By Alex Norman
The best thing about the annual SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama is that no team, nor their fans, has had their hearts ripped out yet. Games are still 6 weeks away.
On Tuesday, July 15 the Tennessee Volunteers took to the podiums in front of over 1200 credentialed media members and talked about the upcoming season.
“Obviously it’s an exciting time of year right now,” said Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. “Everyone is extremely optimistic. Everyone starts at 0-0. No two teams are ever the same. That’s why we’ve moved on from Team 117 to Team 118 at Tennessee. (There is) so much momentum, not just from a program standpoint in terms of football, but from facility improvements, from recruiting, just the overall development that’s going on at Tennessee.”
“It’s been a great offseason. We had a good spring, and then this summer, we’ve been working real hard,” said Tennessee senior linebacker A.J. Johnson. “We’ve got a lot of guys getting PR’s (personal records), and we’re just building from last summer. We’ve got double the guys getting PR’s and we’ve got double the guys getting their goal times and that’s the key, working. Any football team, if you’re working hard during the summer to bring it together, you’re going to have a good season and a road paved for you for the season coming.”
Once again the Vols will be a young team. They signed 32 players in the Class of 2014, including 14 early enrollees that have been on campus since January. The promise of an opportunity for immediate playing time, coupled with the opportunity to help rebuild a once proud program has been a big selling point in recruiting these freshmen for Jones.
“They’ve done a great job. I think the thing where we’ve been aided and benefited from is we have six legacy players whose fathers played at the University of Tennessee and were great players,” said Jones. “We want individuals that have grown up understanding the rivalry with Alabama, with Florida, understanding the traditions that we have at the University of Tennessee. So the legacy players have helped. But this is a class that wanted to be at the University of Tennessee, and they take great pride in having that upon their shoulders of getting Tennessee football back to its rightful place among the elite of college football.”
Tennessee’s offensive line (like its defensive line) is a work in progress. The Vols lost all their starters from 2013 to graduation and the NFL. Experience is low, but confidence is high.
“That is an opportunity for us to go out there and prove that we can play,” said Tennessee offensive lineman Mack Crowder. “We’ve obviously been in the background the past couple years and we are all really looking forward to going out there and showing what we have. What I’m hoping to accomplish is going out there and getting the job done, helping my team any way I can.”
“This is a group that has worked exceptionally hard and they’re going to have a tremendous opportunity in front of them,” said Jones.
The biggest question of 2014 was also the biggest question of 2013. Who is going to play quarterback?
“I’m excited about our overall quarterback competition. I think all three individuals have really, really elevated their game from Justin Worley to Nate Peterman to Josh Dobbs. We’ve really, really challenged them,” said Jones. “I also think the influx of talent around them at the skill spots, wide receiver, tight end and running back is also going to increase their overall level of play. But I’m very, very encouraged by what I’ve seen. There is no timetable to naming a starter. I want them to compete as much as possible because I think competition is healthy. They compete against each other each and every day, but also they’ve maintained that togetherness as a unit, position group.”
Tennessee opens the season at home on Sunday, August 31st against Utah State.
Quotes courtesy UTSports.com.