SPRING PRACTICE: First time outside and in full pads

Published: Mar. 30, 2021 at 10:06 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 30, 2021 at 10:13 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The first full pads practice of the Josh Heupel era is complete. Tennessee football went through its third practice of the spring and its first outdoor workout for over two hours on Wednesday afternoon at Haslam Field.

Sunny skies finally greeted the Volunteers after the first two practices of week. Heupel’s squad utilized all three fields, working all three phases and while pushing tempo in multiple team periods. Tennessee will take advantage of back-to-back days on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to finish off its second week of spring practice.

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Defensive coordinator Tim Banks and wide receivers coach Kodi Burns addressed the media following Wednesday’s practice.

Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks:

On if Tyler Baron is moving full time to the defensive line …”We are still defining all of our roles right now on our defense. He is obviously a skilled athlete, big skilled if you will. I think it is too early to say exactly how we are going to utilize him, whether it’s strictly a hybrid or strictly a defensive lineman. And quite frankly I think that is a good problem to have. He has a good skill set, so we are still evaluating it, and hopefully, by the end of spring heading into fall we will have a better idea exactly how we want to utilize him.”

On what he saw out of the defensive line group today …The want is there. The guys are working extremely hard. We obviously play at a really good pace and obviously are learning a new system. So, there is a lot that is required to play at the standard into which we want to play. But I thought as far as the effort and what we are asking them to do. I thought the guys were really working their tails off trying to improve and that is really all we can ask for. I thought today they worked their tails off.”

On how much more he learns when the guys practice with pads on and on who he leans on in his group of linebackers …”The first question I think anytime you put the pads on you find out some timeless truth. You still have to tackle, you have to block, and you obviously have to get off blocks and things of that nature. That is what you find out exactly what we are as it relates to hitting and shedding. As far as No. 2, our linebackers I think a lot of it is just work by committee right now. All of those guys are working extremely hard to try and separate themselves and like I said today is really the first day we put pads on. I think as we continue to move through it, we will have a chance to define some roles better. But right now, it is a little bit by committee and again a lot of times that ends up being a good thing because you are developing some depth.”

On if he is taking a simple approach to teaching his defense as the offense …”Yes, I think you just obviously want to put them in a situation where they can play extremely fast. I don’t know if simple is the word for us, but obviously in everything we do we want to be sound. We’re putting it in day-by-day, piece-by-piece. The more they can digest the more they can install. But ultimately, we just want to see guys play hard and execute. Whatever we feel like they can handle as we move forward. We will continue to put it in, but ultimately that is really all we can handle at this point is who is going to play hard, who’s going to strike, get off blocks and make tackles. And that is really all they have been evaluated on to this point.”

On what he thinks of the defensive line so far from practices …”Well, again we are a work in progress. I think the guys are trying I think they have a lot of want to. And you guys know obviously for us to play at the level we want to play at you know everything starts and ends upfront. So, they understand what the standard is and they are working very hard to put themselves in a position to uphold it. But I am pleased it’s really only been three practices, and I like the direction we are headed.”On what he knows about his team that he did not know a week and a half ago …”You know I think again I don’t know if I can really answer that every day we are learning something new. Just building relationships, figuring out where their strengths and weaknesses are, and every day as a staff we are figuring things out. We are moving guys around. You know we are going to utilize every single day every single minute you know and the 15 opportunities we get to make sure we are gathering as much information as we can possibly gather to make sure we are able to put these guys in the best possible positions. We are truly learning every day about our front, and about our back seven, and that information is obviously super valuable for us to move forward to make sure we have these guys in the right spots.”On how he sees his relationship with the players so far on and off the field …”It’s where you’d think it would be. Obviously, just getting to know these guys and spending some time with them. Not only talking X’s and O’s, but just talking life skills in general. It’s been good, but again we realize trust is earned over time. So, we’re constantly working extremely hard to make sure they understand very clearly what our expectations are obviously on the field, but off the field academically and even socially. So, anytime when you’re dealing with relationships it takes time, but for the three practices we’ve had and obviously the short time I’ve been here, myself and the rest of the defensive staff, are working very hard to try to build it.”

On what he has thought of his experience so far personally and if it has gone as he expected …”It’s been great. Obviously, Knoxville is a great town, a great university, Coach Heupel and the defensive staff have been awesome. So, it’s been great, and it’s obviously a learning curve for the whole staff as we get to know our players and get to know each other. We live for challenges and it’s what gets you going a little bit. Obviously, it was a great run at the other place and there was lifelong friends and relationships I developed there, but I’m super excited to be here and to continue to build on a tradition these guys have already established here.”

On how they are rotating players on defensive from a depth chart standpoint …”We have a standard depth chart that we have, and some of it is based on obviously what we saw last year with how it ended. Some of it was based on what we saw during our winter conditioning, but a lot of it right now is just alternating and switching guys in and out and trying to find the best combinations that we can have to make sure guys are in the right spots. But again, it’s only been three practices and we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to switch it up as much as we will moving forward, but that’s definitely the plan. A defensive end may be a right end instead of a left end. A linebacker may be to the field side and weak side the next day. So, I think it’s in our best interest to make sure we move these guys around to get it on video, so once again we have the knowledge we need to make sure we have these guys in the right spots.”

On how he feels it has been so far communicating with the coaches on the practice to field to make sure they are on the same page …”We’re definitely working hard to make sure we’re on the same page, but these guys are veterans. These guys have coached a lot of years as I have and we understand that the communication and preparation is at the forefront of everything we want to get done. So, we’ve worked really hard to make sure we’re on the same page, thus when we get on the field, the kids feel that and they can feed off our energy and how well we prepare.”

On what he and the coaches think about Tamarion McDonald this offseason so far and what he likes about him …”I like his size and he plays the game with a tremendous amount of energy. You just feed off his enthusiasm. He loves to play the game and he’s obviously still young and there’s a lot of opportunities for him out there to still cash in on. But he’s definitely one of the guys that we think has a bright future, and as he continues to grow and learn the position. He’s definitely a kid we’re keeping our eye on.”

Wide Receivers Coach Kodi Burns

On Tennessee’s sophomore receivers…”We’ve got to really bring those guys along. They’re all very talented. Right now, I’m really focusing on developing those guys, teaching them how to practice, how we do things at Tennessee, how to play up-tempo, simple things that we call ball mechanics. We’re teaching those guys how we play. There’s no question that all four have talent. We’ve just got to truly grow them and develop them into the wide receiver position. A guy like Malachi Wideman was a dual-sport athlete as a basketball player who also played football. Then, you talk about the two Jimmy Calloway and Jimmy Holiday, both of those guys were quarterbacks in high school. Really, it’s just about translating those skills to the wide receiver position. It’s my job to develop and bring those guys along.”

On if there’s any offensive players that have stepped up early on this spring…”In the past, there have been a couple of guys. Obviously, we’ve got one right now that just went through the Pro Day and also a guy like Jauan Jennings that played a lot of football here. When you talk about leadership, those guys have a lot of time on task. Now, you’re walking into a really young group. I think by default and just by personality, time on task as far as him starting at a different school and coming here to Tennessee and doing the same thing, Velus Jones Jr. has kind of stepped up and emerged as one of those guys that can truly grow these young guys. He can teach them how to practice, teach them what the standard is and what we’re looking for. He’s really taken right after me as far as what I’m asking and teaching those young guys exactly what we’re looking for. He’s done a good job thus far.”

On 2022 recruiting and the ‘sales pitch’ for Tennessee on the recruiting trail…”To be honest, to sell Tennessee is not very hard at all. Tennessee is one of the most storied traditions in all of college football with just the amount of national titles and SEC Championships. It wasn’t that long ago that Tennessee was on the top. The sell is really, ‘Why would you not want to be a part of getting Tennessee back to the standard of Tennessee football?’ You look at the campus, the facilities, they’re second-to-none. Now, coaching the wide receivers here at Tennessee, it’s the style of offense. I think that once guys start to see what we’re doing in the spring game, in this fall coming up, how we’re going to throw the ball, what we do, the tempo with which we play with and how different we’re going to be offensively than everybody else in the SEC, I don’t think it’s going to be a hard sell once we start putting things on film that kids can see. With that being said, outside of the football aspect, Tennessee is a storied tradition. If I’m one of these young guys out there, a chance to play at Tennessee means something. To play here on Rocky Top in front of 102,455, that sells itself. It’s a blessing to be here, and I hope those kids really understand that. That’s what I’m trying to get them to do in recruiting.”

On how he feels having played both quarterback and wide receiver is has helped him as a wide receivers coach…”My story is very similar to a couple of guys that we have on our team right now. I was a quarterback my entire life. That’s what I did. That’s who I was. I had never caught a pass in my life. Once I was a junior in college, I actually ended up moving to wide receiver. That transition for me was not that difficult because I understood coverages. I understood the run game. I understood the pass game. I understood leverage. I understood what defenses were trying to take away and do. That made me more knowledgeable as a player. I had to teach myself how to catch, which I did. I ended up starting in the league, but I think the transition from quarterback to wide receiver is very simple, from the standpoint of a knowledge aspect of the game. For me with my coaching philosophy, I like to teach the wide receivers the position as a quarterback, because I think it makes you a better wide-out when you truly understand the game as a quarterback and not just what you do. Understanding the big picture makes you a better player overall.”

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