Quotes: As Preseason Camp Winds Down, Vols Ready to Shift Focus to Game Prep

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football kicked off its fourth and final week of preseason camp on Monday morning. This week, the team will begin transitioning into preparation for the season opener against Virginia on Sept. 2 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

Following practice, head coach Josh Heupel addressed the media to discuss the team’s progress throughout camp and its plans to move into game prep for the season opener.

“This is the end of our true training camp,” Heupel said. “We’ll push forward and get a lot of good work in but still move slowly towards more preparation for Virginia. I’ve loved what these guys have done through the practices that we’ve had.

“Good teams continue to get better throughout the course of the season, and we have to continue to push here. Twelve days until we kickoff. I’m excited about that opportunity. At the same time, we have a lot of ground to cover before we kickoff here in a couple of weeks.”

It has been a productive preseason camp for the Vols as the program prepares to enter the third season under Heupel’s leadership.

“I think their energy, their consistency, their work habits and competitive nature out on the practice field,” Heupel said. “I think the comradery and connection that they have, too. The leadership has been really good, really strong throughout the course of training camp.
 
“I’ve said it before, but when you get into the season it’s not going to be perfect for everybody. All of the goals individually that you set, at the end of the day, everybody’s got to sacrifice a little bit for the success of the team. It’s important that we continue to have that inside of our locker room and inside of our program.”
 
A full transcript of Heupel’s post-practice press conference can be found below.
 

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement…
“Good work today out on the grass with the guys. This is the end of our true training camp. We’ll push forward and get a lot of good work in but still move slowly towards more preparation for Virginia. I’ve loved what these guys have done through the practices that we’ve had. Good teams continue to get better throughout the course of the season, and we have to continue to push here. Twelve days until we kick off. I’m excited about that opportunity. At the same time, we have a lot of ground to cover before we kick off here in a couple of weeks.”
 
On how important the week before game week is…
“Good teams get better throughout the course of the season. We are still in the very beginning stages of the season. There’s a lot of things that we have to continue to clean up. A lot of situational work that we are going to implement and get into. Our guys have to be ready for those moments throughout the course of the season. There’s still a lot of sharpening before we get to kickoff. It’s critical that we handle it the right way and continue to grow.”
 
On if anything has changed with the right tackle position…
“Nothing yet. That will continue to unfold here until we get up until kickoff. I anticipate seeing multiple guys play. That’s true at the right tackle position, and true across the board.”
 
On if it is starting to feel like game week…
“Yeah. We finish up tonight with some things that we’re intentional about, getting some situational work tonight in our walkthrough. After that, it will start feeling a lot more like game week. Like I said, there’s still a lot of good-on-good that we’re going to do to continue to sharpen and grow before we get to kickoff. But absolutely, our players can sense that you’re on the end of training camp and kickoff is right around the corner.”
 
On Jackson Ross saying he has the third-best arm on the team…
“Now we know that Jackson will lie. He may be fourth, but not third.”
 
On what’s encouraged him about this team so far throughout camp…
“I think their energy, their consistency, their work habits and competitive nature out on the practice field. I think the comradery and connection that they have, too. The leadership has been really good, really strong throughout the course of training camp. I’ve said it before, but when you get into the season it’s not going to be perfect for everybody. All of the goals individually that you set, at the end of the day, everybody’s got to sacrifice a little bit for the success of the team. It’s important that we continue to have that inside of our locker room and inside of our program.”
 
On if the success on the field or just time in general has changed the culture of this program…
“I think everything that you encounter continues to help build trust and understanding of who you are, what you’re about and what you want to be. There are always moments of growth in everything that you’re doing at the same time. The players have great trust in the culture that we want to have and have built. They understand the expectations on and off the field. We’ve developed stronger leadership. I think all of those things in year three play into being in a better situation than we were in year one and in a lot of ways year two, too.”
 
On how he would assess how the team is health wise…
“The guys that were nicked up early in camp. We got most of those guys back. A couple of guys I think, as we finish up today and tomorrow, were back into practice mode and will head back on the grass. We should be pretty close to being completely healthy by the time we kick off.”
 
On how close they are to figuring out the defensive back rotation…
“The guys that we have gotten back that were out early in training camp in the last three to four days have continued to increase their loads. We’ve gotten a lot of work with those guys. We feel like we have a pretty clear understanding of who those guys are and how they’ll play and compete. We’ll play a lot of guys on the backend. I feel like we are in a good spot over the next 12 days to be ready to roll.”
 
On how Joe Milton III has been able to develop his mechanics and situational awareness…
“You put quarterbacks in tough situations, and in some situations during practice you put them in the harder spots that they can be in. He’s continued to grow in his understanding of football 101, understanding when can I hang in the pocket, when is the time to get rid of the football and make sure that in a certain situation, whether we’re backed up or in field goal (range), where you got three and you’re trying to get seven. Understanding the timing in how to play smart football in those situations. He’s continued to grow, and I love what he’s done. The other quarterbacks in the room have continued to grow as we’ve put them into a lot of situations. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve done as a head coach is try and create more situational awareness and get more reps in those situations. That’s been a part in helping not just those guys but all 125 of them in the locker room.”
 
On how Bru McCoy has embraced his role as a leader… 
“He’s somebody that this offseason—a year ago when he got here, coming off of the injury that he had come off of, he was just trying to figure out how to play and operate and practice inside of what we do offensively. Since January, he’s been on our leadership council, he’s been very intentional in how he’s grown. It’s been fun to see him take those steps. He owns it, he likes being in that role, and he’s got a really positive effect on everybody around him.” 
  
On how close a non-starter has to be to a starter to get into the rotation… 
“If we don’t feel like you’re going to play at a championship level, you’re not going to be on the field. It’s real easy. Coaches have to be able to trust you.” 
  
On his evaluation of the wide receiver position to this point… 
“The three guys that have a bunch of time in our offense played really well, done a great job of being in-sync with the quarterback. Dont’e Thornton has continued to really grow, love what he’s done. The two younger guys inside of our building, Chas (Nimrod) and Kaleb (Webb), they’ve taken great strides all offseason, but this training camp they were a different player than they were in spring ball too, in a positive way. Love what those guys are doing. That’s on the offensive side of the ball, it’s also on special teams.” 
  
On Nico Iamaleava’s ability as a backup… 
“I think he’s ready to play at a really high level. All the young quarterbacks, it’s different when you get out there, it’s live bullets and you don’t have a red jersey on. Feel really good about where he’s at. Command of our offense, being a really sound decision maker, fundamentally being able to get himself in a good position to be consistently accurate with the ball. I like what he’s done.” 
  
On what Nico Iamaleava has done off the field in terms of preparation… 
“As a young man coming into a program understanding the standards that we have here, but the demands of playing quarterback at this level. Being able to start to grasp and understand what’s going on from us up-front. Protections, defensive structure, being able to see and recognize, anticipate and see post-snap rotations from the backend. At the end of the day, controlling his job and having his eyes in the right spot. He’s a dramatically different player than he was in spring ball, love the steps that he took in the spring too. This football team has a lot of trust in him.” 
  
On what he likes about Joe Milton III and Nico Iamaleava’s dynamic with each other and how it compares to Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton III’s dynamic… 
“I think it’s a little bit different in the amount of time that Nico has spent here. At the end of the day for him, being very supportive, helping him on the sidelines, being able to talk about what happened on previous plays, previous series. I think that’s important. Joe was such a great leader for us a year ago long before anybody saw him step onto the field. His growth, how intentional he was in his work was a big part of why everybody believed he would play at a really high level when he got his next chance. For Nico, this year, right now in the backend of training camp, getting prepared for week one and throughout the course of the season. As it’s true for every guy that’s not the first guy out there, it’s about continued growth and putting yourself in the position to play at your highest level when you get your opportunity. Nico has operated that way, he’s been intentional in the way that he’s worked. Joe being able to see things and communicate to Nico, never it being personal. It’s a really positive relationship that exists between those two, but all the guys inside that quarterback room. It’s a really unique dynamic.” 
  
On if coaches enjoy the week before game week… 
“I think coaches have great urgency in correcting the things that aren’t where they need to be yet. There’s a lot of those things, that’s just the nature of this game and trying to be perfect in what you’re doing, understanding that perfection in this game is not obtainable either. Constant growth, there’s great urgency, we have 12 days to get ready to go play our best football week one.” 
  
On how Jacob Warren has taken the next step during the offseason… 
“I just think fundamentally he’s continued to grow, that room has continued to grow. Coach Abeln has done a phenomenal job. That’s in the core, pass protection, running game, and it’s out on the perimeter, being involved in the pass game, understanding leverage, being more disciplined and playing with better technique with some of their route running, Those guys have all functioned, Jacob has functioned at a really high level in the pass game.” 
  
On if Joe Milton III got him a bobblehead from the Tennessee Smokies game and if it was autographed… 
“Yeah, I got a pack of four for my two kids, and my nephew and niece too. He did not (sign it). Kids were disappointed in that.” 

-UT Athletics

Vols HC Josh Heupel / Credit: UT Athletics

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