It's good to finally get to the season. It's certainly been a long 6-7 months and anything we do in our program, and I'm going to go through it with the team, we always kind of have a purpose, a mission of how we do things, what we're trying to accomplish and training camp's no exception. It really comes down to about three big picture things as far as what were going to try to accomplish in the next few weeks.
"First off is sort of laying a foundation of the core values of how we compete and how we work together as a team. Values of how we compete, such as developing effort and physical and mental toughness and discipline, competitive spirit and values of how we work together such as communication and honesty and respect and those things, with the hope that all that really forms a good team. Because there's nothing more important training camp than the development of a team.
"Secondly, there's the improvement in fundamentals and in schemes and learning what to do on offense, defense and special teams so that we can be competitive.
"And then the third thing is doing some things that help develop a little pride in being a Vol. There's a lot of education on what the expectations are around here, what the history is around here and developing a little bit of pride and putting your efforts and time into something special.
"Some of the roster developments. First off with our freshmen, we still have several players who haven't been cleared and are not able to report.
"Dave Clark is not eligible, so he's not going to be part of the team this year. There's four guys -- John Brown, Marques Dixon, Eddrick Loften and Martaze Jackson -- who still are in the process of doing some things, whether it's procedural, administrative or work that they have to do before they come to be a qualifier.
"But we have 17 new players and seven mid-year guys who were here this spring, so that's kind of where we are on the initials. Now we anticipated having several of these issues. We knew it when we signed them, so none of them are a surprise. That's also why we were able to fill our roster this summer with a couple of new signees.
"On an injury update, two guys got scoped in June -- Ben Martin and Chris Walker. Ben, of course, had his bone problem all spring and he didn't go through spring. We went back in and cleaned it out and felt like we found what seemed to be still bothering him.
"He is going to start out in a limited role. He's probably not in the kind of condition that he would be had he gone through all summer, so that was a little setback.
"Chris Walker, we went in late June and found some loose cartilage, which is really good news because it also was a reason for some of the pain he was experiencing in the spring.
"He's a little bit limited but he'll be full-go soon.
"Y'all know Naz Oliver, he got his ACL surgery in May. The general rule is 4-6 months, so you can do the math. We hope he can come back and provide a little depth and help late in the season and there's no reason not to play him because he's already redshirted.
"Now, Marlon (Walls) and Greg (King), the two players who were suspended, are reporting back today. It's still a little tricky because there hasn't been full closure by the legal process. So I can't talk much on it, but I'm I can tell you this: I'm extremely comfortable with what the facts are and with what happened and their role in it. It's been consistent since day one and there's been no new information that would lead you to believe otherwise.
"I'm very comfortable with the discipline that we have put on them, and I'm comfortable with their attitude and the remorse that they've had. And I'm confident that they're going to be two great ambassadors for our program. So I have no qualms whatsoever in bringing them back now.
"The only thing that could possibly change is some new information that I had no idea was out there. I don't anticipate it happening, but I'm always a little reserved until you get full closure legally.
"A couple of late roster moves. We obviously have some depth issues in the secondary given the fact that Darren Myles is not on our team, and then we got a couple of freshmen still not here.
"So Ted Meline and Marsalis Teague are going to start out in the secondary. Just so you guys know how I am about roster moves, I don't believe in making players move positions. I had good talks with both Ted and Marsalis. They want to give it a shot, and we'll get them over there and evaluate them and kinda see where we are after a certain period of time.
"But I do think that they both have the physical skills to get over there and help us some. The practice structure, I think there's some confusion on the first three days. What we do is I call it coaches two-a-days. The players have to go through one-a-days for five days. That's NCAA rules, this acclimation period. And so what we do is we have a two-a-day, but a player only goes through one practice. We take about 50 or so in the afternoons and 50 or so in the evening, and it's divided by all the newcomers are in the evening and then we build other players around them to have a functional practice. Most of the upperclassman and two-deep are in the early practice.
"It allows us to give great instruction to slow things down and really do a real good job of evaluating our freshmen. That's why I like to do it. You know in the old days -- I say in the old days but it wasn't that long ago -- freshman came in early and so you had a chance to evaluate them and work with them.
"I've found when you just throw them all out there together, they get lost early on. So this gives us a chance to really evaluate our freshman and see who we need to invest a little bit further.
"I hope I hit on most of the key things, and then I'll let you guys take it from there."
On Chase Nelson: "You're exactly right. I knew there was going to be somebody I missed. Chase is not on our team. He hadn't been on our team all summer. He didn't do what he needed to do academically. What I told Chase was he's on his own as far as football. We're gonna still give him all the academic support he needs. He can still use all our services, and if he does what he needs to do -- and I think he's going to need a waiver, too – then we'll revisit that.
"But there's been no indication that's going to happen, and that's been strictly an academic issue. I apologize. I knew I missed somebody."
Will Nelson still be on scholarship? "No. He's not on our team."
On turnover/attrition: "I think it's probably less than what it was a year ago. I don't know. You always have a lot of attrition when there's a coaching change. It's just part of it. There was a time in the spring where I was really concerned. But we've done a pretty good job of getting everybody."
On eliminating two-a-days entirely: "I'll tell you what's happening is the calendar. It just seems like every year it gets trickier and trickier. We only have about six days -- I think that's right -- where we are not in summer school or we're not in fall semester. Well, you can't do two-a-days when you're in school. And you can't do two-a-days the first five because it's NCAA rules. And you can't do two consecutive two-a-days by NCAA rules.
"So your window, you're sitting there, you're going when can I have them? We're only scheduled to do two of them.
"It's hard as a coach to say, ‘No two-a-days.' It's an old-school… camp's not what it used to be.
"You used to go to the dorm, and there was a good team-building part of staying in bad dorms, roaches on the walls, you know it's misery. But that was good. It was healthy. Now we're in the dorm like a week and a half, tops because of transition and the semester.
"So things have really changed with the academic calendars, No. 1. No. 2, the number of players who are in summer school, and No. 3, the NCAA rules. The result is it's not the camp it used to be."
On how splitting practices affects the number of practices allowed: "It only counts as one practice. Even though it's two for the coaches, there's only limits on what you can do with the players, not the coaches. So we try to grind the coaches to oblivion because there's no regulations on coaching."
On the difference of entering the season with a proven quarterback: "I don't think any coach goes into the season with a quarterback who has taken zero snaps and feeling like we're OK at that position. Even if he's the best, even if you've had him three years in the program you know the guy's going to be great, you really never know until he gets out there. Now the flip side of it is, it's not so fun when you know your quarterback is coming back and you know about him and you need better.
"Sometimes hopes a good thing. But when you're laying there all summer and you know exactly what you have and you know it's not good enough, that's a real problem. So there could be worse problems out there."
On timetable for Meline and Teague at defensive back:
"It'll be really based on how we evaluate them at that position and if they become where we think they're going to be starters or playing a lot, then yeah, absolutely. We're a little deeper at wideout than we are at DB. Nowadays, you're in nickel over half the time. So I view five as starting in the secondary. Two and three is going to start on offense. So you just do the math. The first thing you do when you're thin somewhere is you go, ‘Whose got the physical skills?' Marsalis played quarterback in high school. Those are the perfect defense backs. Not all of them, but most guys who played quarterback in high school because they're the best athlete on the team, they have the physical skills to go over there and play defense. But they're so used to wanting the ball and having the ball in their hand, it's hard to make that jump."
When did you make that decision?
"Well, I talked to them yesterday and today. We didn't talk about it as a staff until about two or three days ago."
Is the move tied directly to Clark and Loften? "I think that's a contributing factor, yeah. Darren Myles is a factor. Clark and Loften's a factor. Where we are coming out of spring is a factor. Art Evans is a factor. There's a lot of factors."
On positions for Teague and Meline:
"I don't know. We're going to put them back there and see where it goes. It'll give us some flexibility, though. We might have some corners who can play safety, and I think we just have to do a good job in camp to sort through where we can slot them."
Do you think Teague has more potential as a defensive back than at wide receiver? "I think there's a chance for that. You know, I hate to put a judgment on him because he so young. He still has three years of eligibility. There's a lot more things you can do on defense, whether you're a safety, a field safety, a boundary safety, a boundary corner, a field corner and a nickel. There's a lot of different requirements for those positions so you can slot guys a little easier than you can at wideout."
Any chance Teague plays both ways?
"I think it's premature to say that. I'm not against players playing both ways, but you have to be pretty special. First of all, you've got to be sort of star on one side where you can feel comfortable. And you've got to have a real problem on the other."
On handling quarterback reps between Bray and Simms:
"Our practice is structured so that they're both going to get plenty of reps. Right now, Matt's with the ones and Tyler's with the twos. That doesn't mean there are a lot of periods and drills where Tyler's throwing to the one receivers and Matt's throwing to the twos. So they'll get plenty of work."
On the importance of Nash Nance's develop as the No. 3 quarterback:
"It's important, and you know you're seeing it across the league. I think in some ways, we're so quick to want to leave when things aren't working or I'm not going to play. It's almost becoming an epidemic, but a lot of programs in our league are having the same issue. You don't have depth at quarterback because everybody wants to be the starter."
Do you have any problems playing true freshmen, as long as they're good enough? "I have zero problems. In fact at Tech, I think we played almost 10 a year. All right now, here's what the key is as far as freshmen.
"No. 1, every freshman's going to get an opportunity, and they have to be able to adjust physically, mentally, learning what to do, emotionally, academically. And what I've seen, there's really three types. There's one type that comes in and right away, you know they're going to help you. You go, and they get it and they roll.
"The next group is the first week or two you go, ‘I don't think he's going to help us' but how we structure practice, I'm very big on continuing to develop them. We do good-on-good during the year, there's a lot of opportunity not just to put them on the shelf during the year. I think you've got to constantly develop the player.
"And then sometimes at the end of camp or the first week, you're doing some things and you go, ‘Oooh, that guy he looks different, he's starting to get it.' And so you start playing them, even though he hasn't played the couple games maybe game three, game four you put him in. I do believe that when you play as a true freshman, it makes you a better sophomore. It makes you a lot better sophomore.
"Then the third type is the ones that are never really there and they redshirt. We don't really make decisions on who we're redshirting until deep into the season. Deep. Because I want them to constantly keep developing as players.
"I expect to play freshman every year. And it's a great way, too, John, to play on special teams. That's always the best way. You get them out there for one play, they run out, 100,000, they trip over themselves but they don't make a critical (mistake). They gotta get their feet wet a little bit."
From your time as an assistant can you think of a guy who came on later?
"I can definitely say at Tech, because that's my recent memory. One of our stars was Phillip Livas who was an all-conference guy, and he came in the first week or two and I said there's no way this guy's playing. And all of a sudden you know about the first week we said, ‘Whoo.'
"Skyler Green (at LSU) is probably a good example. I don't remember if he was a freshman, I just remember being out at Arizona. It was the first game of the year. I don't know if he was a freshman, but I think he was. He was a backup punt returner, and Shyrone Carey, he was a solid returner. We were beating them pretty good -- this is the year we won it all – it was our first game of the year on the road. We're winning 50-something to nothing. So I threw Skyler in there to get him a little. Well, he catches the punt and takes a left and takes a right and touchdown.
"I went, ‘Oooh.' I looked over at Shyrone, I said – is that the Wally Pipp story? – I said, ‘Hey man, I got bad news for you. We shouldn't have been blowing these guys out because you're done.' Skyler went on and led the nation in punt returns.
"I don't know if he was a true freshman or not. But we had a number of guys at LSU during that time, I'd have to really put some thought into it, but I know we had them at Tech. We were always number problems, depth problems."
On the number of players on scholarships and giving scholarships to walk-ons: "Yes. I wish I had the exact number, Jimmy, but we're allowed 85. I think we're around 77, but let me go verify that. We're well below.
"As far as the walk-ons. I've got to write these down for next year to be prepared. I knew there were going to be some things like this. Bear with me here, and I'm going to give you the answer.
"First of all, Nick Guess, who is our starting long snapper, he's earned it."
Can I just call out the names?
"No. I'm not going to say, ‘No. No. No way.' Why don't you let me go… That's why I'm a little nervous about saying a name here. That'll guarantee I'm doing it. I just need to go double check, and I'm sorry I'm not prepared for that one. Nick's the one that jumps out at me because I know. There's a couple other names I've got to go check on.
"I had these meetings this is why I had these meetings back in May or after spring practice and of course I write it down and I tell all the people internally who need to know, and then you just kind of, you forget about that stuff."
What's your philosophy on contact, pacing yourself through those 30 days once the pads go on?
"I think as a starting point, I've always been of the philosophy that you cannot coach and train a football team worrying about injury.
"I think you have to start with that, meaning the practices are going to be hard and physical, because I don't know any other way to develop a tough football team without going out and hitting and making it hurt a little bit. You have to hurt so your body can get adjusted to the pounding, and it develops a little bit of an armor. It's no different than the first day you lift weights after you haven't lifted weights in a year. You're sore. Well that's good. Go lift again. And eventually you work your out of it.
"Now having said that, you also have to be a little sensitive to when you're thin in certain areas, so you got it use a little bit of good judgment. First off, how we practice I think minimizes a lot of injuries by how we coach staying up and hitting, but it's a thud, the way they do in the NFL. So we won't really take guys to the ground except for about three or four times during all of camp, and I think that's important because that's where most injuries occur. We don't cut. We tell all our linemen, nobody on the ground. That takes really more athleticism. It takes you being more disciplined, using your feet. It takes better tackling technique to play that way not just diving and flying around. So I would say the combination of how we practice and using good judgment on case-by-case basis of guys hopefully we'll manage through.
"But you know the inevitable part of practice -- I read the receiver with the Cowboys he hurts his ankle, and then it's like, ‘Well, what could we have done differently?' Not play." Quarterbacks will not be live? "That's correct. Quarterbacks are not live."
Simms said during spring practice he didn't know what he was doing but acted like he did. "Yeah, he wasn't fooling me. He was fooling the team. But I knew he had no idea what he was doing."
Do you think he'll be a different guy tomorrow?
"I think that his confidence is going to be built every day by the investment he's putting in. And nobody's put in a greater investment on being a good player on our team better than him.
"Now there's plenty of guys who've put in as much, but there's not one player on our team who's put more time, energy, volunteer work, everything to be a good player, and that's how you develop confidence."
Were you worried about him at the end of spring?
"I really wasn't. I was worried about the things I couldn't control, which was the only thing that's ultimately to make him and the rest of our guys better is by playing. So I am worried from that standpoint, but I had no doubts about Matt and his physical skills and his commitment.
"What more could you ask?"
"Here's the thing though, and I mean this, every year when you analyze the schedule, it's really hard to have an easy schedule in this league.
"You can always say, Well this team's that and team's that and a lot of the things are way beyond our control because it's in the hands of the SEC. So when you're scheduling non-conference games you have these windows, you don't really know who they're going to put around them. So it's a tricky business, and it's also tricky because you never know who's really going to be good that year.
"There's no way you can ever have it where it's easy. Now, that doesn't mean that some aren't structured a little bit more difficult than others, but I haven't worried too much about that."
On the offensive line:
"Cody's starting out at center, and of course we have Vic (Thomas) behind him, and I'm interested to see how Darren (Gooch) comes in, our new signee, to see where he stacks up. And we have also played Carson Anderson there. Lot of center prospects.
"The starting line really is no different than how it ended. Ja'Wuan (James) is at right tackle, (Jarrod) Shaw's at right guard, (JerQuari) Schofield's at left guard and Dallas (Thomas) is at left tackle.
"I think we have a talented offensive line. I do. Inexperienced, but again it goes like Matt – physical skills, commitment, all those things are good. You'd rather have that. It's like I was telling John about the quarterback going in and going, This guy there's no way and I know it."
Good feeling about the young guys that you're laying a nice foundation?
"I think so, and in all phases. I think people on our team feel good about our program, and that's important. If the team doesn't feel good about where you are and the plan to get where you want to be. Then you've got real problems. But I feel like our team does feel that way.
On whether summer workouts illustrated that players have bought in:
"It's good, but you know that every coach… How many schools are three? 120? Let's just call it like it is. Every coach right now is saying we had a great summer. Our kids worked so hard.
"I love it. It's like this is the hardest we've ever worked. I've heard that every year. But you don't know until you get out there, No. 1 in practice, to see where there are from where they were in the spring until now. That's No. 1. And No. 2, you really don't know until it gets a little thick out there and tough and you go through some tough times. I'm always cautious to say, Man, we worked hard. I don't know. I just heart it. They think they work hard sometimes, and they don't. Sometimes they think they didn't do a good job when they do. I don't really let the players dictate my evaluation of them, if that makes sense."
Will Walls and King be available for Game One? "
Yeah, unless something new happens. Like I said, they're on our team, and they've done their time. I'm comfortable with where we are with them from a discipline standpoint, and the only thing that'll change that, Jimmy, is something new that I was not prepared for comes out. I don't anticipate that happening, but I have to at least say that because the process hasn't been closed."
When did Evander Wells join the team?
"Well, this summer. When they said he was a fast guy, I don't turn down fast guys."
Any chance you can still lose anybody else from the summer incident?
"I feel like… I should say I'm comfortable that it's closed internally.
"That there wouldn't be any suspensions coming from it.
"If there are, it's only from information that's new or information I didn't know about. I think everything from the incident up to now has been 100 percent consistent, and I'm talking about from all parties involved and just our players. Until it's closed, there's always that something appears. And you go, ‘Well, you said it was over.' It's never over until ... ."
Have you seen the police report?
"I haven't seen anything since the reports came back when it happened that we all saw. But I don't know anything about the investigation."
On timetable for players to be admitted: "I'm hoping within a week. It's a tricky deal."
On a social media policy:
"We're going to go through all of our policies, and that's something I'll do in training camp. Let me address it with the team and revisit it with you guys. We talked about that extensively as a staff. They're tough issues. Really tough. Because to sit here and say you can't do something that is a very common for that generation is pretty restrictive. I'm a little bit more from the mold you have to learn how to manage what you do. Manage it, and if you can't manage it then you can't do it.
"It would be hard for me to say that you can't get on Facebook ever. Anybody. I don't know. I don't think that's reality. Then they're all going to do it and you don't know about it. I'm more concerned about with how they manage it when they're on social media. Same thing with Twitter."
On meeting with former players and reinstalling traditions:
"Well, I want to start with meeting with all the players – and I have met with a lot of them -- it validated what I believed as an outsider that there was something about this place that created a passion for former players unlike a lot of the other teams in this league. And I mean that.
"I made the comment at Media Days I think it has something to do with our geography that players come here and they truly unpack their bags and forge new relationships because they don't just run home. You don't have 25 guys from the same state.
"The players want everything that I want, and that I suspect the fans want. And that's a team that goes out there and competes for championships, but represents them well. It's a pretty high expectation, and it should be.
"The meetings I've had have been very healthy. There's a great willingness to help on their part, and there's a lot of support. What more could you ask for?"
Any butterflies for you going into fall camp?
"No. Are you kidding? This is the easy part, going to practice. I'm sure I'll have some in a month. If I've got butterflies going to practice, we got real problems.
"Hey guys, thank you guys for coming."