Vols feel heat; Hart blasts false report
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- Again emphasizing a "business-like" approach, Tennessee continued its preparations for the Taxslayer Bowl Monday afternoon on the soccer field at the University of North Florida.
The Vols (6-6), who face Iowa (7-5) Friday at 3:20 p.m. inside EverBank Field, logged more work in Knoxville before arriving on Florida's northeast coast Sunday afternoon. They worked under a hot sun --- temperatures hovered around 80, nearly 40 degrees warmer than last week on Rocky Top, and humidity was near 70 percent around 2 p.m. according to Weather.com --- in shorts and uppers for what would be considered a "Tuesday game-week" practice.
[rl]"Again, the No. 1 deal is coming down here to win the bowl game," said UT coach Butch Jones prior to practice. "It's all about your preparation. To get out here, the biggest thing is going to be adapting and adjusting to the humidity. It's supposed to be 86 percent humidity, so the hotter the better today. Today is going to be a great work day for us."
Virtually every player on the Vols' roster is experiencing the balance of bowl preparations with off-the-field activities, which includes respective team welcome dinners tonight.
Jones said he'll lean on his coaching staff and players to help maintain focus on Friday's game.
"We're going to rely on our coaches; we're going to rely on our older players; the overall leadership of our football team," Jones said. "They've done a great job as of right now of really understanding the purpose of why we're down here and that's to enjoy each other, but it's also to win a football game."
Freshman standout defensive lineman Derek Barnett said the Vols have to be aware of where they are and what needs to be accomplished at all times.
"I think we just have to lock in when we do meetings, lock in when we're on the field and get some work in," Barnett told VolQuest.com. "Have some fun but think about the ballgame as well."
Just a sophomore, Cam Sutton still stands as one of Tennessee's elder statesman on the defensive side of the ball. Sutton said the Vols aren't getting caught up in the chatter about their overall team youth or lack of bowl experience.
"I feel like we're an eager team; we're ready to get after it on Friday," Sutton said. "For the most part us being young, they always say look forward to the future but our time is now. We don't look forward to anything in the future. We take it a day at a time, a play at a time, a snap at a time and stay in the program.
"We're excited about playing, love each other, love being around each other and it makes the game more fun."
Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Dave Hart vehemently shot down a report, calling it "completely false," that suggested the Vols had wanted to schedule the Baylor Bears for a home-and-home series and that the SEC interceded to tell the Vols to back off.
"Absolutely, it's fictitious," Hart said of the report. "Somebody just made that up. It's unbelievable."
Hart was adamant that he had participated in zero discussions, formal or otherwise, with any Baylor representatives about a potential football game or series. Further, Hart said, he's not spoken with Baylor A.D. Ian McCaw since the last national athletics directors' meetings.
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
Monday, Tennessee was in shorts and shoulder pads in what the Vols call a "thud" workout where it is physical. The Vols also got in full-contact work back in Knoxville for the anticipation of Iowa's very physical ground attack.
"It's fine-tuning the game plan," Jones said of his team's practice goals. "Most of the work was done back in Knoxville, but coming down here now is fine-tuning, becoming a better football team, it's all execution. We had a theme and if you look at the bowl season so far it's marred with missed tackles, big plays, explosive plays, special teams are at a premium. You almost have to have a first-game approach with anything and everything. You take so much time studying the other team's tendencies that you're going to have plays off of those tendencies. It goes back to the overall discipline that it takes to play winning football, our eye discipline and execution. It's going to be a physical football game and we understand that."
Sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin has 88 tackles this season in 12 starts and said he isn't too concerned about the month-long layoff and how it could impact the defense's ability to tackle the Hawkeyes' methodical ground attack.
"I've been tackling my whole life so it's not that big to me," Reeves-Maybin told VolQuest.com. "I'm sure there will be a little rust. That's a trend throughout the bowl games, bad tackling and bad body positioning. We have worked on that every day and I don't think it will hurt us."
FOCUSING ON WHO'S IN JACKSONVILLE
As VolQuest.com reported in the 'War Room' last Friday, freshman D'Andre Payne and sophomore Jaylen Miller have left the team and are not with the Vols in Jacksonville. Jones said on Monday that he would help the players get to another school, but his focus was on his squad that was in the Florida sunshine.
"Yeah, I am talking about the players that are here," Jones said. "It is all about the bowl experience. Jaylen Miller, we will help him find a place where he thinks he can play and same way with D'Andre Payne, we will help them and wherever they feel they can play we will help them. But I am proud of these players. Let's make sure we understand that.
"Everyone wants to talk about other things, there is a reason why we are here and it is the efforts of these football players and they have done a tremendous job. Again, it is all about the bowl experience and when we set forth in August, our goal was to become a bowl football team and win a bowl game. To be playing in the TaxSlayer Bowl, a January bowl game, obviously is very special. Again, it is going to be another one of those challenges that we have had this whole entire season."
Payne is the fourth freshman who has elected not to return to the Vols following the regular-season as Derrell Scott is attempting to transfer to East Carolina. Daniel Helm is also working out a transfer to Duke. Dewayne Hendricks is not with the team but plans to remain at Tennessee for the spring semester before deciding his football future.