HOOVER, Ala. --- Butch Jones referenced his own eye-witness reports. Players in the weight room. Players in the team room. Players in the film room.
Perhaps most importantly? The company his current Tennessee players have been keeping this summer in Knoxville is why Jones believes the culture around the Volunteers' rebuilding football program is changing.
"I think just the overall work capacity, the work volume, the togetherness. This football team hangs out together all the time. I walk in the weight room the other day and there's Albert Haynesworth holding court, and our defensive linemen are listening. That's growth and maturation of a football program. You have Jason Witten coming back and wanting to spend time with your football team. You have Peyton Manning, you have Eric Berry. You have all these great players wanting to be around these players because they can sense something special.
"Again, they're very youthful. They're going to go through that learning curve again. They want to get better. They want to have the onus on them of getting Tennessee football back."
While the Vols face a senior-bereft roster and an infusion of highly regarded but inexperienced talented newcomers, Jones is nonetheless calling on his veterans --- only approximately 10 seniors dot the team's preseason two-deep --- to carry on the culture change with their leadership.
"We've always had the philosophy everywhere we've been that it's better to be a player-coached team than a coach-coached team," Jones said. "When the players get to each other and coach each other, that's rewarding. And that's the great football teams, they run on their own gas. They push each other. They hold each other accountable. It says a lot more if A.J. Johnson gets on somebody for not pursuing or not triggering to the football than if Butch Jones or John Jancek.
"And that's what we're developing. We spend an inordinate amount of time in our football program of personal growth and development and leadership and you can see the fruits of the labor, so to speak, starting to materialize right now."
Curt Maggitt, fully healthy after nearly 20 months out of game action, knows the Vols must also change the culture with on-the-field results.
"We talk about [no bowl appearances] quite a lot. It's crazy. We've got some of our guys going into their last year and still haven't gone to a bowl game yet," Maggitt said. "But that's got to change. …
"We know our ability, and we know, if we play well, if we play to our ability we'll play very well and we'll shock a lot of people."
Jones knows, however, it's a process that won't be without obstacles for a team that had nearly 50 of its players go through their first full spring camp this year and welcomes nearly 20 more newcomers when pre-season camp opens Aug. 1.
"It's going to be how fast can we jump that learning curve, and every day is going to be a new experience for them. Every game. Every practice. It's how we handle the clutter and distractions," Jones said. "How do we handle being a student-athlete. Half of these individuals have never gone through a football season, let alone full academic workload. Now 14 of them have that experience, but it's nothing like going through the football season with the media, preparing for our opponent with the standard and expectation. Having to go play in hostile environments. All that goes (into it). That's why it's going to be important how we handle the natural adversities that a football season presents. The older teams have been through it, they understand it. Where the young individuals, they have no idea what's coming ahead of them."
As Jones enters Year Two with an extremely youthful team, the Vols' coach knows what's ahead of him and his program after learning over the last year what the SEC is really all about.
"Unforgiving," Jones offered. "Basically it's what I found out very early and knew coming in here, it's an unforgiving league. It's great coaches, great players, great administrators, great vision. If you stand still in terms of fundraising; if you stand still in terms of vision; in terms of facilities, development of your football program, recruiting, you are going to be passed up.
"It's the most competitive conference in the country. There's a reason why (the SEC) has had great success. You have to get out of bed everyday and run everyday. You're working to beat your opponent. You're taking care of your players and investing in your program. That's the great thing. You look at the direction of our football program and our entire athletics department led by Dave Hart. You look at the dormitory complex, the Anderson Training Center, we are never standing still. You look at the practice fields, which are greatly needed. That's our laboratory. That's where we teach football. We have really been challenged in terms of field space. Now to be able to add two more fields that's critical to the development of our football team as well."
MAGGITT HIS HEALTHIEST HEADING INTO SEASON
It has been over 600 days since Curt Maggitt last played inside Neyland Stadium, or anywhere for that matter. It was in November of 2012 when Maggitt, after struggling with an injured shoulder and toe throughout his sophomore season, suffered a torn ACL against Missouri and was forced to miss the remainder of his sophomore season.
Maggitt then redshirted his junior season after never feeling 100 percent healed from the knee injury.
But, that's all in the past Maggitt said at SEC Media Days on Tuesday, saying he feels healthier than he ever has since he's been at Tennessee.
"I feel as healthy as I ever have (at Tennessee)," Maggitt said. "I feel as healthy as I was in high school."
Not only is Maggitt his healthiest, he is also his wisest. He admitted his time off the field helped him learn more about the game.
"I've learned a lot, more so mental things of the game, football intelligence," Maggitt explained. "(I've) been watching more film, looking at the small things. It was my fist time seeing offense and defense from the sideline so I see how important the backside is and all the small things you don't realize in action."
Now, a smarter, healthier Maggitt is ready to be back on the field come Aug. 31 when the Vols kick off their season against Utah State and he's willing to do whatever for the Vols.
"Wherever Coach needs me. If it's third-down-and-long, if I need to get a pass rush, I'll probably stand up. If Coach needs my hand down, I'll be having my hand down a lot," Maggitt said. "Anywhere I'm needed, I'm wanting to learn all the defense to be more versatile. …
"Just being versatile, I feel like I can help the team in different ways with my ability."
DEALING WITH THE CHATTER
Redshirt junior Mack Crowder will play in his 10th college football game when the Vols kickoff the season against Utah State. Surrounding Crowder will be four other new starters. Crowder knows his unit is under the spotlight and is the biggest question mark surrounding the offense.
"We do talk about it," Crowder said. "But we just realize that it's opportunities for all of us. There's five new starters and it's an opportunity for us to come out and play and prove that we can hang with everyone else. We do have a job to do and we are going to go out there and do it."
Crowder has led the offensive front this off-season setting up extra film sessions and extra on the field work. The Bristol native admits this summer has been easier simply because for the first time nothing is new.
"That actually does help quite a bit because we have been in the system now for two years," Crowder said. "Before coach Jones got here, I had to learn three new playbooks. Having the same thing in front of me two years in a row helps."