HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee made its appearance on Day 1 of SEC Media Days on Monday, as coach Butch Jones and a trio of seniors talked about Team 121’s quest to compete for a division title this fall.
“We’ve had our best summer to date,” Jones told the assembled local media. “It’s a tribute to our players. It’s a tribute to our leadership and Rock Gullickson and the entire strength and conditioning staff. … They’re a very driven, hungry football team.”
Here are a slew of noteworthy topics Jones touched on Monday.
Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle continues to progress from his broken leg sustained last October against South Carolina, as the 6-foot-2, 308-pound junior has resumed running.
“That was great progress for us,” Jones said. “We anticipate him being in training camp right when we start. He’ll probably be limited in some aspects, but him running, doing change of direction drills, it’s very encouraging to see.”
Tuttle has missed 13 games the last two seasons with devastating leg injuries, so Tennessee will work the junior back slowly, especially considering the unit’s depth at defensive tackle this fall. Jones was non-committal on Tuttle’s potential status for the opener against Georgia Tech on Sept. 4., saying there was “no timetable” on when the defensive tackle would be fully-cleared.
“The body heals at different rates, so we don't ever put on a timetable,” Jones said. “But he’s made great progress during the summer months.”
Meanwhile, freshman tailback Ty Chandler has completely recovered from his strained hamstring sustained at the state championships in May and should be full-go for training camp on July 29.
QUARTERBACKS STILL BATTLING
As predicted, Jones offered a tepid update on Tennessee’s quarterback competition between junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. The two continue to battle this offseason, with Jones praising their upside and leadership over the summer.
“I’m excited about all of our quarterbacks. The two are little bit different in terms of personalities, but they’re very, very competitive. Their skill-sets are very similar.”
With training camp roughly three weeks away, Jones maintained that there’s “no timeframe” on a decision.
“They’re competing everyday, but they’re also helping each other everyday,” he said. “You’ve got Jarret, who’s a feisty competitor, young and ambitious. Then you have Quinten, who’s been in the program a little bit longer. A little more reserved. But both of them have done a great job this summer.”
Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is embroiled in a legal battle with his former employer Penn State over an alleged breach of contract, but Jones “has no concerns whatsoever.”
Shoop is being sued for not paying nearly $900,000 after leaving Penn State for Tennessee in January of 2016. However, the former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator filed a counter lawsuit, claiming he was fired.
“Think there’s a lot of things people don’t know,” Jones said. “It’s easy to pass judgment. That’s a personal thing with Bob.”
Jones overhauled Tennessee’s staff this offseason, hiring four new position coaches — Brady Hoke, Mike Canales, Kevin Beard and Charlton Warren — and promoting Larry Scott to offensive coordinator and Walt Wells to offensive line coach. He also charged his longtime friend Rock Gullickson with changing the culture in the strength and conditioning program.
After a spring and summer with the new staff, Jones praised the group’s chemistry and said the new assistants have energized the team.
“I do think the additions of the new coaches have definitely helped maters. It’s brought a new sense of energy,” Jones explained.
“A new perspective. Each individual brings something different to the table. I also think it really helped out competitive makeup of the football program because it doesn't matter what you’ve done in the past. Right, wrong or different, you have to go back and re-earn your football identity.”
Tennessee’s new staff now includes three former head coaches in Shoop, Hoke and Scott, and the added experience has generated some new ideas this summer.
“When you have three coaches on your staff who have been former head coaches, that helps as well,” Jones said.
“I want to be challenged everyday. If there’s an opportunity or a way we can do things better, I want to know about it, so having those guys and their resources has been very helpful as well.”
After having four permeant captains — Dobbs, Sutton, Reeves-Maybin and Kamara — last fall, Jones is altering his position this year, reverting back to rotating captains each week.
"We'll go back to that, and that's something we've normally done," Jones said.
"The great thing is we have a lot of individuals stepping up."