Coach and Player Quotes: With Orange & White Game Looming, Vols Focus on Building

Coach and Player Quotes: With Orange & White Game Looming, Vols Focus on Building

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football returned to Haslam Field Tuesday morning for practice after the holiday weekend with the Orange & White Game set for 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday. 

Tennessee’s high-octane offense has produced stars in its first two years, but that success begins with preparations in the spring. That comes through both on-field work and the meeting rooms where new leaders step in and forge ahead with a fresh nucleus of players.

One of those in the wide receiver room is Bru McCoy. McCoy arrived on Rocky Top last summer and made an immediate impact on the field, totaling 52 receptions for 667 yards and four touchdowns. Now with the departing of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, McCoy headlines the position group and feels ready to take over the leadership role in the room.

“By nature, I’m the type of person who likes to take care of people and look out,” McCoy said at the podium Tuesday morning. “(This spring) was a great opportunity to keep my mind sharp by being able to teach them and help them work on the little things and details in the offense, but also it’s fun to watch people grow, develop and see them improve. It’s also all mental reps for me.”

Another individual with a similar circumstance is Cooper Mays. Mays knows what it means to be a Vol. He is a legacy at UT and his brother, Cade, is a VFL in the NFL, currently on the Carolina Panthers’ roster. With just two returning starters on the offensive line, Mays is tasked with orienting the group and getting them ready in an up-tempo style that really requires energy and focus from its front line.

“I feel like I was a decent leader last year and made my mark a little bit, but I think Jerome (Carvin) was the head of that room, and I was the supporting piece beside him,” Mays said. “Working on it more this year, stepping up into that role, taking it day-by-day and trying to get better at it.” 

He is also excited for the chance to play inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Mays knows what it means to dawn the Orange & White and relishes in any chance to play in front of Vol Nation. It is a special thing to be cherished each time you exit the locker room and run out on to the grass.

“Neyland is a special environment every time you go in,” Mays said. “It’s a lot of first things and a lot of new things for the young guys. Going over there will be a great thing for them. I didn’t get to experience it my freshman year because of COVID. I didn’t get that experience until the first game, and even then, it was during COVID, so not as normal. But these guys are going to have a great crowd to come out to, and we have the best fans in the country. I’m sure it will be special.” 

Admission to the Orange & White Game is $5 for non-premium seats, and all proceeds will count as a contribution to the My All Campaign. All seats can be secured now at AllVols.com or by calling the UT Athletic Ticket Office at (865) 656-1200. All open sections of the bowl of Neyland Stadium will be general admission seating.

Tennessee Football Press Conference | April 11, 2023 
 
Running Backs Coach Jerry Mack 

On where Cameron Seldon is at in terms of picking things up…
“He’s doing a really good job right now, just from the standpoint of understanding what we want. You know, Cam’s baseline coming in was very, very low, and the beauty of him is he’s been able to come in the spring, learn what we’re going through and now what that’s going to do is help him as he progresses into the summer. From a baseline standpoint, he was at kind of the bottom of the spectrum and as you see each and every practice, he is getting a little bit better understanding what we are doing. Really good sight just to see him grow. You know, every practice is something new that he is learning, some new technique or some new thing that he has not seen before just for the simple fact that of his high school program, you know a smaller school. So, he’s really been learning – not just football wise but also just how to acclimate himself into the basic things that we do.”  
 

On the areas that DeSean Bishop has impressed him in…
“I tell you one thing, DeSean (Bishop) has done a really good job of just getting his foot in the ground and going vertical. The velocity that he runs the ball with getting down, he is a downhill runner. He’s not a naturally big guy. He’s not a 230-pound kid, but one thing he really does, he runs the ball physically. I think you saw the same things in high school from him. You saw a guy that got downhill. He broke a lot of tackles. The knack for avoiding the big hits, he has a knack for doing that and that is really good for him.” 
  
On what he thinks Dylan Sampson gained from playing as a freshman and how he is different from a year ago…
“Really, it’s like night and day. From the protection standpoint we all knew Dylan (Sampson) had to come along and continue to grow just on the protection standpoint. You see right now where his eyes start from a progression standpoint. The physicality that he does step with and the power he steps with because he’s put on some weight. All that stuff, getting thrown into the fire last year at those certain moments helped him develop and helped him grow. When you look at him, he is probably way farther ahead than any guy we’ve had here going into year two to be honest with you, more so than Jabari (Small) and Jaylen (Wright), just for the simple fact he got a chance to probably play a few more snaps. Had a little bit more success in big moments than anything else and I think that is really a compliment to why you want to get those guys as much time as possible, like on the field early. He didn’t come in in the spring either. So, for him to come in, process the information, learn a system, probably after eight or nine practices after fall camp last year we knew he was going to be a guy to help us at some point in time throughout the season.” 
  
On managing Cameron Seldon and DeSean Bishop
“The beauty of playing the running back position a lot of times is all the stuff works out. You approach it right now in the spring where you are trying to figure out what DeSean Bishop does well, what does Cam Seldon do well? And then after that you have a chance in the summertime to grow whatever they do well and really continue to work on their deficiencies. Now, when you start getting into fall camp, you already have an idea of what the Jabari’s and the Jaylen’s do well. So now it is time to implement those guys in the course of your offense, schematically wise, like can a guy like Cameron Seldon catch the ball extremely well in the backfield? Is there a place for him within our offense? One thing at the running back position is it’s going to be bumps and bruises, just the violence of the position already. It’s always going to be guys that have knicks and bumps and they go down for two or three practices, or maybe two or three games. Everybody always has to be ready to play. Your time is going to come. We try to keep those guys as focused as possible but understanding a role on special teams is going to be important. It’s a competitive role now and that is good. Iron sharpens iron and they are going to have a chance to continue to grow and develop but they have to understand (that) they have to put pressure on us as coaches to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be to make it harder for me to just say one guy stays in the game, or even these two guys stay in the game. So, continuing to put pressure on me as a coach by doing what you are supposed to do on the field.” 
  
On what the next step is for Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright
“The biggest thing for Jabari Small, which he addressed in January, was getting his shoulder (right) and trying to get healthy. He has been down this whole spring, which has been good for him. He’s put on a little bit more mass, especially in his lower body. You look at his lowers, he has continued to get stronger and more explosive. I think Jaylen Wright needed to grow as an inside zone runner. Really between the tackles and getting more comfortable in between those noises. Hitting the ball downhill, do not bounce as much, things like that. Reduction, from a standpoint of do not take the big hits. I think Jaylen Wright has not practiced as much as I would have liked him to, but he has surely grown. Those six or seven practices that he did practice, he was looking like the best version we’ve seen him.” 
  
On where things stand in the position overall as well as in short yardage runs…
“We have one more addition that has not gotten here yet (Khalifa Keith) and I think that will definitely help us. But you look at last year, just from 2021 to 2022, our short yardage success really increased. I think it was a mindset and I do think those guys put on a little more weight in the weight room. All that kind of stuff helped us. We got three dudes that have had success in the system. Even in those short yardage situations or tight goal line situations, all of them have been able to push the pile forward and show that they keep their feet driving on contact. They run with a certain type of physicality that we address. It’s not always about weight, it’s not always about size. The biggest thing is the mentalities that they approach it with in understanding the situation in each and every snap.” 
  
On if certain running backs feel more motivation to get onto the practice field due to injuries in the running back room…
“No question. Iron sharpens iron and that’s a good problem to have because we want you to understand when you get in there, in the game, and you get your opportunity, you’ve got to take full advantage of it. That’s what I mean by keep putting pressure on me. From a standpoint of, I have to make sure that I play the best person and you have to do your job to do what you are supposed to do. Dylan Sampson has had a really good spring. Last scrimmage he rolled out some big runs, but what you’re seeing now, the Cameron Seldon and DeSean Bishop, more bodies are going to be added to the room when we get into the fall. It’s going to be a tough room to get on the field, but that’s good. That’s a good problem to have because you understand that every rep, every situation is going to be super important. You’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that you have. I can’t tell you what play is going to be the big play, every play is going to be important to everybody that plays.” 
  
On how much the increased reps due to injuries help the younger running backs improve…
“It expediates the process. One thing that has been going on is a guy like Jaylen Wright has not been able to practice as much. What that has done is now everybody’s reps that are behind him start to increase. So now, Cam Seldon, DeSean Bishop are taking way more reps than they probably would have ever taken if guys like Jabari (Small) or Jaylen Wright would have been healthy. That just expedites the process of their growth. When they go into the summer and fall camp, now they have an opportunity to understand what is going on and operate within the course of the offense. You have to be a great processor of information in this system. We are signaling the plays from the sideline, you’ve got to be able to dissect, process, get your cleats set in the ground and go play fast. The only way to really do that is to get quality reps. Cam Seldon needs to play football, as much football as he can possibly play. Getting on the field, walk throughs, all of those different things that try to help expedite that learning process, all those things are critical for him to be able to help us in the fall.” 
  
On how he envisions the running game expanding this next season…
“Coach (Joey) Halzle and Coach (Glen) Elarbee are going to do a great job combining, collaborating, and the foundation of what we do is always going to be to run the football. Now, obviously we are in a position where we have more bodies, more quality of bodies I feel like than we’ve ever had before. So, we’re going to always play our role. Whether that means we’re going to carry the ball 50 times collectively as a group or whether that means sometimes it’s 20. Our role from a protection standpoint and carrying the football is kind of whatever the game dictates. There’s going to be some games where we have to carry the load a little bit more than others. There may be some situations that we end up in during the course of the game that now we’re running the football probably more than we normally would. That stuff is all dictated off the game situation.” 
  
On DeSean Bishop’s pass blocking ability…
“I’ve really been impressed. He’s done a really good job, not only of picking it up but showing the physicality piece that you want. DeSean is a tough guy. Any time you run the ball for the amount of yards he ran in high school, you got some toughness to you because he was their workhorse. When he goes and he attacks the defender and goes to protect, he shows that physicality. That’s something you don’t have to worry about. Now, where his eyes are supposed to go and the technique on how to get there, all that part is something he’s going to have to continue to learn and grow. But like I tell you right now, he’s not afraid to stick his face in the fan and go attack people.” 

RS-Senior WR Bru McCoy 

On becoming a natural leader in the wide receiver room during spring practice… 
“Very naturally. By nature, I’m the type of person who likes to take care of people and look out. (This spring) was a great opportunity to keep my mind sharp by being able to teach them and help them work on the little things and details in the offense, but also it’s fun to watch people grow, develop and see them improve. It’s also all mental reps for me.” 
 
On areas he’s wanting to improve for next season… 
“Understanding defenses–especially in the SEC, because you get a lot of different disguises and rotations. Just being able to recognize things and with the offense we run, understanding the way the secondary is working helps you make better and smarter decisions within our offense. That’s something I’ve focused on.” 
 
On how much better of an understanding he has within the offense after one year in the program… 
“I don’t want to say night-and-day, but similar to that. A lot better understanding of the offense, a lot more comfortable, and I have a better understanding of the broader goal of what we’re trying to do and why we do things a certain way. Coming from a different offense, it was very unorthodox and it broke a lot of rules that I had kind of been beaten over the head with for a while. Now I’m more comfortable knowing that we’re going to do everything a certain way. There’s leniency to certain things and there’s rules. We have a goal in mind and a why.” 

Senior OL Cooper Mays 

On being the leader on the offensive line… 
“I feel like I was a decent leader last year and made my mark a little bit, but I think Jerome (Carvin) was the head of that room, and I was the supporting piece beside him. Working on it more this year, stepping up into that role, taking it day-by-day and trying to get better at it.” 
 
On what he is trying to incorporate into his game this spring… 
“Definitely. My coach sent me a little clinic tape from Kevin Mawae. He is a smaller guy like me, who played in the NFL for a long time, gold-jacket type of guy. He preached how pass protection isn’t passive and taking space. I’ve tried to mix up stuff in the pass game, taking different sets and closing distances. That’s been a big emphasis on me. Every year is a battle of trying to get stronger, bigger and more experienced. I’ve been on the same board.” 
 
On what the spring game is like for the newcomers… 
“Really special. Neyland is a special environment every time you go in. It’s a lot of first things and a lot of new things for the young guys. Going over there will be a great thing for them. I didn’t get to experience it my freshman year because of COVID. I didn’t get that experience until the first game, and even then, it was during COVID, so not as normal. But these guys are going to have a great crowd to come out to, and we have the best fans in the country. I’m sure it will be special.” 

On what coach Glen Elarbee means to him…
“Man, everything. I love Coach Elarbee. I think me and him have an unbreakable bond, and there are former players that still feel about him that way today that you see show up year after year. You see a lot of our guys, Jerome CarvinDarnell Wright, my older brother Cade Mays. There are a lot of guys paying it forward on the practice field and moreover showing up to see him. I think that speaks volumes to who he is, how he treats us and what he expects out of us. I think we all love him.”

-UT Athletics

Offensive and defensive line / Credit: UT Athletics

Headlines

What's happening

Paint It Forward! (with McLain’s Painting Service)

Paint It Forward! (with McLain’s Painting Service)

NewsTalk 98.7 is teaming up with McLain’s Painting Service to help “Paint It Forward” this spring. Nominate your favorite Non-profit organization to get a fresh coat of paint up to $10,000 provided by Sherwin Williams!

Free NewsTalk 98.7 App

Free NewsTalk 98.7 App

Take WOKI with you wherever you go with the free NewsTalk 98.7 App, available on the App Store and Google Play!

Listen Live

Listen Live

We’re making it even easier for you to stay connected to NewsTalk 98.7 wherever you go! Besides tuning in on your radio, you can also stream 98.7 through your computer, smartphone, tablet, and your smart speaker.