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March 6, 2014
Who are they? Jones says identity is top goal
Butch Jones addressed his team concerning the objectives going into his second spring camp as Tennessee's head football coach. The No. 1 priority on the list? Identity.
"First and foremost, and I just spoke about it when we started, building our identity and our style of play," Jones said. "That comes with a consistency in performance, a consistency in approach each and every day, the way we attack spring practice (number) one through 15."
That 'first and foremost' starts on offense. More specifically, cranking up the tempo on a unit that was too slow and too unproductive in 2013.
The Vols averaged 23.8 points per game and had more than 4,200 yards of total offense during an up and down 2013 season that saw three different quarterbacks get meaningful snaps ― not to mention the lack of playmakers at the skill positions.
That has to change between Year 1 and Year 2.
"I'd like to think we're growing more of an identity of the way we want to play," Jones said. "I think that's evident in terms of the way we recruited. With the wide receivers we were able to bring in, attract to come here to Tennessee. The running backs, the tight ends.
"We want to be much more up-tempo," Jones added. "We want to challenge that 10-second rule. We want to play much faster."
Signing guys like in-state 5-Stars players in running back Jalen Hurd and wide receiver Josh Malone should help.
"The word fast ― improving team speed ― we must become fast in everything we do," Jones said. "As a team, in our thought-process, in our style of play, both offense and defense and then special teams as well.
"We are becoming much more of what we want to be, but we're still not there yet. We want to be an offense that has multiple, multiple personnel groupings, plays a number of different individuals that can run the ball consistently and has a dynamic pass game that we can push the ball down the field."
Cranking up the speed starts, as most things do on a Butch Jones football team, with the details.
"We've really made a point of emphasis this offseason of working with the explosiveness with our hands, overall hand quickness," Jones said. "The violence in terms of velocity which we get off blocks. That's something we have to improve greatly."
That's just the physical aspect. There's also plenty of mental ground to be gained.
"Understanding situational football," Jones said. "It's our running backs understanding what our quarterback is looking for. 'Hey, I'm the third read in the progression so I don't have to get out in my pass route. I can give the offensive line a little more help because I know what the quarterback is doing. I'm the third read, I don't need to get out there.'"
"There's so much learning that must occur in these 15 practices moving forward," Jones added. "We have to find out who our playmakers are."
Something the Vols didn't have much of ― and slowly developed ― a year ago.
"What makes an offense is the players and their dynamics," Jones said. "The ability to throw the ball up and high-point it, go up and get it. Players that can maybe make you right when you're wrong. One of those, 'No, no no ... yes, yes, yes' (players). To be able to throw a 5-yard hitch route and instead of getting tackled, it becomes a 35-yard gain.
"We all know we didn't have many explosive plays last year, and it's hard to play perfect ― you can't, especially in this conference. We need playmakers."
Jones doesn't have a timetable on when he'll find his starting quarterback. It could be two weeks. It could be a month. It could be the week of Utah State.
Last year it was Justin Worley, before a lack of production brought on Nathan Peterman. Later in the year Worley's broken thumb brought on true freshman Joshua Dobbs.
After Tennessee's season finale at Kentucky, Jones said the quarterback race would be wide open for 2014. That starts, at least on the field, Friday afternoon when the Vols open spring camp at 4:30.
"We're looking for a model of consistency in performance," Jones said.
Consistency everywhere. On and off the field.
"We'll evaluate everything," Jones said. "We'll evaluate how they are in team meetings; we'll evaluate how they are in the classroom; we'll evaluate how they well they perform in their individual drills.
Worley started seven games last year and played in eight, throwing for 1,239 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Dobbs threw for 695 yards, ran for 189 and threw for two scores, but the offensive slowed to a crawl under his control in the second half of the 2013 season.
Freshman Riley Ferguson was a redshirt while dealing with a hairline fracture in his leg.
"Has there been a timetable to set on who our starting quarterback is? There are no timetables," Jones said. "That person will emerge.
"I don't know if it's the second week of spring. I don't know if it's the conclusion of the Orange & White Game. I don't know if it's a week prior to Utah State (in the season opener).
"That will take care of itself."
Until then, it's all about what they can prove on and off the field.
"Right now they just have to worry about making themselves better individually each and everyday," Jones said. "Being a leader and proving they can win at Tennessee."
If a quarterback competition isn't enough, Tennessee is tasked with replacing all five offensive linemen ― Tiny Richardson, Ja'Wuan James, James Stone, Alex Bullard and Zach Fulton ― from last season.
"The one position that's extremely concerning is the offensive line position," Jones said. "There's a recruiting class, that, there are no recruited offensive linemen in that class. We're still down a recruiting class.
"Normally you want to have about 15 offensive linemen on scholarship. I believe we're nine or 10 ― with some position changes and individuals moving ― that's not where we need to be, especially with the way we want to run the football and play with a high level of physicality."
Signing guys like JUCO left tackle Dontavius Blair and Rivals 3-Star tackle Coleman Thomas helps. As VolQuest reported last week, along with Blair and Thomas, Marcus Jackson (guard), Mack Crowder (center) and Kyler Kerbyson (guard) should help fill in the gaps.
"A lot of our mid-year enrollees are offensive linemen," Jones said, "so that's been great to get them going, get their strength levels improved and continue to progress as we move forward."
Redshirt junior linebacker Curt Maggitt is finally healthy and ready to return after extended rehab of his torn ACL cost him his entire junior season.
"It means a lot," Jones said. "He's our leader. He's the one who has everyone's respect.
"When Curt Maggitt talks, everyone listens. He's the one getting up in front of the room, he's the one that's coming to me all the time, that constant communication."
Maggitt had 86 tackles over the course of 20 games, before being lost to a torn ACL in a November 2012 loss to Missouri at Neyland Stadium. He'll join A.J. Johnson in a thin linebacker group that needs as many healthy bodies ― and playmakers ― as possible.
"You'll see him all over the field," Jones said. "You'll see him rushing the passer, you'll see him dropping in coverage, you'll see him playing the linebacker spots.
"We're going to ask a lot of him both mentally and physically."