Quotes: Revamped Vols Set to Open Preseason Camp on Monday

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It’s one of the most exciting times of the year on Rocky Top as the Tennessee Volunteers football team kicks off preseason camp on Monday morning at Haslam Field, marking the official start of the 2022 season for the Big Orange, led by second-year head coach Josh Heupel.

On Sunday afternoon, Heupel, along with offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, defensive coordinator Tim Banks and a handful of players met with members of the media during UT’s official team media day to discuss the upcoming season.

The most common theme among the group was just the excitement about getting back on the field and building off a successful summer of strength of conditioning as the team looks to improve off of the 2021 season which saw the Vols rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring and total offense in year one under Heupel.

“We continue to build accountability, connection and the culture we want to have inside of the building,” Heupel said. “At this point, everyone is extremely excited about hitting the ground tomorrow morning and competing extremely hard and growing individually and collectively as a football team.

“It’s hard to believe that in a month, we are going to be inside Neyland Stadium on a Thursday night, kicking it off in front of a national television audience and have an opportunity to start this journey on the 2022 season. I am really proud of what our players and staff have done up to this point, and I am really excited about what is going on here in the immediate future over the next couple of days.”

Just a few weeks ago at SEC Media Days, Heupel explained the difference between teams that hope to win from those that believe they can win and those that expect to win. He and his staff believe they have a team with the mindset of expecting to win as they open preseason camp on Monday.

“It’s based off of the investment that you have inside of your program. Not by one person, but everybody,” Heupel said when asked about that statement. “Being connected in a way where you believe in the person to the left and to the right of you. It’s something that doesn’t happen immediately. It’s not something you can just talk about and it happens. It happens because of what you’ve done in the investment process.

“Our guys have done a great job. Been dramatically different since they got back in January. They continue to push forward. I believe we’re in a position, if we handle training camp the right way, that we’ll be in that type of position this fall.”

While offense was the talk of the town last fall, Tennessee’s defense is primed to take some big strides this season with a solid group of veterans returning to lead a unit bolstered by an impressive crop of newcomers that should provide some much-needed depth on that side of the ball.

“We’ve got to continue to rotate guys and continue to put guys in different spots, see how they adjust to it. Shoot, we would like this thing to be figured out as quickly as possible so you can continue to gameplan and do some different things, but I think there are going to be some really fierce battles,” Banks said.

“I think guys that played a significant number of snaps coming from last year will have great confidence coming in, but we have some young guys that are itching to prove what they can do. It’s an exciting time for us on defense and UT in general. Like I said, we just can’t wait to get to work.”

Despite ranking among the nation’s best in 2021, UT’s offense is also looking to improve on last season’s productivity with the return of its top passer, receiver and rusher in Hendon HookerCedric Tillman and Jabari Small, along with a host of other experienced returners.

“What helps this year more than anything is going in knowing who your quarterback is,” Golesh said. “Going in and Jabari (Small) has a resume of film, Cedric (Tillman) has a resume of film. Those o-linemen who are coming back have a year of film and they have a resume built.”

The leadership of returners like Hooker, Milton, Small and Jerome Carvin has already played a big part in the team’s progression this offseason, especially when it comes to the newcomers having players to model themselves after.

“I think just the way Hendon and Joe carry themselves – I think the young guys having somebody to look at and say that’s how you become a college football player, that’s how you act, that is how you come to work. I think at every spot it’s that way, where you’re looking for model examples for these young guys,” Golesh said in regard to his two veteran signal callers.

Media Day Transcript

Josh Heupel – Head Coach

Opening Statement 
“Good afternoon everybody. It’s football time in Tennessee, and I can’t wait to get on the grass with our guys tomorrow. I am really excited about the strides our players have made since the beginning of offseason. You guys have been around here a bunch, through the first quarter of our offseason strength and conditioning and the buildup to spring ball, the strides that we have made and the newcomers we got here in January. We have had more of those guys show up throughout the course of the summer. We continue to build accountability, connection and the culture we want to have inside of the building. At this point, everyone is extremely excited about hitting the ground tomorrow morning and competing extremely hard and growing individually and collectively as a football team. It’s hard to believe that in a month, we are going to be inside Neyland Stadium on a Thursday night, kicking it off in front of a national television audience and have an opportunity to start this journey on the 2022 season. I am really proud of what our players and staff have done up to this point, and I am really excited about what is going on here in the immediate future over the next couple of days.”

On if he is relieved if the finish line is nearing for the NCAA investigation …
“I don’t know if relieved is really the word. There has been so much dialogue and communication between our administration and the NCAA but also us in where we are at. Some of the things that have hit publicly are things that we haven’t been able to talk about. We knew that was coming, and we have been very transparent and open with our current roster, our recruits. That’s why I think we have positioned ourselves extremely well. You look at some of the things that have come out of that just the NCAA talking about us being a model of how to move forward for universities when they are dealing with something. That’s why I said from the very beginning it really is just a speed bump for this program. Between our administration, from (Chancellor) Donde (Plowman) all the way down to (Director of Athletics) Danny (White) and then what we are doing on the football side of it, we have positioned ourselves extremely well to swallow things up early and be able to compete for championships as we move forward.”

On communication with recruits during the NCAA investigation process …
“For us, we have been very transparent with the two recruiting classes that we have been involved with since our staff has gotten here—one that is signed and one that hasn’t. Because of that, there is great trust from them. We have been able to talk openly about the things we were doing inside of our program in year one and year two. Once the Notice of Allegations came out, being able to have a Zoom call with all of them and being able to speak more directly about the things we are doing. This recruiting class really hasn’t felt the things internally, so they can understand that the things that are going to happen in the future won’t have an impact on how they are being recruited, their experience as a student-athlete here on campus and what they are going to be able to compete for on the football field.” 

On the confidence of players in his system in the second year under him …
“I think instead of using the word belief, expect is something we have talked about. There is a big difference between teams that believe and teams that expect. We have to continue to work in a way that we expect until we get to the fall. There is great trust and understanding. A year ago at this time, none of our players and a good portion of our staff never been through a training camp together. What does it look like day-to-day? What does it look like on the practice field? How do we handle the different situations that are inevitably going to come up? That transpired during the course of the season too because that was the first time we have gone through that. Now for 80 percent of your roster, for us in our building, almost our entire staff they have all been through it. There is great trust and belief in what we are doing. There are clear lines of communication. They understand the standards and expectations. They are able to just go out and compete. We have had a couple of meetings already. The energy and focus was so different than it was a year ago, and it should be that way.”

On the health of the team entering preseason camp …
“Len’Neth (Whitehead) will be out for the entire year. He sustained an upper body injury a couple of weeks ago and had season-ending surgery. For the rest of our football team, we are pretty healthy. There are some guys that we will build up over the course of training camp. LaTrell Bumphus is somebody who missed a portion of spring ball who we will continue to build up, but we are really in a healthy situation moving into training camp.”

On how he assesses the workload on players returning from injury …
Between our medical staff, our strength staff, our position coaches and our coordinators, we have a very specific plan, the player load, the volume we want those guys to get, the amount of team reps as we build throughout the course of training camp. We essentially go through a four-day block. As we finish those blocks, we will always visit where they are at and making sure we are putting them in a position to grow and compete as a player during the course of training camp and also having long-term health for the beginning of the season but really the entire season.”

On wide receiver Bru McCoy’s eligibility status for this season …
“I have been in dialogue with the people that we need to. Our administration has been on the other side of the coin. We feel good about where that is going. Bru is healthy and ready to compete this training camp, so he will be involved in everything we are doing.”

On the feeling of going into camp with a veteran quarterback like Hendon Hooker …
“There is competition every day. He is competing against himself and certainly against the others too. At the end of the day, the trust that we have in him, not just as coaches but players around him, his leadership and his energy, all of those things are extremely important to us hitting the ground tomorrow and continuing to climb and grow as we reset the button for the 2022 season and become what we are capable of hopefully. His command of the offense is something that is extremely important. All of the guys have continued to grow through the course of the summer. Joe (Milton III) is in a much better position than he was a year ago than when he started the season. Hendon and Joe both talked about how close those guys are. They compete in a really positive way together, but they support each other too. For us and our program, it certainly is a luxury to have a guy that has a lot of time on task in game situations, has command of what we are doing. A year ago, I thought he made great improvements in some subtle things from the end of the regular season to the bowl game. He’s continued to climb during the course of the offseason. He is very purposeful and excited about what he’s done.”

On how the offense can help the defense… 
“For us, 3rd & short situational football is a huge emphasis. There are some opportunities on the plus side of the field that we can be better in situational football, some four-down territory things and getting more sevens at the end of drives, too. I think those are three areas that have a chance to change the way the game is played between all three phases together. As we continue to grow and get better in all three phases, finishing games, being able to essentially run a four-minute situation and being able to control the clock at the end of games is something we’ve done well in previous stops and is something we’re going to need to do here too.” 

On who steps up at running back due to Len’Neth Whitehead’s injury… 
“I think certainly with Len’Neth being out, the two young guys, (Justin Williams-ThomasDylan Sampson) there’s a point of emphasis and there always is, that those guys have to grow, understand what we’re doing and be ready to compete at a really high level immediately. Justin has had a little bit more time on task, having been here mid-year. Dylan, really excited about what he’s done. He’s a mature young man that processes things really quickly, just having the opportunity to be out on the grass with him a little bit, he’s extremely explosive. So, between those two guys here early in training camp, they’re going to have to grow really quickly to help us at that position.” 

On Juwan Mitchell and his offseason development… 
“For him, surgery in the early part of (last) season – it was actually an injury that he came into our program with. We all felt like it was the best decision for him, his future and our future, for him to have that surgery when he had it. He’s gotten healthy. He’s completely changed his body because of what he’s able to do, (and is back to) being 100 percent healthy. He’s fast, he’s explosive, he’s got the ability to make a bunch of tackles and make plays in space. I’m looking forward to seeing him compete, his consistency, what type of play we’re going to get from him this fall. I want to see him grow during the course of training camp.”

On the program shifting its mindset from hoping to believing to expecting to win… 
“It’s based off of the investment that you have inside of your program. Not by one person, but everybody. Being connected in a way where you believe in the person to the left and to the right of you. It’s something that doesn’t happen immediately. It’s not something you can just talk about and it happens. It happens because of what you’ve done in the investment process. Our guys have done a great job. Been dramatically different since they got back in January. They continue to push forward. I believe we’re in a position, if we handle training camp the right way, that we’ll be in that type of position this fall.”

On being able to judge players’ growth after coaching them last season… 
“For sure. They have a better understanding of who I am, how I’m going to handle situations and how I’m going to communicate with them. And it’s true on the other side of the coin, for us as a coaching staff, for myself as well. To understand the successes, the failures, the struggles that they have. What is their makeup and their ability to handle the things that are inevitably going to come up in the course of a ball game. Just in life, too. How do we help them? I think a big part of coaching is understanding who you’re trying to communicate with and understanding the right buttons to push with those individuals, to draw the absolute best from them.”

On freshmen defensive linemen Joshua Josephs and James Pearce Jr. … 
“We’re going to find out this training camp, their ability to grow in individual technique, fundamentals, understanding our scheme. I’ve been really impressed with both of them so far this summer with the opportunities we’ve had — whether that’s in the classroom or out on the grass — for their ability to retain information, digest it and apply it out on the football field. Really looking forward to seeing the physical combat part of it here, as they’re going against a different type of body type at the collegiate level than they were in high school. Love both of them and what they’ve done so far (in) strength and conditioning. One of the areas for us defensively that we need to, want to, get better is third and long defense. It’s an area where they potentially have a chance to impact the game early in the season. They’re going to have to go out and earn those opportunities here by the way that they play during the course of training camp.”

On who stands out as potential candidates in the kick and punt return game…
Dee Williams is somebody that’s new to our roster. If you’re asking just about new guys, I think Dee is a guy that is a perfect example of that. Squirrel White is somebody that we feel like has the ability to catch it, but also be dynamic with the ball in his hands. Dylan Sampson is a young guy that we feel like has the opportunity to push and compete for some of that. Feel like all of those guys have great tracking skills, but also have the ability to make explosive plays. You look at what Velus (Jones Jr.) was able to bring to our football team a year ago, big plays in the return game, setup scores or create scores. Love what we’re doing with Coach Ek (Mike Ekeler) in developing a group of core individuals, but really our entire roster through the special teams part of it. Looking forward to seeing a bunch of guys compete and earn the opportunity to play. That’s in the return game, but it’s also guys that are setting up those returns.”

On what factors contributed to Tennessee’s second-quarter struggles in 2021… 
“No magic potion. In some of the games, that was very pointed. It’s some of the things that we controlled in those ball games, in particular on the offensive side of the football. Everything that we’ve done, from how we describe our offseason, you guys have heard me talk about the four quarters, to what we do in the weight room, we relate it to four quarters during the course of every week. We’ve tried to relate everything to football, the four quarters and how they’re played out. We want to start fast, finish extremely strongly and compete our butt off in the middle of the football game. A year into our strength and conditioning program, a year into our systems, I feel like we have an opportunity to play better in all phases and all areas of the game. Certainly, we’ve got to be better in the second quarter, but we’ve got to be better in the fourth quarter, too. There are a lot of opportunities for growth.”

On incorporating the tight end position more within the offense… 
“More bodies? Yeah, for sure. Training camp is the final opportunity for guys to prove they’re going to compete and play at a championship level. Guys that we can depend on play-in and play-out, day-in and day-out. That dependability is a huge part of them having the opportunity to play. I don’t care if it’s offense, defense, special teams. Coaches’ jobs are to take the guys that have proven that they’re going to compete at that championship level and find roles, find ways to use what they’re able to do and put them in position to be successful. The more guys that we have, that are able to play at that level — at the tight end position, but every position — is going to allow us to be a deeper and better football team.
“That depth is something we’re talking about at the tight end position. A young man like Miles Campbell has a real opportunity to grow and earn some playing time here. But it’s something we’re talking about in every position room right now, and certainly on the defensive side of the football. A year ago, you guys all know we were handcuffed in some ways, just the number of bodies that we had on campus that were scholarship players. We’ve added depth. We’re not at a full 85 (scholarships). We feel like we have an opportunity to be deeper on the defensive side of the football. That’s important to us, to be able to play more guys. But at the end of the day, they’ve got to go earn it and prove it here during the course of training camp.”

On how many wide receivers would be an ideal rotation… 
“Just depends on the number of guys that are ready to play at an elite level. We’ve had six, we’ve had five. There are years it has been four, just based off of who they are. The more guys that are able to play, the more we’re going to use them. Our personnel groupings have been different every year, everywhere that we’ve been. From being in a bunch of 12-personnel because we had tight ends that were ready to play at a really high level and we trusted them to be in four wide receiver sets more depending on the year because we had a bunch of wideouts that we felt like we were going to play at that level. At the end of the day, that’s a part of the process of your entire offseason, but certainly here, as your last build up to the season, finding out which personnel you can count on. Then from there, week-to-week, we’ll try to put those guys in a position of success.”

On the next step for Byron Young… 
“A guy that, to me – I’m going to talk about him physically here in a minute – but leadership, communication, trust. Just inside the building, he’s taken a whole other step just as a person and a human being and a leader. Really proud of what he’s done, coming into his own. A midyear kid a year ago, when we first got here. I had actually recruited him at the previous stop and loved what he did in year one. I do think, because of how he’s grown off the field and how what he’s done just continuing to transform his body — added weight, leaned up, his ability to bend is much better, at this point — can’t wait to see him in some of the one-on-one pass rush situations in some of the 3rd & long periods. We need him to take a step, you know? We need Tyler Baron. We need Roman Harrison to take a step, and the young guys that I talked about, as well. A year ago, up until maybe the last two weeks of the season, we were leading the country in tackles for loss. We had guys in 3rd & long. If you’re going to play defensive football, that’s where you want to be at. A part of us getting better in that situation is being able to effect the quarterback with a four-man rush. That comes from individuals that can master the fundamentals and technique and be elite at getting to the quarterback.” 

Alex Golesh – Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach

On Cedric Tillman’s production being affected by the play of other UT starting receivers… 
“I think it’ll all kind of play itself out as it goes. A year ago, we were walking into the same situation with Ced being a guy that nobody knew about. Velus (Jones Jr.) was a guy nobody knew about. I think it’ll kind of play itself out, whether people can feel like they need to roll coverage that way or do something unique to take him away. Obviously if it becomes a one-man show, that would be really hard offensively. But I think in this system, looking back at it over the years, it’s kind of played itself out. We feel good with who’s going to be opposite of him, in terms of whether it’s one guy or a group of guys. We feel like this is as deep as we’ve been in the slot, going into camp at least. There’s a bunch of guys that have to prove something in that room in the same breadth as they did a year ago, a bunch of guys that had to prove something in that room. I think it’ll be exciting to see what happens. There’s some really good young players. How fast they grow up, how fast they figure out what’s really going on. What helped was having the three freshmen (Chas NimrodKaleb Webb and Squirrel White) here in the spring. Now you’re not teaching them how to play, they can actually continue to perfect their craft. I think if (Cedric) was a one-man show, it would be really hard, but I’m pretty confident that it won’t be that way.” 

On the competition at offensive tackle heading into preseason camp… 
“This is such a big question mark for us. Who is it going to be, is there a rotation there, or what’s it really going to look like? In a list of questions we have going into camp, that would be right up there. I think it’ll be exciting to see. Moving Darnell (Wright) over to right (tackle) kind of solidifies that side of it, and you feel pretty good. And then, letting Dayne (Davis), Gerald (Mincey) and JJ (Jeremiah Crawford) figure out who the second guy is and who can play over at left. We went through spring, left there feeling pretty good. I think just as important as who starts out there is who’s the third and the fourth. Last year, we got to the third and fourth pretty quick. You hope you don’t, but you have to have a third, a fourth and really even a fifth, and figuring out the depth there. Whoever’s going to be there on the left side, hasn’t played a whole lot of football. Dayne’s played the most. He gives us a veteran presence and some flexibility with being able to play inside, but JJ and Mincey are going to be guys that (contribute). Obviously, Mince hasn’t played any there for us, and JJ’s played really limited snaps. It’ll be a really good competition. We’re going to make it hard. We’re going to go. I think from a mental standpoint, both those guys are ready to roll. I think it’ll just be a matter of who can be the most consistent. We just got done talking through as a whole offense about who can string days together, that spot especially. Who can string days together, that’s who we’re going to roll with. We’ve rotated there before. Gosh, you’d feel good leaving camp if you said we have four at tackle that we can go play with. It’ll be a really interesting competition. It’ll be graded daily. They’ll both roll with the ones, Dayne will get some with the ones. Hopefully by that second scrimmage, by practice 12, you feel like okay, this is who it is. I would feel a lot better if we left saying we have seven or eight than saying, that’s our starting left tackle.”

On his expectations for the young receivers this fall… 
“I think that competition in the slot, with Jalin (Hyatt), Jimmy (Calloway) and Squirrel (White), with Walker (Merrill) being able to get some reps in there as well. Walker’s experience a year ago was priceless because he’s a guy we feel like could be a swing guy for us. I’m excited to see all three of those guys. Jalin had a really, really good spring, Jimmy finished spring really well, and Squirrel was so exciting to see this spring, just because of what his mental makeup is, what his skillset is. Squirrel, in so many ways, is mature beyond his years. 
 “I’ve said this before, I think that so much of what a season is, is who can handle it. Camp is one thing. There’s no school, there’s no outside pressure, there’s nothing going on, and then students get back to school, Cumberland (Avenue) looks a little bit different. There’s academics, there’s tutors, there’s requirements, there’s people pulling you, there’s families in for games and there starts to be a lot of distractions. I think so much of playing college football right now is who can handle that part of it. Obviously, there are more distractions than there ever has been, so who can handle the rigors of the day-to-day and be consistent through what they’re doing? I’ve said this about freshmen before. It’s all pretty easy until you get going into a routine of what a season looks like. 
 “Squirrel, for a freshman, was as impressive handling school and football at the same time as I’ve seen. Probably because he just kind of stays to himself and doesn’t let outside distractions affect who he is and what he does. Again, it’s going to get harder and harder for him. That competition in (the slot), if we leave there with some depth, I would be beyond excited. That would be better than we were a year ago. Jalin Hyatt took monumental steps in the spring, just in terms of his growth as a player and as a young man within the program. Jimmy Calloway has been super inconsistent since our team here, so the challenge to him is can you be the same guy every day and continue to grow? Because it’s going to be really hard if not. 
 “You asked about the three freshmen, same deal. I think it’ll be interesting to see how they attack this next three weeks, and then once school starts and we get into playing games, how they really can grow and continue to become assets to the team. You’d love to get those guys out there and get them into games early on special teams and let them see what it’s like to be a college football player, then see how they can help us offensively. If all three of those guys panned out as freshmen and we had depth like that, boy, we would be really good.”

On Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright’s offseason and if he expects to see Justin Williams-Thomas and Dylan Sampson take on a bigger role in the running back room… 
“I think Jabari has changed his body in so many ways and is about as focused as I’ve seen him since we’ve been here. It’s so different when you go into the year, and you know you’re being counted on. Any time you know you’re they guy going into the year, just the way he even walks into the facility, there’s a different look on him. There’s a confidence about Jabari. I don’t think he was super confident a year ago, and now there’s a confidence about him. He’s changed his body, 210-plus pounds now. I joke with him that he now looks like an all-purpose back, rather than a third-down back. The hope there is that he can get and stay healthy throughout what is a pretty rigorous schedule.
Jaylen Wright has changed his body. We talk about Jalin Hyatt a lot, growing up and changing who his best is, Jaylen Wright is the same guy. He comes in now, confident. It’s been so awesome to see his growth. He had a tough time here his first year, enrolling early and all those things that hit him right in the face. He’s a different young guy right now. He’s exuberant and really excited to be here, and raises his hands to answer questions like he’s a different kid. That’s been really, really, exciting.
“Those two young guys, Justin and Dylan, they’ve both been told, you’re going to get as your work deserves. We need both those guys. We’re not very deep. We’ve got to do a really good job managing those guys through camp and keeping them healthy. We’re going to give Justin and Dylan every opportunity to see if those guys can play early. Let them run behind the one and two offensive line and see what they can do. The running part, not as concerned about as can you protect the quarterback? Those are the things for a young back that can cost you football games, is not being able to protect. Those guys have had a good summer. Jerry Mack has done a really good job getting those guys ready. Justin, we’ve seen (in the spring). It’ll be interesting to see what his growth looks like. That’s a big question mark, like we talked about with tackle. Big question mark to see what Justin has been able to do this summer, how that translates over into real football. Dylan enrolled in June, so I’m excited to see him. I think there’s some really unique play-making ability in space with him, and I think he can do a lot of things based off of high school film. He’s got real track speed, and he’s a tough, smart young man. I’m really excited to see what Dylan can do. We’re going to need them all at some point, I’m aware of that. We’re going to have to be really smart how we handle those guys in camp because we’re not very deep, but our job is to find a way to make the depth go and win football games. That’s what we’re going to do.”

On Darnell Wight’s position on the o-line and the challenge of getting newcomers ready to play… 
Darnell Wright, in our mind right now, is to keep him on the right, let him get comfortable – which is what he felt like was his natural home there two years ago – and letting those guys compete on the left side. I think (that) will give those guys on the left side the best chance to compete rather than flip flopping those guys. We want to see who can do it and then figure out the depth from there because whoever ends up being third is going to have to be a swing guy, so letting those guys compete at one spot would make it easier. Can Darnell flip over? I’m sure he could but then moving those left guys back and forth, I don’t think will give those guys the best opportunity to show us what they can do and give them an opportunity to be successful. 
 “Freshmen in their second year, I think at the skill spots it’s unique because all of them except for Dylan Sampson were here early. They were thrown right into the culture, thrown right into the football, so I think they or a young guy has a better chance this year to play than a year ago. A year ago, you were trying to find the 11 that could play in a game without all the other craziness that was going on. The 11 that could play in a game –  you had to be mature, you had to have learned it fast enough and you had to have been physically ready. Now, you’ve got a year under your belt, those guys came in where they didn’t have to learn it totally from scratch. They were able to get extra attention this spring and I think it gives them a better chance to compete this fall. Again, I go back to, we would love to play as many guys as we can. I think it would make us better because of the tempo we play at. Inherently, depth is something that can help you score points. At the same time, we’re going to play the guys that are ready and the guys that we trust. I think if we’ve learned anything it’s that if you play guys that you trust, you’re more willing to accept the end result of it than if you’re playing guys just because you have to play a guy. I think that’s our job as coaches is to put the best 11 out there and obviously build depth through recruiting and development. Those young guys are now a year older. Those young guys are a year more developed. You hope you have more depth and that’s our job to develop those guys. 
 “What helps this year more than anything is going in knowing who your quarterback is. Going in and Jabari (Small) has a resume of film, Cedric (Tillman) has a resume of film. Those o-linemen who are coming back have a year of film and they have a resume built. You’re more likely to be able to throw a Dylan Sampson in there at one running back knowing that those reps for Jabari can be just as good mental reps as they can be actual physical reps. That’s where you can go in and feel a little more comfortable. At the same time, the psyche of those guys understanding and being mature enough now to say, man, I’m not taking the one rep – rather than standing over there on the sideline and playing towel ball with my buddy, I now know what’s going on and I’m locked in and watching and being able to steal reps mentally rather than physically having to go through them to allow young guys to get reps. I know that was really longwinded, but I guess yes would be the answer.” 

On the leadership of Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton III affecting the younger guys… 
“I think just the way Hendon and Joe carry themselves – one, just their competitive relationship with each other has been really fun to watch because they really do like each other and encourage each other and are each other’s biggest fans. I think the young guys – and that slot position is really young –  having somebody to look at and say that’s how you become a college football player, that’s how you act, that is how you come to work. I think at every spot it’s that way, where you’re looking for model examples for these young guys. But Hendon and Joe have done a really good job of taking ownership in it, not feeling like they’re stepping on each other’s toes. I give those two a lot of credit, that’s more than I could do at 22 years old and somebody’s in front of me. I’d have a hard time being a good solider there. But credit to those guys, credit to Joey Halzle (QB coach) and how he’s managed that room and coach Heupel’s leadership in pushing that on those guys in what a quarterback is supposed to do, what he’s supposed to look like, act like, what the day-to-day looks like. They’re still young guys, they still screw things up, but those guys leading has been really good. Cedric (Tillman) stepping up in a leadership role – which is way outside his comfort zone – that’s not who he is and us putting pressure on him to do so has been monumental there. Jalin Hyatt has developed into a leader in that group, because of the way he’s worked he’s earned the right to do that. So, it’s been really fun. Give Jerome Carvin a lot of credit, he’s taken a ton of ownership for us. I think a year ago he was kind of looking around like, ‘what the heck is going on?’ He’s taken a bunch of ownership in the entire thing too. But their relationship (Hooker and Milton) is unique. Give those guys a lot of credit, I couldn’t do that. I think most of us grownups got egos that couldn’t handle it.” 

Tim Banks – Defensive Coordinator

On his comfort level and confidence with the individuals on the defense…
“Always confident. Comfortable? I don’t know about that. We’ve obviously still got a lot of work to do, but we are definitely excited just with the number of student-athletes we have in the program at this point. When we first got here, we were struggling with depth, now we at least feel like we have more scholarship bodies. Obviously, it’s our job to figure out what they can do and put those guys in the best possible position. So, I don’t know if I’m comfortable, but we are definitely excited to have those guys here.”

On how a deeper defensive unit can help in games this season…
“I think a bit of that is to be determined, but again, we have more scholarship bodies at this point. We just had a defensive meeting and my message to those guys was that we are going to play the guys that earn the reps, but the reality is you’ve got to earn it. Do we have more bodies? Absolutely. That’s a good thing, that’s a great starting point. As we continue to divide reps and who has the honor of running out there with the starting group, that will be based on the work that those guys put in and I know they are eager to put that work in. We will find out soon exactly how much depth we will have.”

On the starting points positionally on the defense…
“There are a lot of moving parts that way. We had guys that played some snaps with starters from last year, Warren Burrell comes to mind, Tank (Jaylen McCollough) played a ton of snaps for us, Trevon Flowers played a ton for us. The reality of it is, and I know this may sound like coach-speak, but just like we did in the spring, we moved guys to a lot of different positions trying to figure out our best combinations of guys that we can put out there on the field. You start talking about Wesley Walker, who just got here, Tamarion McDonald – he didn’t play a ton of reps for us on defense but is a standout on special teams – T-Mac had a really good spring. We are excited about Wesley getting here, but again, we are going to move those guys all around and try to figure out who is the STAR, who are the safeties and obviously who are the corners. I think it’s a good problem to have. We want to coach defensive backs. Not necessarily safeties, STARs, corners. We just want to put the best combination of guys out there that we can.”

On the process of setting the perfect combination…
“There is always an urgency. We talked about that a lot, in terms of what our mantra is – love, trust and urgency. I don’t think we will figure anything out from one practice. We’ve got to continue to rotate guys and continue to put guys in different spots, see how they adjust to it. Shoot, we would like this thing to be figured out as quickly as possible so you can continue to gameplan and do some different things, but I think there are going to be some really fierce battles. I think guys that played a significant number of snaps coming from last year will have great confidence coming in, but we have some young guys that are itching to prove what they can do. It’s an exciting time for us on defense and UT in general. Like I said, we just can’t wait to get to work.”

On transfer DBs Andre Turrentine and Wesley Walker
“I mentioned Wesley already, but Andre as well… I couldn’t tell you that we know exactly what we’ve got. Obviously, I remember both young men coming out of high school and Wesley had a body of work at the other place (Georgia Tech), but until you actually get them in your system and have an opportunity to coach them the way you want them to be coached, you’re not quite sure, but I will tell you they have been nothing but spectacular in terms of their approach, work ethic, desire to be great – they’ve been great in our room. I know their teammates have really adjusted to them well and are excited to have them in our family. We are just excited to see what they can do in these practices that we’ve got coming up. I’m hoping they’re as good as advertised because we need them, along with the other guys, to help us take that next step.”

On Juwan Mitchell and his expectations during camp…
“Juwan was a guy who had some really significant reps for us last fall before he got injured. He started to work his way back a little bit in the spring. The health issue is obviously the first thing, we’ve got to make sure he is feeling healthy, which I think we’ve turned the corner there. Then, we’ve got to see what he does as he competes for the job. You’ve got Jeremy Banks and Aaron Beasley coming back, we brought in Elijah Herring and you feel really good about Solon Page III, Pakk (Kwauze Garland) – we feel like we have pretty good depth that we are starting to build at that position. We felt really good about Juwan Mitchell, so it’s really up to him as we continue to see what kind of development he has made over the summer and see if that leads to him being able to contribute again, which we would hope it does.”

On Christian Charles’ positional reps to start off…
“I think he will start off at corner with the understanding that he has the ability to move back inside. I mean, he is the poster child for what we are looking for – guys that are very interchangeable. Having the corner skills but the mentality and the physicality to be able to play inside. He will get an opportunity to win one of those jobs at corner, but he will also get a chance to win one of the jobs at safety. It just depends. Right now, based on how we left spring is how we will start it and we will go from there.”

On the potential of six or seven guys playing at linebacker…
“You would like to. Again, it is hard to say until you get going, but if you are basing it on just pure numbers, you would like to think that one of those guys that plays significant snaps on special teams would have better confidence going into the fall. You start talking about William MohanKwauze Garland, those guys have played significant snaps, even if it was on (special) teams which lends itself to some confidence. We will be disappointed if we don’t have better depth there, based on the number of bodies that we have. As I stated earlier, you will get what you earn. Those guys have to earn the right at linebacker, d-line, secondary. We are never going to put the program in jeopardy. We are going to put the best guys out there that give us the best opportunity to win. I think those guys understand that we would like to play as many guys as we can. It helps us in the long run, and it helps us in the short run, based on how we play. If they’re ever going to come along, they will definitely get out there and play.”

On the cornerback play dictating the defense…
“I think there is a lot of truth to that, based on the scheme that you play. If you are a scheme that asks your corners to play a lot of man-to-man so you can load the box, traditionally, yeah, I think that’s a solid statement. We’ve got to figure out, again, who our best corners are. We like to be able to play with at least three, at the bare minimum. You like to be able to play four in a perfect situation and once we figure out that position, we continue to see where the best guys are, whether it’s STAR, safety, etcetera. But, yeah, that’s a strong statement and I definitely would echo that.”

On Jeremy Banks playing at an All-SEC level…
“I do see that. He is one of those guys that loves the game of football. He plays extremely hard. He is athletic, tough and he has those things that you look for from a linebacker’s perspective. I thought, really, he was just scratching the surface of how good he could be last year. He has worked very hard in the spring to try and sure up some things that could be identified as liabilities. I think if he continues to work at the things that we talked about then there is no reason why he shouldn’t be one of the better linebackers in this conference, if not in the country.”

On replicating the success of last season in tackles for loss…
“Our philosophy and how we go about our business will never change. We want to be aggressive in everything that we do. Whether we are tackling in our four-man front or bringing in a fifth or sixth defender, what that ends up being in terms of tackles for losses, that is yet to be determined. We are never going to change our mentality. We want to be extremely aggressive in our play coming off the ball, attacking from different angles. If it ends up in tackles for losses, that is awesome, but really we are trying to stay to our identity which we think bodes well for us to be a successful defense and help the team win.”

On the numbers and level of competition on the defensive line…
“I think it always starts up front, as cliché as that may sound. The reality of it is that the more guys you can play up there, those guys have to strain, and they are in confrontations every single snap and are typically the ones that will get tired the fastest. I think coach Rodney Garner and the rest of the staff have done a great job identifying some of the weaknesses that we had up front and trying to get them corrected. I think the ability to play more guys, number one, it gives more competition and makes guys strain a little harder to earn that playing time. It also lends itself to those guys being a little more fresh coming down the back stretch when you really need those guys to be able to close some games out. We are hoping that we will be able to develop some more depth that way, whether it’s on the inside or on the edges and we will obviously find out as we continue to move forward. Definitely having the ability to play more guys up front we think bodes well for us.”

On Brandon Turnage heading into the season…
“Like I said earlier, he is one of those combo guys, very similar to Christian Charles. He has the ability to play corner, we also think he has the toughness and the awareness to play inside. He will get his opportunities, whether it’s at STAR, corner, maybe inside just depending on how everything shakes out. He is one of those guys you just love having on the team. He is very positive, he is obviously a very good athlete. We’re going to have a hard time keeping him off the field. Like I said, I think we will have some really good battles in camp, and we will kind of see how it shakes out. I think he is heading in the right direction, and I think he feels healthy, which is obviously half the battle.”

On the growth of Byron Young this offseason…
“Tremendous. I would say first from a leadership perspective. We put him in some different situations during the offseason where he had to be more verbal and I thought he answered the bell. I don’t think that is his natural instinct, to be able to lead from the front, but I think he has worked very hard to be more vocal and as he has become more vocal, he has become more confident. He obviously has a skill set, he plays extremely hard. I think he worked very hard to try and find his technique and his overall knowledge of the game. I think we will start to see that pay some dividends moving forward, so I’m excited about him. I would echo the same thing about him the same thing I said about Jeremy Banks. I think he has the ability to be one of the better players in this conference, if not the country, but obviously he’s got to continue to work at that pace and so far, he has done that.”

On what the next step for Tyler Baron in reaching his potential…
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but once again, I’m excited about Tyler. He’s healthy. Tyler is a guy who has unbelievable strength, power, speed-to-power ratio. He’s obviously a guy that’s really bright. He’s able to play the LEO spot for us, he’s also played the end spot for us. He has that versatility that I spoke about with the corners being able to play inside and outside, he’s a guy who has the ability to play either side of our defense and be able to slide inside based on situations. I think as he continues to take care of his body and as he stays healthy, I think he has a chance to have a really big year for us and I think he would tell you the same thing. He’s worked his tail off this offseason, and I think he’s primed for a big year.”

On how he expects the defense to grow this year aside from having more depth…
“I think it’s no different than what I told you guys last year. We have core beliefs in what we want to do, but a lot of it is based on our personnel. So, as we continue to figure out what these young guys can do, some of the freshmen, you know they just got here even if they came in the spring, continue to figure out what their strengths and liabilities are, we’ll be able to highlight that so to speak in our package. And then the same thing with some of the transfers that we got in here, how do we best take advantage of their skill sets? And that will dictate how multiple we are. We obviously want to try to do some different things and try to keep the offenses guessing best we can, but at the end of the day, it’s all about playing to the strength of your team, the strength of your players and highlighting the right guys and we’ll continue to stay that path.”

-UT Athletics

Vols HC Josh Heupel / Credit: UT Athletics

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