Butch Jones cracked a smile on Tuesday when welcoming Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones back to the practice field.
The smile was certainly warranted.
Both are needed additions to a painstakingly thin Tennessee secondary and a defense that ranks 73rd in the nation in points allowed.
“I was encouraged from what I saw from both of them today,” Butch Jones said.
It could be awhile before Nos. 7 and 21 are making plays on Saturdays. The duo has lots of catching up to do. Williams and Riyahd Jones have not practiced since summer.
Williams, a one-time track star, suffered a shoulder injury.
Riyahd Jones’ return comes as a bit of a surprise. The JUCO transfer from Garden City Community College in Kansas was told in early August he’d be out at least six months with a blood clot in his leg.
“Will they be game ready? I don’t know yet,” Butch Jones said. “They’ve been out for awhile so it takes some time.”
Riyahd Jones and Williams may not see this field right away, but they immediately bolster the competition level at practice.
“Both competed extremely well,” Butch Jones said. “It’s great to have them back from just an overall competitive standpoint.”
Riyahd Jones and Williams cracked the two-deep depth chart before suffering injuries. Both rotated in at the backup cornerback spot during practice, which previously belonged to walk-on Reggie Juin.
“It’s great to have them back,” safety Brian Randolph said. “Depth is always a good thing.”
Riyahd Jones and Williams could push walk-on Devaun Swafford for the starting nickelback position. However, Butch Jones said the nickel spot requires a different skillset from the traditional corner.
“Some of the team’s best receivers are on the inside, a lot of the time they have to play man coverage,” Jones told InsideTennessee. “A lot of the time the physicality is a little bit more because a lot of the time they’re setting the edge… you could be covering a tight end or a wideout. …There’s a different skillset involved but also from a schematical standpoint.”
While Butch Jones spoke highly of each returning defensive back, he was particularly pleased with Riyahd Jones.
“(Riyahd Jones) has had a tremendous sense of urgency. He’s been relentless, as far as doing everything that’s being asked of him,” Butch Jones said. “I love Riyahd. I love his competitiveness. I love his spirit. I think it’s just good for our team to have him back.”
Butch Jones handed out an assignment before practice.
Each player had to tell Jones a specific aspect of their game they want to improve this week.
Quarterback Justin Worley is focusing on decision-making skills.
Worley’s decision-making abilities were questioned by Jones following the Vols’ stale offensive attack against Oregon. Jones was particularly displeased with Worley’s anticipatory skills.
“I think a number of times what Justin has done, he has waited for the receiver to become open and then he is throwing the football,” Jones said following a 59-14 thrashing to the Ducks. “Anticipatory skills is what separates a great quarterback.”
Worley believes the key to improving is beginning to trust his eyes.
“I need to trust my eyes and what I see post-snap. Things change after the snap,” Worley said. “If I don’t, it’s me being late with the ball and throwing behind the receiver.”
Worley isn’t about to say his benching last week was the best thing to happen to him, but the junior said it was an eye-opening experience.
“You have to give it your all everyday. It helped me last week,” Worley said. “We were pushing each other each and every day. You had to focus on every throw and every play.”
Battle for 2nd-string QB
Tennessee is one snap away from a true freshman quarterback entering the game.
|DOBBS (11), FERGUSON
Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs continue to jostle for the back up quarterback job.
“They’re both doing a great job,” Worley said. “They’re pushing each other in the film room and weight room and everywhere. They’ve been taking big strides. They're making it really hard on the coaches.”
Each freshmen quarterback saw a heavy increase in practice repetitions Tuesday.
“We have to get them ready,” Jones said.
Dobbs practiced in a scout team jersey. Jones said it is no indication that Ferguson has won the back-up job, rather it’s an attempt to give the best scout team look for South Alabama’s dual-threat quarterback.
Jones said he was pleased with both Dobbs and Ferguson Tuesday, but recognized the high level of uncertainty that comes with playing youngsters.
“Well, you know, it’s a lot of unknowns,” Jones said. “You never know until they get into the live game situations. We’ll find out.”
Talkin' football with Fulmer
Ex-Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer was on hand during Tuesday’s practice.
Butch Jones said he talked to the BCS National Title-winning coach about everything from “X’s and O’s” to Tennessee traditions.
“Any time you have a resource like coach Fulmer you use it,” Jones said. “We talk football, just like with coach (Johnny) Majors as well. I want to get as much information I can about football and the University of Tennessee. We’re all one.”
Fulmer also addressed the team.
Brian Randolph video interview
Justin Worley video interview
Butch Jones, per the university