Quotes: Vols Aim To Finish Memorable Season Strong In Friday’s Orange Bowl

Quotes: Vols Aim To Finish Memorable Season Strong In Friday’s Orange Bowl

MIAMI  Before the No. 6 Volunteers headed to Barry University for the second day of on-site bowl practice, defensive coordinator Tim Banks and select defensive players met with members of the media Tuesday morning at the Le Meridien Dania Fort Lauderdale to preview Friday’s Capital One Orange Bowl matchup with No. 7 Clemson (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Junior defensive lineman Tyler Baron, senior linebacker Aaron Beasley, redshirt senior defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus, junior defensive lineman Omari Thomas and senior defensive lineman Byron Young joined Banks to participate in Tuesday’s press conference, discussing bowl prep in Miami and how the Vols stack up against the reigning ACC champions.
 

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“We’ve talked a lot about just the opportunity that we have playing a tremendous Clemson team, and we’re really excited about that opportunity,” Banks said. “They’re a little bit different, we’ve never seen them, but at the end of the day it’s still football. The guys are just so excited to be here at the Orange Bowl with the opportunity to play, so it’ll be fun.”
 
Capping off a season of memorable team wins and special individual performances, Tennessee’s defensive representatives emphasized finishing the year on a high note in their comments to media on Tuesday morning.
 
“We’re super excited about the guys who are here,” Banks stated. “Those guys want to finish this thing. We’ve had a tremendous season and to go out on a high note is something that these guys are really hungry to try to achieve. So great opportunity again, and I’m so happy that these guys are here.”
 
Baron spoke to finishing the season strong for Tennessee’s senior class and working to send his departing linemen out with a hard-fought victory.
 
“The guys you spend so much time with – in my room specifically, you have LaTrell (Bumphus) and Byron (Young) – those guys are impeccable young men, and you just want them to win more so as a person than a football player … I think this is going to show how hard we play this week, just how well we want them to go out and the note we want them to finish on.”
 
Transcripts and select quotes from Tuesday’s press conference can be viewed below. 

Orange Bowl Defensive Press Conference | Dec. 27, 2022

Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks

On bowl prep so far…
“So far, it’s been great. The guys have really worked hard. You worry a little bit with the layoff whether those guys will be ready to practice or work at the standard that’s required, but so far, it’s been great. We’ve got really good leadership. Guys are working hard. It was a cold day yesterday, but guys responded the right way, so I’m pleased right now with the direction we’re headed.”
 
On the opportunity to play Clemson in the Orange Bowl…
“Yeah, absolutely. We’ve talked a lot about just the opportunity that we have playing a tremendous Clemson team and we’re really excited about that opportunity. They’re a little bit different, we’ve never seen them, but at the end of the day it’s still football. The guys are just so excited to be here at the Orange Bowl with the opportunity to play, so it’ll be fun.”
 
On different guys having to step up with some players not available for the game…
“You know, it’s kind of been our method all year. It’s been a revolving door at a lot of spots, so to speak, obviously for different circumstances some guys aren’t here, but we’re super excited about the guys who are here. Those guys want to finish this thing. We’ve had a tremendous season and to go out on a high note is something that these guys are really hungry to try to achieve, so great opportunity again, and I’m so happy that these guys are here.”
 
On preparing for the game knowing that LB Jeremy Banks won’t be available…
“I hope so. I guess we’ll find out. I think from a mental perspective we understand what’s going on. It’s not a shock, but at the end of the day the guys have to prepare the right way and so far, they’re doing that. And then obviously, the big test comes Friday night. Again, we wish Jeremy (Banks) nothing but the best. He did so much for the University of Tennessee on the field, but we’re obviously excited about the guys that we have that are ready to play and I’m really believing that they’ll have great games and be ready to go.”
 
On the opportunity for younger players to play on Friday…
“I think a lot of it just depends on how the game unfolds, but our mindset right now is we’re going to put the best players out there to give us the best opportunity to win the game. Those young guys have really come along. And you expect that just with the amount of work that they’ve gotten, not just during bowl prep but the whole season. We’re putting together some packages and I guess you’ll just have to find out Friday night.”
 
On the importance of slowing down Clemson’s run game…
“I think it starts there. Obviously, they brought in a young quarterback, and I thought he did a tremendous job. You can see why they played him, you can see why they had so much confidence in him. I didn’t feel like they missed a beat. Those guys do a great job with their RPO concepts. They have a really strong run game, they do a great job that way. And like I said, the quarterback is extremely athletic. I think he has a strong arm. He’s obviously young (and) he doesn’t have a big body of work, but the reps that you see, you understand that the future is bright for him. Our guys understand that. We understand it’s going to be a great challenge, and like I said, we’re definitely looking forward to it.”
 
On preparing for Clemson QB Cade Klubnik…
“It always is. You’ve never seen them. You see the strong arm on tape. He definitely shows some off-schedule type playmaking skills, but until you get in the game and actually see exactly how fast he is (and) how strong he is, you just never know. I can tell you this, he’s definitely got our guys’ attention by what he’s done on tape, and we have a lot of respect for the Clemson program as a whole. We know he’s talented, he wouldn’t be there if he wasn’t and for those guys to put him into the (ACC) championship game and thrust him into that role, we understand the type of confidence that they have in him. We understand that we’re going to have to play our best game to be able to try and control him.
 
“Like I said, to do it in a championship game on that stage obviously shows the confidence that the coaching staff has in him. Now he’s had a whole two weeks, or whatever it’s been, to prepare for the bowl game. I’m sure they’ll have him ready to go, and it’s our job to make sure we’ve got our guys ready to go.”
 
On the progression of defensive freshmen this season…
“I like Elijah. Elijah Herring has played some football for us this season, obviously. We were literally just talking about him, a guy that was an edge guy for the most part coming out of high school. It’s been a learning curve for him, being able to make the transition from outside to inside, but every week he seems to be getting better and better. He’s a big, strong kid. Football’s extremely important to him, so I think the future is bright with him. I think he’s going to have a chance to be able to help this team in a larger role moving forward. We’re obviously happy that he’s here. Kalib Perry has made some strides, another linebacker who played the bulk of his work on special teams. We feel good about the direction he’s heading in. I could really say that about a lot of the guys. Christian Harrison, corner for us out of Atlanta, Georgia, he’s done some really good things for us. Again, he probably got his lion’s share of work on special teams, but when you look at the bowl prep and the confidence he’s starting to show, we think he’s definitely a guy again that will have a bright future.”
 
On early enrollee defensive back John Slaughter
“John is exactly what we thought he would be. Extremely athletic, he’s long, has what I would consider elite ball skills. I think he has a really bright future. Very athletic. Obviously, just like most freshmen, there are some things that he has to get better at, but just the short window that we’ve had him, it’s going to be exciting to watch him develop.”
 
On the foundation being set by the last two defensive signing class…
“For us to go, and not just go, but stay where we want to be, it’s going to start with us building the thing the right way with a great foundation. It’s no mystery that it starts up front for us. The defensive line is always the tip of the spear. We wanted to identify edge rushers that could win one-on-ones, guys that have a natural twitch, and we feel like we’ve found that in our recruiting classes over the last couple years. Once you get that solidified, you want to make sure you have enough guys on the back end that can play one-on-one coverage and make plays in space. And then, you want to find some linebackers that can lead and put the whole thing together. We feel like we have a really strong foundation that we’re building, so it’s exciting.”
 
On what stood out when scouting Keenan Pili as a transfer prospect…
“Great leadership. He’s obviously played a lot of football. He’s a big, strong kid from an athletic perspective that actually has some really good spatial awareness. I think it’ll be a good bridge for some of the younger guys that are getting in, that we think are going to be extremely talented, but you’ll have an older guy who has played a lot of football that seems to be a good leader. He was a captain there at BYU. We’re excited about not only what he brings from a leadership perspective, but obviously a talent perspective as well.”
 
On the potential of linebackers rotating with added personnel…
“That’s the ultimate goal. You want to be able to alternate and roll those guys on all three levels. We obviously play a style of football where we’re going to play extremely fast and you’re always going to play a lot of snaps. For us to play at the level we need to play at, guys need to be able to be as fresh as they can be. We’re able to do that a little more up front. Like you said from the secondary perspective, (we rotated) a little bit because we had to. We’re very much stagnant at the inside linebacker position, and we think moving forward, we will not be. Again, I’m excited about those freshman linebackers we have coming in, and I think the future will be extremely bright.”
 
On what he has seen from the early enrollee linebacker corps in bowl practice…
“Just athleticism (and) twitch. We’re obviously not tackling right now and things of that nature, but just in terms of their overall athleticism, the speed to be able to diagnose the play, get downhill, all the things that we thought we saw in recruiting has really come to fruition based on the small body of work that they’ve had through these couple of days of practice. I think the next piece is obviously the physicality that will come when we get going. These guys haven’t disappointed at all. I think as they continue to get stronger, learn our system, I think again, we’ll have three of the most outstanding, definitely athletic linebackers in the country.”
 
On the process of players declaring for the NFL Draft…
“Definitely. We are part of the puzzle, but there are a lot of people involved and a lot of stakeholders, so to speak. You know, you like to think that when you went to battle with these kids over the last two years for some of them, they value your opinion. Ultimately, you want the best for those guys. So, yeah, we are definitely a part of the puzzle but ultimately it comes down to the kid and his family to make the best decision for them.”
 
On balancing preparations for the bowl and giving the newcomers reps…
“Yeah, it is a balance. I think Coach Heupel has done a tremendous job that way, we obviously had to get our work in, get prepared for the bowl game, but whether it’s on the frontend or the backend or a small time during the course of practice, we made sure that we had a chance to identify and get the young guys in so we could get a closer look at them. Just making sure we are starting our development the right way. It’s been good, it’s been unique, but I think those young guys have shown enough that we are pleased with who we signed and we definitely think the future is bright.”
 
On the roles targeted in the most recent signing class…
“I think for what we signed, and I think we had about 90 percent of those guys in bowl prep, we’ve gotten a lot more athletic in some spots, particularly for the young guys. They got to get stronger and all those things, but the reality of it is the talent is there and it’s no secret how we want to build this defense, we want to build it from the front to the back. Being able to continue to develop edge guys, a couple interior guys, get more athletic, faster – it was a priority for us the last two classes. We feel like we addressed that and with this class in particular it was the linebackers because we feel like we’ve got the corners, we’ve got the guys up front now we needed some guys to quarterback the whole defense, some guys with leadership skills that you need to be successful at that position and obviously just an overall talent. We think those linebackers bring a lot to the table and we think those guys are going to be tremendous for us moving forward.”
 
On Alex Golesh’s hiring at USF…
“Oh it’s awesome. I’ve known Alex (Golesh) for over 10 years and there is not a harder worker in the country. He is a bright mind and I know USF’s got a great one there and he is going to get that program headed in the right direction.”
 
On coaching turnover after the departure of Golesh…
“You always want them to win, just don’t take all of our good coaches. It’s kind of the unwritten rule in the profession. The guys understand who is untouchable and who isn’t. I wish Alex nothing but the best, he will do a tremendous job and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Junior DL/LB Tyler Baron

On finishing the season on a high note for the seniors…
“I mean the guys you spend so much time with, in my room specifically, you got LaTrell (Bumphus) and Byron (Young) – those guys are impeccable young men, and you just want them to win more so as a person than a football player. So, I think this is big in just how we feel about them. I think this is going to show how hard we play this week, just how well we want them to go out and the note we want them to finish on.”
 
On fellow defensive lineman Byron Young
“It just goes to show what type of person he is. Byron is a one-of-a-kind guy on and off the field, so I’m just more than happy for him and his journey. He puts an incredible amount of work into this and an incredible amount of time, so I’m just excited for everybody else to just see how it goes. I’m just really excited for that guy.”
 
On pressuring Clemson QB Cade Klubnik…
“It’s definitely important to put pressure on him. He does a really good job of using his feet. He’s a real slippery guy. But I think he’s growing in how comfortable he is in the pocket, so I think there’s definitely a big future ahead for him. I think we’ve just got to be really disciplined and put him in a lot of tough situations and make him beat us.” 

Senior LB Aaron Beasley

On QB Joe Milton III
“Joe, a great quarterback. Strong arm, can improvise with his legs, very smart. He’s a winner. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. He’s got one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen, and he doesn’t have to do much. Just flick it and it goes 75, 80 yards.”
 
On the key to slowing down Clemson’s offense…
“I feel like the biggest thing they want to do is run the ball. I feel like that’s there M.O., they want to establish the run game. Their quarterback is pretty good, the freshman (Cade Klubnik), he can improvise with his legs. I feel like he’s got a lot of confidence in himself. He’s a winner. But, I feel like they want to establish the run game, so I feel like we got to do a good job of handling that and limiting explosive plays.”
 
On how Clemson’s offense looks different with Cade Klubnik at quarterback…
“I feel like they want to try and take shots. They want to use Klubnik’s legs. Like I said, they still want to run the ball, that’s their M.O. I feel like they want to improvise with Klubnik a little more because he can use his legs and make plays out of nothing. I feel like they want to do a little more with Klubnik.”

Junior DL Omari Thomas

On getting a chance to reflect on the season the team had…
“It’s been good. Really just going back home – the little time I was home right before coming to the bowl game – people just constantly congratulating me and the team just on how happy they were for us. Tennessee fans out, I’d go to a store picking up Christmas gifts (and) people would see us and were so excited for us and just so happy with how the season went for us. It’s been good just to be able to have that feeling and feel like the energy is there again, so it’s been real good.”

On what they learned from last year’s bowl experience and how it’s helped them prepare this year…
“I feel like you have to truly be locked in throughout the week. We understand it’s a bowl, but you have to understand what the main goal is here at the end of the week. We’re coming here to win a game, we’re coming to win a ring and we want to be the ones out there playing in the confetti and all that. That’s something that we just learned about, and just knowing the game ended last year, I know for me it left something in my heart that I just didn’t feel good going throughout the offseason. So, we want to just change that feeling throughout this next offseason and build on this one.”

On this being a preview of what the team could look like next season…
“This is definitely a building block for us, just being able to come out here and show who we are. Like I said, we’ve got a lot of players who have opted out this game to continue their careers and stuff like that. That’s good for them and I’m very happy for them but we still have a job that’s not done that they have helped us get to this year. So, we have to go out here and we have to do what we do and we just have to be able to take this game as a little glimpse of what can be next year and we just have to really look at it that way and be focused and honed in on what we got to do.”

RS-Senior DL LaTrell Bumphus

On what advice he’d give to the newcomers on the team…
“My message would be nowadays you don’t see a lot of people stick around and things like that, and what I would say to them is, college is not going to be easy. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs, but you got to be able to talk to people, you got to be able to pray on things and when things get hard, you can’t run away from it because leaving is not always the best option. You got to think about what’s best for you and if you can sit down and take your time, listen to other people and just be coachable, everything will work out in your favor.”

On what this year has meant to him personally…
“It’s meant a lot. Of course we’ve been winning and stuff but just to be able to see how Tennessee moves – it moves different now that Tennessee football is good again – and I have never been able to see that side of things. It’s just a blessing to be able to see those things and see what we’ve been able to turn around.”

On the challenge of focusing during bowl week…
“Obviously, we’re here in Miami (but) we’re here to play the game at the end of the day. You can go have fun, but you got to know when to turn it off. I think, coming into this week, you can’t get caught up in ‘what am I going to do tonight?’ You just got to come and focus on getting that W.”

Senior DL Byron Young

On why he decided to play in the game…
“Just basically finishing what we started. Being committed to my team and going through everything I said I was going to do. It’s just a hard pill to swallow knowing that this is your last game, so I didn’t want to miss out on it. I wanted to finish it with my brothers, and this is a big week, so I want to be there for them and support them and play my best game.”

On what stands out about Clemson and its offensive line…
“That’s a great o-line. They’re great with movement, can pass block and run block, so you just got to be prepared to play our techniques and be ready.”

On if people counting them out provides extra motivation…
“Oh most definitely. There’s a lot of people doubting us, feeling that this is not the same Tennessee team – and it’s not if you think about it – but at the same time we still got the same mentality and we still want to win, so we still have the same goal to be great and to finish strong.”

-UT Athletics

Vols DC Tim Banks / Credit: UT Athletics

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