March 11, 2013
Vols' offense building trust on, off field
The coaches weren't anywhere to be found. It wasn't a mandatory meeting Sunday, nor was it members of the Tennessee offense gathering simply for the sake of making an appearance --- and a positive impression --- upon the first-year coaching staff of Butch Jones.
Several members of the Vols' offense shared their plans of meeting Sunday afternoon, the day after their debut practice under Jones' watch and two days before the next of their 15 spring sessions. They did so for themselves and for the team.
They did so, players explained, as an extension of the family atmosphere Jones has continued to emphasize since he was hired Dec. 7, 2012.
"We try to do that after workouts and everything. Even as a whole offense, we'll try to come together and maybe at a time when we don't have anything scheduled and just try to iron out some things, just be together," center James Stone, nerve-center of the Tennessee offensive line, told VolQuest.com. "Because that's one thing we really want to stress upon is coming together as a unit. We feel like sometimes as a past we kind of got separated as a unit, especially offense and defense. And we just want to come together as a team. Go out there with a common goal."
Wideout Jacob Carter, a former walk-on who nonetheless made his presence felt among the Vols' talented wide receiver corps in 2012, said the offensive gatherings without coaches' directives or appearances could yield immeasurable dividends on the field.
"Just building chemistry, mainly. I feel like that's one of the things we need to focus on the most. I know we're meeting (Sunday), and none of the coaches are going to be there or anything," said Carter. "It's just players. Which is good for us. Building chemistry. Going out and eating with each other. Just becoming more of a family so that we have that trust in one another on the field."
Family has been a recurring theme for Jones in the nearly 100 days since he was hired to right a Tennessee program that has endured record-setting lows in recent years. Jones has charged his coaches with identifying players on sight and not because of helmet labels.
Position battles, such as the duel between junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman to be the Vols' starting quarterback, isn't hindering the team-first approach, either.
"A lot," Peterman said of how much the two players push each other, on and off the field. "And the coaches are with us, too. Us competing with each other. But more than just competing with each other, I think we're worried about the whole team and getting the best for the team and winning some games."
Stone made clear that's the motivation for an offensive line that has both the most experience and respect of any position group on the Tennessee roster.
"We feel a lot of responsibility. For the last couple of years, we've been one of the more experienced groups and that's something we want to take upon ourselves to try and lead the younger players," said the Nashville native, who dropped 15 to 20 pounds this offseason and weighed in for spring camp at 305. "And try to just do our part. We're a group of five guys to just try and bring everybody together and make this unit cohesive.
"I feel like it makes practice more productive when we're all on the same page. You have to be on the same page as that person."
Stone said he's seen both Peterman and Worley utilize the offensive unit's meetings to pick the brains of their protectors and learn as much as possible.
"I feel like they're real good about that. If they have a question about a protection or something they want to do, they won't hesitate to come to us, whether it's me or Mack Crowder or (Alex) Bullard and ask us about that," Stone said. "I feel like that's good because we have to have that open communication. We have to see what they see."
Carter said that ability to manifest trust now will almost certainly lead to a belief in each other that every player will get his job done between the lines.
"It helps. If you're helping each other out off the field and with each other all the time, when you're on the field you can trust each other and trust the guys inside, outside," Carter said. "Trust the linemen to block for the quarterback and give us time to get open and then they trust us getting open. It's all about trust when you're out there."
And the Vols are doing their part to build that trust, both with and without the instruction of their coaches.
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