Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season in 2012, the Tennessee Volunteers have begun spring practice with their third coaching staff in four years.
Even though head coach Butch Jones and his staff have only been on the job since December, their drive to succeed leaves no room for excuses. They are using spring to push the team to practice as hard as they play.
“The big thing with this football team is they have to understand every time we step on the football field there has to be a great sense of urgency,” Jones said. “The big thing is we need to be a physical football team, and that’s going to be born in practice.”
Jones has embraced the tradition of Tennessee football and wants his players to do the same. To do this, Jones invited former Tennessee players to come to practice. Jones wants each player to learn the names and history of Tennessee players that wore the current player’s number before them.
“I think it’s a pride of who we are, a pride of who we’re representing,” Jones said. "And this is one of the most storied college football programs in the country. We’re here to protect our tradition and build upon that tradition. There’s a standard of excellence when you come to (UT) and I think it’s those players understanding that. It’s just the standard expectation in this football program and we will not compromise.”
A major part of the Volunteers’ struggles in 2012 was a defense that ranked last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (471.3) and points against per game (35.7). Tennessee’s secondary also allowed the second most passing yards in the SEC (3,390). A major goal for improving the team in Butch Jones’ first year is improving that defense.
The Vols’ secondary returns many members that saw playing time during last year’s campaign including juniors Eric Gordon and Byron Moore, sophomores Justin Coleman and Brian Randolph, and freshmen LaDarrell McNeil and Daniel Gray.
Randolph, who was a SEC Coaches All Freshman selection in 2011, is excited to get back on the field after tearing his ACL against Florida in the third game of the Vols’ 2012 season. The injury also hurt him in that he had to watch the defense struggle without him.
“That hurt me a lot,” Randolph said of watching the defense struggle last season. “Just sitting at home watching the games, it was the worst feeling ever. I just wished I was out there helping them.”
Gordon said that experience, combined with the new coaching staff, will pay dividends for the 2013 season.
“Everybody’s buying in,” Gordon said. “We aren’t settling for 5-7, that’s not us as a defense, as an offense and that’s sure not Tennessee as a team. We got guys that just know football, I’m just excited to keep going and (getting) better every day.”