It is now officially football time in Tennessee. Well, 'training camp time' at least. This past week saw the official start of fall practice for the Tennessee Volunteers, or as head coach Butch Jones calls them, Team 117.
Despite UT releasing a preseason depth chart, Jones has not yet decided on several starters for the season. With a new coaching staff has come a new mentality, mainly that players earn their right to wear their numbers.
"I've said it from day one, a depth chart in our program is irrelevant," Jones said. "You know all the depth chart means is who takes the first rep, and then its up to everyone."
As such, the cornerback, quarterback and wide receiver starting spots, among others, are still up in the air. Jones elaborated that competition still remains wide open in the four-deep pool of quarterback that includes junior Justin Worley, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman and true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson.
"We're going to play the quarterback who can manage the game for us, take care of the football for Tennessee and put us in the right situation," Jones said. "If someone comes in and distances themselves, really takes hold of this football team and is their leader, we're going to name a starting quarterback."
However, according to Marcus Jackson, a junior offensive lineman, there is no competition between the players for who gets which spot.
"There is no depth chart right now ... it is going to be somewhat business-like when it comes to who is starting and who is coming off the bench and we just make sure we help each other and still stay teammates throughout the whole process," Jackson said.
Jones has sought to downplay the lack of a depth chart, emphasizing team unity and cohesiveness as key to success.
"To overachieve, you have to play with tremendous effort ... You win with team chemistry," Jones said. "You talk about 105 individuals coming together. We talk about all the time, one wrong, all wrong."
Practices have begun with one-on-one drills as a way of pushing and challenging his players, especially those who may not have pushed themselves enough, and is so far pleased with the results.
"The great thing is, now they're all coming up to me and asking to be in those competitive situations, so I like to see that," Jones said.
As far as the open cornerback position stands, Jones is impressed with freshmen Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman, noting both men have the competitive edge necessary for the spot.
"They're understanding the level of intensity, the preparation that it takes, from the meetings, the classroom, from coming out, and playing the corner, you have to have a whole completely different
mindset," Jones said.
Coaches have placed an emphasis on the development of team leaders, and acknowledged that, while not everyone will be a leader, they want to find and encourage those who are. One of the players Jones has singled out for
praise is junior linebacker Curt Maggitt, who is recuperating after tearing the ACL in his right knee last year against Missouri.
"Curt, I learned pretty early being here, he is one of our leaders on this football team," Jones said.
"And it's hard to be a leader when you're not in the fray with the rest of your teammates ... but he still led. He's the one that's leading our football team, one of our leaders.
"This team has probably bought in more quickly than any of the other two stops. They have answered every challenge to date. That's the standard and expectations of our football program, it doesn't matter if its year one, year four or year 10."