James model of consistency, more notes

Ja'Wuan James

InsideTennessee provides the best coverage of all things Tennessee Vols. Scroll down to read all the highlights from Butch Jones' Monday afternoon press conference.

Adversity and change have been constant companions to the Tennessee football program over the last four seasons.

The head coach position has been akin to a revolving door. Players have come and gone. Neyland Stadium and the facilities got facelifts. Even the Vols' traditional home orange jerseys weren't safe from change.

But there's been one constant amongst the chaos – one large constant at that.

Ja'Wuan James has started every game at right tackle since the season opener his freshman year in 2010.

By making his 48th career start Saturday during Senior Day against Vanderbilt, James will tie Jeff Smith (1992-95) for the Tennessee record for most career starts by an offensive linemen.

"I think it speaks volumes about him, his competitive character, his overall character," Jones said. "We talk about consistency in performance and I think that is defined in Ja'Wuan James."

Jones dedicated a large chunk of his Monday afternoon press conference to praise the offensive line mainstay.

After all, Jones and James have developed a strong relationship in just a handful of months together.

"Ja'Wuan is one of those individuals I gravitate toward. We probably text every night," Jones said. "We have really developed a very strong bond. He has a great future ahead of him."

Alongside James, 27 other players will crack pads for the last time at Neyland Stadium Saturday.

Those seniors have weathered all the change.

"They've been through a lot: good, bad, and indifferent. They've experienced a lot in their careers," Jones said. "They've been locked in and they want to do well."

While Tennessee is 27-1 on Senior Day since 1985, there are challenges that come with the pageantry.

"You are dealing with human emotions. These seniors have been through a lot. It has been a resilient group of young men," Jones said. "Just focus on the task at hand. There are lots of emotions that go with Senior Day."

There's a fine line between soaking in your last time prancing through the "T" and letting the emotions cloud your game.

As Jones says over and over, he wants a team that plays with passion, not emotion.

Passion is consistent. Emotion is not.

Senior do-it-all kicker Michael Palardy said that won't be a problem.

"I'll have plenty of time to think about it after the season," he said.

Senior center James Stone parroted Palardy.

"I'm not focused on that," Stone said. "I'm focused on getting win No. 5."

Goal change

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The goal has been the same all season – or at least until Monday.

After wins, after losses, players and coaches alike recited it.

"We have to get to a bowl game," they all said over and over.

The goal seemed to shift a bit as the Vols begin to prepare for Vanderbilt. Tennessee must beat both the Commodores and Kentucky to become bowl eligible.

While Jones said making a bowl game is still vital, he strayed from his usual bowl-or-bust mentality, saying it wouldn't be the best measuring stick for success in year one.

As Jones often says, sometimes progress doesn't show up in the win column.

"I have to step back and take all the emotion out of it and we are getting better each and every day. We are getting better in our mindset, our culture. So in success, yes, we need to get back to a bowl game," Jones said. "But I said the number one goal in moving forward is our culture, our standard of excellence had to be in place after year one. And it is."

Jones drew back to his Cincinnati days to provide an example.

Jones was 4-8 during his first year at the helm of the Bearcats and went on to double digit-win seasons the next two years.

Jones had the opportunity to reflect on his first season at Tennessee during the bye week.

He looked up and down the program, asking one question – "Are we a better football team than we were on Dec. 7?"

"We have taken monumental strides of where we are at right now than when we walked in here," Jones said. "I'm more encouraged now than I've ever been."

Special teams issues

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Finding the problem and fixing it are two very different things for Tennessee's special teams unit.

Jones and the Vols know it needs to make major improvements on its coverage teams after allowing Auburn scores on two returns of more than 80 yards.

Only three starters see the field on special teams. That likely won't change this week.

"We have zero depth," Jones said.

Personnel may be shuffled this week, but starters won't be added.

According to Jones, the Vols can't afford to place extra plays on the shoulders of A.J. Johnson, Dontavis Sapp and others who rarely leave the field.

Fixing the special teams woes will be a matter of youngsters taking advantage of their snaps and playing with increased discipline.

It's a mouthful. So Jones shortens it to IRU – individual role understanding.

"The thing you don't want to do is have individuals that have taken those repetitions and trained for those positions all year long and you panic and you make wholesale changes," Jones said. "And now you go out there and they haven't been through the nuances of playing that position and live game speed repetitions. So, it's a balancing act. It's an 11 man mission. So, you're trying to find the best eleven to put on the football field that execute that assignment."

Getting healthy

While the Vols held full-padded practices during the bye week, the time was also utilized to mend mid-season bumps and bruises.

Jones announced Monday that Marlon Walls and Nathan Peterman are healthy again.

Peterman, who broke his hand against Florida and has been practicing for two weeks, assumes the role of Josh Dobbs' back up to preserve the redshirt on true freshman Riley Ferguson. Jones said Peterman is "98-percent" healthy.

Walls, who did not play against Auburn, will play this Saturday. Walls suffered an apparent leg injury and has been a key role in the Vols' pass rush.

Butch Jones, per university

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