t want to be a one-catch guy, we’ve got to be consistent with that. That was the main thing, just coming back and being more consistent with the plays.”

One of the benefits that the open week presents is the chance to develop some of the younger players on the roster and build depth that will inevitably be called upon later in the season.

“Obviously, continuing the development of our young guys, and that’s guys who have played and guys that haven’t,” Heupel said of one of the team’s goals during the open week. “As the season goes on and you get to the back two-thirds of the season, you guys know that you are going to need a bunch of bodies, because you never know who gets nicked up and when.” 

The Vols will be back on the practice field on Thursday morning as they continue their open week work and get a head start on preparation for LSU next Saturday down in Baton Rouge.

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

Head Coach Josh Heupel 

Opening statement… 
“I want to start by congratulating Coach Webb and the golf team for winning a match-play championship yesterday. It was awesome to see their success, and it is great to see a lot of success here on campus by all of our sports teams, so we are excited for them. Obviously, we are on a bye week; got some work today, have an opportunity to heal some guys up and get back to some fundamental work as well, and start turning our attention to LSU a little bit here as the week goes on.” 

On a Cedric Tillman update…   
“Not right now. Obviously, we are a long way away from game time. We are hopeful that he will continue to make progress and be available when we go down there (to LSU).” 

On what he saw defensively versus Florida…  
“Some of it, you have to give (Anthony Richardson) credit, and give (Florida) credit too. He’s a good player and made some plays with his feet and with his arm, too. Some of their max protections, they were able to block it up pretty well and give him time to push the football down the field. There were things that we have to do better, starting with tackling, assignment, understanding. We were not playing with the right angles and technique that maybe allowed him to get outside the pocket. The tackling down the football field at times was not good enough. There were some coverage lapses, too. In what we do, that can be all three levels. It can be obviously in the secondary, but our linebackers, and sometimes when we are dropping our front into coverage, them being in the right spot. It’s a combination of all those things that did not allow us to get off the field enough. We had them in a bunch of second-and-longs and third-and-longs, too, and we have to take advantage of those situations.” 

On the importance of the bye week for reevaluating young players…  
“Some guys that have played for us, maybe not in every ball game up until this point, but have played some, and guys have played every snap that have been a part of what we are doing, and that’s in all three phases—a chance to kind of reset and get back to some fundamentals, which are important and takes you to where you need to be. Obviously, continuing the development of our young guys, and that’s guys who have played and guys that haven’t. As the season goes on and you get to the back two-thirds of the season, you guys know that you are going to need a bunch of bodies, because you never know who gets nicked up and when.” 

On the development of Javontez Spraggins…  
“First of all, he always plays with great energy and passion, and he plays to the echo of the whistle. I love his football energy, excitement and demeanor every single day. He cares in a really, really good way. He has just gotten better, being fundamentally better in pass protection. His growth through spring ball and through training camp has allowed him to play more efficiently in the pass protection world. Obviously, we are going to continue to need that there.” 

On evaluating the offensive line so far this season…  
“It has been really good at times. Obviously, there are a lot of things that we have to do better. There are some things in the protection world that they did a really good job of the other night. There are some things we have to get cleaned up, with everybody in our pass protections. The run game was not as clean as it could have been, but there were some positives in the run game too. That’s kind of a vague answer, isn’t it? I wouldn’t give out a grade of A, B, C, D, or anything like that, but there are some things that they have done at a really high level. We can be more consistent.” 

On the availability of Warren BurrellDee Williams, and Dylan Sampson…  
“We’ll just see where we get to when we get to next week. We are a long way away. That’s the advantage of a bye week, to just see where we’re at.” 

On the defense adjusting to getting back on the field quickly…  
“In real-time, you do not always know what it is. You have TV timeouts and that type of thing. Our kids understand how we are playing; every player on our roster knows and understands what the flow of the game typically is. Offensively, if we are not picking up the first first-down, that can be a quick change and something you do not want to do offensively. You want to go score, and you want to give your defense a little bit of time to make some adjustments on the sideline, too.” 

On an update on Hendon Hooker… 
“He was out here today and he looked good, so we anticipate having no problems.” 

On closing out the game against Florida… 
“Offensively, you want to finish out the four-minute drive when we had the football and be able to be in a position to take a knee and end the game with us on the field offensively. Defensively, we just didn’t do the things that you need to at the end. That’s tight coverages, being able to affect the quarterback and get off the football field. There are some things that we have to do better; we handled the last play the right way. (Byron Young) was able to get some pressure on the quarterback. Obviously special teams, onside kick, you don’t want to give those up. You’re putting yourself in a susceptible position right there. There are things in finishing out the game that we have to do a better job, and that’s our entire football team. It’s not just one player or one unit.” 

On Omari Thomas’s performance and development… 
“He has been probably as consistent as anybody has been in the interior. Continuing to change his body has allowed him to be more explosive, play in a better football position and play with better fundamentals and techniques over the duration of the football game. His continued growth as a leader has been important inside of our defensive line room. He is continually getting better, and doing a better job of snagging off and making plays in the run game and being able to push and affect the pocket and create some big plays there too.” 

On his excitement for the future of Tennessee Athletics… 
“This brand as an athletic department and as a university too, I think this is a great time to be in Knoxville. The passion of our fanbase is obviously felt by our football program, but it is felt by everybody. There is a ton of excitement that surrounds Knoxville, the state of Tennessee, and Vol Nation. That creates an energy that helps us recruit great players, and I’m talking every program. When it’s going good, your logo is in front of everybody all year long, 365 days out of the year. Success breeds success across the board. I think it’s really unique that within our athletic department, you have a close-knit group of coaches that truly care about each other and genuinely are excited when the other one is successful. All of that parlays itself into us continuing to build and being able to chase championships, not just as a football program but as an entire athletic department. It’s a lot of fun. You guys are in here enough, you see student-athletes from every sport when they are walking in here. The energy is different than when I first got here inside of the building. You can feel that, and it is because of the atmosphere that has been created across all sports.”  

On how the offense stepped up against Florida and Ramel Keyton’s performance… 
“Saturday was a great example of this being the greatest team sport there is. The next man inevitably is going to have to step up, and we saw that in multiple ways throughout the course of the game. Ramel’s (Keyton) catch was a great example, but that’s just one play that he made on Saturday. The greatest tribute you can give to him is, there wasn’t anything that was different about what we did. You can see the trust that Hendon (Hooker) had in him and when the ball went his way, he came away with it and made plays. On the catch, but then after the catch too. His play down the sideline was a huge turning point in the football game. It allowed us to be aggressive in the two-minute situation and go get points. We were able to flip the scoreboard there with the 14-point swing.” 

On the secondary tightening up coverage… 
“It’s just being a little bit better in fundamentals, technique, having their eyes in the right place and understanding situational football. Its things that they can and will do here as we continue to move.” 

On Joshua Josephs and Tyre West… 
“I thought they played really well – gap integrity in the run game and being able to affect the quarterback in some of the passing situations. Tyre (West) had some tackles that were behind the line of scrimmage. I think those guys are going to continue to grow here as we go. We’re deeper and able to play more guys who are able to play harder for longer and play at a higher level. Those two guys’ continued growth here is something I’m really excited about seeing here on the back two-third of the season.” 

On Hendon Hooker’s progression from last year… 
“There is still room for him to grow. He would say and echo the same thing. It’s awesome that we can see the growth of him, but you guys can see it too. This game is really hard. Playing that position is really hard. The decisions you have to make, the ability to do that in the run game, the pass game, the way he is using his feet. Sometimes it looks easy because we are playing at a really high level. It is not easy, and he is just in so much command of what we are doing. He understands the why behind everything, and that is a big part of it.” 

On guys making mistakes early in games then making big plays later… 
“One, I think it does show trust by our entire coaching staff, because they earn that trust. Two, I think it is a mentality attitude to have the ability to reset, and I think that speaks to some of the growth inside our program and the growth of our players individually, that they have the ability to reset. This game is going to have a bunch of ups and downs in it, and it isn’t going to be perfect. Our players have understood that and have been able to reset and go compete. The look in their eye on Saturday when it wasn’t going well or against Pittsburgh, it doesn’t waver. It doesn’t change, and that speaks to some of the maturity of our football team.”  

On early observations of LSU… 
“They’re long, they’re athletic. Defensively, multiple in what they do. Offensively, they have some skill players that can affect the game. It’s a good football team.”  

Senior DL/LB Roman Harrison 

On having numerous contributors on the defensive line…  
“Well, the thing is depth. That is something that I feel like we have struggled with the past couple of years and with the depth that we have now, there is just more energy for each player that comes in. Not everyone is too tired to play a drive or play half of a drive, whichever. So, the energy is up for all of us coming in and we are ready and excited to play, so that is pretty much what it is.” 

On how it feels watching the offense get into a rhythm… 
“It is really amazing to see, I mean, we see it pretty much all the time because we have good-on-good (in practice). But to see them go out there and execute in the way that they do, it has you in awe. To see Hendon Hooker out there running the ball, juking people, or to see Bru McCoy out there, or Cedric Tillman or Jalin Hyatt. It is a plethora of weapons that they have and they utilize them very, very well. So, it is very fun to look at, just like we are fans for them, too.”

On Coach Rodney Garner‘s toughness in preparation in execution, but connectedness with his unit…
“I feel like that is what he is tough on us for. He wants us to win games, so he stays tough on us so we don’t get a big head. He wants us to play the game well, technically, physically and mentally so that’s why he stays tough on us in practice, or even throughout the game, because he doesn’t want us to let that slip away. It shows that after the game, the way that he celebrated, that’s where his joy in coaching comes from. Seeing how he coaches and what it does for us and the whole team.” 

Redshirt-Sophomore DL Bryson Eason

On playing lots of individuals up front and the growth in his game the last six months…
“I feel like it is very important because the d-line position is a very physical position. You know, you got to keep guys healthy, got to keep guys having wind, so for us to have a good number of guys to rotate and keep everyone fresh and producing is a great thing. Me personally, I feel like the guys in my room, the guys on the defensive unit we all keep each other going, all motivate each other. You know, very positive when something does not go our way. Me personally, I feel like it is the guys around me, the coaches, everybody that is around us in this building that help me build confidence and allows me to be who I am and grow into the player they know I can be.”

On how the Florida game gave him confidence and what he has to do going forward…
“It gives me a lot of confidence. It feels good just to know he trusts me to put me in that situation. Confidence wise, I just want to continue to get better. This position is kind of new for me, but just to keep getting better and learn all the techniques. Play vertical, play fast and just play for the guys on the field is really what it is all about for me.”

On if anything has been harder or surprised him these last 4 games…
“What surprised me is how physical I am personally. I thought it was going to be a little more banging, more rough and tough on the inside, playing against the guards and center, things like that. Personally, I feel like I have been handling it well and holding my own. That is really what I take pride in, holding my own. I am playing for the Power T and playing for my brothers next to me. You know what I am saying, giving my best foot forward.”

Junior OL Javontez Spraggins

On his first impression of Tennessee…
“From the start when I arrived on campus, I came out during a high school football camp and I had just received a good amount of offers from a big camp, so I came out here with a 7-on-7 team. I just did a workout in front of the coach and at that moment, he offered me a scholarship. I took notice of the University and everything, the history that came with it. I knew at that time that I had guys here already in the system that supported me as a player and as a person beyond the football field. So, I knew I would be taken care of in that sense. From that point I just knew, hey I’m coming somewhere to play ball you have got to make a decision now. I never waivered.”

On his development and improvement on the line…
“I am really grateful to be able to play football because it is not a long-lasting game forever for some people. Just me every day knowing if I do the little things that it will put me in a better position. That is where my head is at. Every other day when I’m not on that football field on Saturdays or whatever the case may be. I just sit up there and think what can I do to be better, what can I do to be an inch further than everybody else? The little things that I can do to make myself be noticed more than others.”

On the goals of the offensive linemen …
“We basically set goals for ourselves as an o-lineman, and I’ll just say a few of them. As an o-linemen we want to be physical, we want to be smart, and we want to attack every day. That has just been our motto from Week 1 up until this point now and we haven’t let up yet.”

On the transition to the quick offensive pace…
“When the coaches first got here it was already set in stone that hey, we are moving the ball up and down the field and we aren’t going to waste time for nobody. It happened fast and we got ahold of it and we have been rolling ever since.” 

Senior WR Ramel Keyton

On his big catch against Florida…
“I watched it a lot. Going through the play – I got a clean release, it was a speed release, I stacked him a little bit. When the ball was in the air, I really wasn’t trying to dive for it. I was trying to run under it, but it saw the flight of the ball was going a little far, so I just stretched out for it. Then, I just lugged it in. I catch a lot of deep balls, like after practice and over the summer, so you can kind of tell the different flights of the ball. Just repping that. Catching the ball and lugging it in, practicing things like that.”

On taking advantage of his time on the field…
“It was a good feeling. I thank God every single day, even when things are going bad. He just made the opportunity for me to showcase what I can do. I had a similar ball like that in Georgia, but during that time period I wasn’t really locked in with God or locked in on the field, so I didn’t make that play. So, I just had to re-adjust and then when the opportunity came this time, I made it. So, I’m thankful for that.”

On what his teammates and coaches said about that catch…
“Coach Kelsey Pope said I worked for that one. The whole offseason we were working, all of the receivers really. We just worked for that. We’ve got to continue to make those plays. We don’t want to be a one-catch guy, we’ve got to be consistent with that. That was the main thing, just coming back and being more consistent with the plays.”

On building trust between Hendon Hooker and himself…
“I’ll say that more last year, we didn’t really work as much – all of the quarterbacks and receivers. But this year, this offseason, everyone was really working together and really putting the time in. It’s just natural for any quarterback to throw to any receiver. It just makes it better.”

-UT Athletics

Vols WR Ramel Keyton / Credit: UT Athletics

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