Banks & Seniors Quotes: Vols Reflect On 2021 Campaign As Senior Day Approaches

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With Tennessee football set to round out its 2021 regular season on Saturday against Vanderbilt, the Vols took Haslam Field Tuesday morning to begin implementing preparations to face the Commodores.
 
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks and three Tennessee super seniors—defensive back Theo Jackson, defensive lineman Matthew Butler and defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay—met with members of the media to preview the in-state rivalry. UT will honor its seniors with a pregame ceremony and looks to send the class out victorious in its final game at Neyland Stadium this season.
 
“These seniors have been tremendous,” Banks said. “Obviously, we’re a new staff coming in. These guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’ve really honestly been a pleasure to work with. We really wish we could get those guys back.

Vols DB Theo Jackson / Credit: UT Athletics

“It’s always special, senior night or senior day. As we tell those guys, football is unique. You’re not playing pick-up tackle football. For some of these guys, this will be the last time they play. If they’re blessed and fortunate enough, they’ll play some more years, but you only get one senior night in college. This thing goes by fast, so we’re going to enjoy it and do everything we can to send those guys out a winner.”
 
Jackson elected to return for a fifth year of eligibility this season and has had his most productive campaign in 2021. The Nashville native has shined on the defensive side of the ball with 69 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 10 pass breakups in his last year of college football. He will make his final run through the T on Saturday and spoke to the emotions surrounding that moment with local media on Tuesday.
 
“Right now, it’s bittersweet,” Jackson said. “I’ve been here for a while. I’ve enjoyed my time but also, I feel like I haven’t done enough still. Running through the T for the last time is going to be fun, but it’s also going to be a little bit of emotion. It will be alright.”
 
Tremblay enters Senior Day with a different perspective, having transferred to Rocky Top for his final year of eligibility after graduating from Southern Cal last year. The defensive end has earned starts in back-to-back games and reflected on his last five months at Tennessee and the impact his teammates and coaches have made on his football career.
 
“I’ve learned so much as a player from a lot of the seniors,” Tremblay said. “A lot of those guys do things the right way. They are great leaders and great players. I feel like I’ve elevated my game by just being around those guys in that room. Coach G (Rodney Garner) too, he’s brought my game to another level.
 
“This is the first time, I would think, in a while where I’ve really felt my growth as a player and been proud of it. I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries the last two years. This is the first year I’ve felt my growth as an individual. A lot of that has to do with a lot of those guys and seeing the right way and how they work.”
 
Tennessee (6-5, 3-4) and Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7) will square off at 3:45 p.m. ET on SEC Network. Tickets are available at AllVols.com.
 
A full transcript from Banks’ media availability can be viewed below, along with select quotes from Jackson, Butler and Tremblay.

Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks

On the defense’s focus in the South Alabama game…
“I was definitely proud of their approach. You talk a lot about one-game mentality, one-snap mentality, and sometimes it just becomes lip service, but I really thought our kids bought into it. They understand that in this day and age, anybody can be beat. Everybody has good players. To have an opportunity to play in Neyland one last time in the evening, or at night, we really wanted to give ourselves the best opportunity to be successful. Those guys did it with their preparation and obviously how well they played on Saturday night.”
 
On how he evaluates junior college or transfer portal prospects in recruiting…
“I would say it’s still the same (as evaluating high school players). Obviously when they’re in high school, you’re projecting. Depending on what year he is with his current university, if it’s year two or year three for him, there are certain expectations in terms of size and weight at that point. We obviously have a particular size metric, and if they fit it, that’s great because you can kind of see them doing it. When they’re in high school, you’ve got to project—will they get big enough, and then will they be able to handle the size difference to be able to still play with speed and pace? Obviously, a guy that’s already done it at the size that you want is super attractive, but so is developing a young kid. It’s kind of either or, to be quite honest with you.”
 
On what this year’s senior class has meant to him in his first season at Tennessee…
“These seniors have been tremendous. Obviously, we’re a new staff coming in. These guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’ve really honestly been a pleasure to work with. We really wish we could get those guys back. It’s always special, senior night or senior day. As we tell those guys, football is unique. You’re not playing pick-up tackle football. For some of these guys, this will be the last time they play. If they’re blessed and fortunate enough, they’ll play some more years, but you only get one senior night in college. This thing goes by fast, so we’re going to enjoy it and do everything we can to send those guys out a winner.”
 
On Theo Jackson’s impressive TFL in the South Alabama game…
“In relation to Theo and the play he made, it’s just Theo being Theo. He’s worked really hard all year, and he’s obviously had a tremendous season for us. He’s shown a lot of grit, a lot of determination, being able to strain and get off the block. One guy’s blocking him, and he’s still able to make that tackle. I wish I could tell you I was surprised, but that’s what he does in practice all the time as well. He’ll be missed.”
 
On the technique he teaches cornerbacks to use when defending the deep ball…
“Everybody’s a little bit different. I guess I can give you layman’s terms. Obviously, if we feel like we’re in phase and have the receiver under control, we want to get our eyes back and be able to play the football. If we feel like we’re losing control and we’re trailing, then at that point you obviously want to play their hands and try to deflect the ball at that point. We talk a lot about having tools within your toolbox, because every play is different. Sometimes you’re in phase and in what we consider an alpha position, sometimes you’re not. But ultimately, if we’re in an alpha position, we want to be able to get our eyes back, and we want to be able to challenge the receiver and make a play on the football.”
 
On the savviness of his defensive unit and how it has developed throughout the season…
“As coaches, you’re never satisfied. It’s always more that we can do to be better, but I think if you’re just comparing where we started and where we’re at, it’s like 10,000 miles ahead of where we were in the spring and obviously in the fall. Am I happy? No, but I understand that these kids have worked extremely hard to put themselves in a position to be the best versions of themselves. I know it’s not lack of effort. I don’t think it’s a lack of detail, in terms of their studying. I just think the more you do it, the better it’ll become. They’ve done that, but we still obviously have work to be done.”
 
On what has led to Theo Jackson blossoming into a playmaker in the secondary…
“I didn’t study these guys last year. I made a conscious effort to just evaluate them based on what we saw during practice and in our daily meetings. All I can tell you, we did the best we could to put him in the positions that we felt would give him a chance to be successful, and all he’s done is answer the bell. He may have a better answer for you, if his preparation was different or his mindset was different, but the Theo that we inherited was a guy that was very much attention to detail, was very much invested in his teammates and making sure he’s bringing it each and every day. That’s why to me, that’s why you saw him play at the level that he’s played at all season.”
 
On what Alontae Taylor has meant to the defensive unit…
“Tae’s been great. Tae will probably be like the President of the United States at some point. He’s just that type of guy, you know? He’s very sharp, he’s very charismatic. Once again, no different than all the seniors. I felt like there was a tremendous amount of buy-in. They were just hungry. They obviously had some success, and Tae was right at the front beating the drum, ‘If we work hard, coach, do you think we have a chance to be successful?’ Once you tell them that, the rest was up to those guys. They worked their tails off, and like I said, Tae was a big part of that in terms of being up front and really preaching our gospel.”
 
On the development of young cornerbacks such as Warren Burrell
“Warren’s coming along. Obviously, it’s plays that he knows he could play better, but I think ultimately that he’s had a solid season. I feel like his best football is probably still ahead of him as he continues to get stronger, but from a skill set perspective—he’s quick, he can run, he’s long. We don’t play a lot of guys at this point where we are. We think that obviously in the future, you’d like to be able to create some more depth there. Losing Alontae (Taylor) will be something that obviously could impact some decisions we make in terms of recruiting. That’s an area, to be quite honest with you, we want to continue to build some depth and continue to develop some more guys.”
 
On what he is thankful for this holiday season…
“That’s a tremendous question. I’m thankful for my family first and foremost. I get an opportunity to see them this weekend. And then, my football family. My players, these players have been awesome. Our football staff. We spend more time with our players and with the staff than we do with our actual families. I tell young coaches this all the time, I’m in a point in my career where I just want to be with good people. Life is short, your football career is even shorter, so I want to spend it with people I genuinely enjoy coming to work with. I can honestly say, from Coach Heupel to the defensive staff to our players, it’s been tremendous, even with the highs and then obviously the lows. It’s just been a great opportunity to be here, and I’m very thankful for it.”
 
On what Matthew Butler has meant to the defensive line position group…
“Matt’s been everything. I talked about Alontae (Taylor) being very vocal. Matt’s not real vocal, but if you come out there and you watch him practice, we might as well be playing one of the top SEC teams in practice because he goes 100 miles an hour. He’s very about details, every rep asking, ‘Hey coach, how did I do? Was that right? Was that wrong?’ Here’s a guy who’s a senior that has played a lot of football. Here’s a guy that is having great success. Even in practice today, he’s trying to get immediate feedback on his technique and fundamentals. He’s been tremendous in that way, that our young guys can watch, how to me, what a true pro looks like. He just goes about his business every single day. He doesn’t have to say it, because he walks it every day. Again, I’d love to have him back. We’re going to miss him, but somebody’s going to be very fortunate to get that guy on their roster.”
 
On what he’s seen from Vanderbilt’s offense…
“The quarterback (Mike Wright) has really been a tremendous difference in my mind. He’s given those guys a chance to extend  a lot of plays. They’re running option a bunch, which puts a lot of stress on a defense, and that vaunted quarterback draw that everybody seems to be running this year. Any time the quarterback is a live wire and able to extend plays is always an issue. And then you combine that with them just having a pretty good surrounding cast of receivers that are long (and) physical, backs that aren’t necessarily real big but have some twitch and can get vertical on you. It’ll be a great challenge for us. I don’t think their record really speaks to how well those guys have really played. They’ve been in a lot of games, so our guys understand that for us to be successful we’re going to have to be playing at a high level.”
 
On if its hard to step back and see the overall improvement of the defense from the start of the year to now…
“Honestly, you don’t, at least I don’t. I have no idea where we’re ranked or any of that stuff. We kind of live and die with next game, next play. Obviously, once the season is over, we’ll have a deep dive and celebrate some of the victories and figure out how we can be better in some of the defeats. At this point, it’s really just a next game mentality, next play mentality, and hopefully when this thing is all said and done there will be more things to be proud of than not.”

On if there are any stats that he really believes are important when it comes to winning…
“Well, you already answered it to be honest, the biggest stat that I look at, did we win or lose? I know that sounds corny, but that’s the truth. I’ve been involved in games where we’ve given up a ton of yards and we’ve still won, and I’ve been a part of games where statistically you shut them down and you still lost. When I was younger, everything was because it was perception, they must be playing well because if they’re only giving this up. It’s a lot of things that go into winning and losing, as you guys know. Field position, how many snaps did you play? Where were you? Turnovers. If there was one metric everybody would use it to be successful. But, if I’m being honest, probably the biggest one that we talk about is explosive plays and being able to minimize them because you feel like the more explosive plays you give up, the more opportunities those guys have to be successful. And then vice versa, the more you can limit the explosive plays, our odds of winning go through the roof. So, if there’s one metric that we talk about, that’s probably the one. But to be honest with you, our thing is, what does it take to win? That’s based on snap to snap, game to game (and) at the end of the day when we look up at that scoreboard it’s our job to make sure that the offense has one more point than they have, whatever that is.”

Matthew Butler – DL – Senior

On finishing in a full stadium…
“That’s so major. 2020, I wasn’t sure last year, I think y’all even asked me before the Texas A&M game. Is it going to be your last game? I don’t know and I didn’t know. Obviously going into Neyland last year, it was obviously some good emotions and stuff like that, but it wasn’t a packed stadium. It wasn’t like that last year. Vol Nation is going to bring out all 102,455 for this game, sell it out. That would mean the world to me. That would mean the world to these seniors, just having the place packed out for this last game in Neyland. Going out and putting on a show.”
 
On the drive to still get better…
“I don’t mean to sound like self-serving, but I’m not good enough. There’s no part of my game that’s good enough. Even if I were the best player in the SEC by far and projected to go No. 1 in next year’s draft, it’s not good enough. I’m very, very thankful for Coach (Tim) Banks and Coach G (Rodney Garner) especially just staying on me. Even though I have that mindset and I’ve always had it, it’s easy sometimes to get lost in the shuffle. That’s another thing I’m really thankful for is Coach G. He won’t believe I said it, but I’m really thankful that he just stays on me, and he just keeps me going and doesn’t let me slack off on the details. If I do something wrong, I’m going to hear it and if I do something right, I’m going to hear it. It’s easy to kind of continue and sustain that mindset when your coach is the exact same way. Obviously, I have dreams, goals and aspirations, and I want everybody around me to achieve their dreams, goals and aspirations as well, so I have to set an example on top of those two things. That’s just what kind of keeps me going.”
 
On his relationship with Theo Jackson
“I mean, we are the 2017 class. I don’t know how long you have been covering University of Tennessee football, but we are the 2017 class. There’s a lot that comes with that name. There’s very few of us left, I could count on both my hands. I tried to name them all in an interview before, I missed somebody. Obviously me, Theo, Bruzza (Cheyenne Labruzza), SP (Solon Page III), see I’m about to forget somebody already. We’ve been here for so long. Then you have Blake (Ja’Quain Blakely), who’s 2016 class. He’s the last of the Mohicans, that class. We’re just really thankful for each other. We’ve been around each other through the very, very thick and the very, very thin. There’s that sense of comradery that I think is going to be for the rest of our lives. We are one of, I guess probably eight people, if I’m counting correctly, who just stuck around from 2017 till now. I mean, we are real close in a lot of ways.”

Theo Jackson – DB – Senior

On Saturday being his last game in Neyland Stadium…
“Right now, it’s bittersweet. I’ve been here for a while. I’ve enjoyed my time but also, I feel like I haven’t done enough still. Running through the T for the last time is going to be fun, but it’s also going to be a little bit of emotion. It will be alright.”
 
On what he’s thankful for this Thanksgiving season and the play from Saturday where he fought off a block to make a tackle…
“I’m thankful for family. Everybody has someone, so I’m just thankful for the people that I have in my life. I’m thankful for this University because without it, I wouldn’t even be here. For the first question, I kind of knew the play was coming. As you all know, I watch a lot of film. Once I saw that the guy who was trying to block me was ineligible, I knew he was running a bubble. I just had to beat him and make a good play.”
 
On why his game has improved so much this season…
“Really just playing more physical and using my hands. Coach (Willie) Martinez does a great job of teaching us different techniques on how to beat blocks or tackling better. I just took everything that he’s taught me and I’m going out there and applying it.”

Caleb Tremblay – DL – Redshirt Senior

On what his Tennessee experience has meant to him…
“It’s honestly been a blessing. It went by way faster than I thought it was going to go. It kind of comes up on you really quickly. The experience has been unbelievable. Coming from USC and comparing it to that, it’s been an unbelievable experience. The fans here are amazing. It’s just been a blessing.”
 
On if his plans after Tennessee include pursuing the NFL…
“That’s my goal and my dream. I’m going to do the best I possibly can to make it. Whatever the path is to the next level, I don’t even care. Even if it’s a UDFA guy, I’m going to do whatever. That’s really my goal and my dream for sure.”
 
On how some of Tennessee’s other seniors impacted him…
“I’ve learned so much as a player from a lot of the seniors. A lot of those guys do things the right way. They are great leaders and great players. I feel like I’ve elevated my game by just being around those guys in that room. Coach G (Rodney Garner) too, he’s brought my game to another level. This is the first time, I would think, in a while where I’ve really felt my growth as a player and been proud of it. I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries the last two years. This is the first year I’ve felt my growth as an individual. A lot of that has to do with a lot of those guys and seeing the right way and how they work.”

-UT Athletics

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