Parker: Jones' culture is in place

Rebuilding Tennessee football brick-by-brick is about much more than just signing some of the top prospects in the nation. It's about maximizing opportunities, being a film junkie and understanding the here-and-now side of the process.

Demeanor, toughness and overall fundamentals.

“Those are the things we can control, but everyone better understand there’s going to be growing pains with this football team. It is what it is. But, it’s going to be exciting to watch because that’s an illustration of the type of people that we have in our football program right now.”

Is that a warning from Tennessee coach Butch Jones about the 2014 season that lies ahead? Does Big Orange Country need to cool it with far-too-great expectations?

Ask around.

The average orange-clad supporters will give a number anywhere between 4 and 8. Not many people that saw the team last fall and keep up with the current state of the roster predict a win count beyond that 4 to 8 window.

From Dave Clawson not working out as Phillip Fulmer’s offensive coordinator to Lane Kiffin’s exit for his “dream job” to Jones’ predecessor placing the speed element far too far down the list of importance in recruiting, Tennessee has an uphill climb.

A program that won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division in 2007 has since lost 40 games, including three straight 5-7 campaigns.

Jones may not need to tell Vol Nation to hold its horses on turning the corner.

The Coaches Poll released earlier this month has three ’14 opponents ranked in the top 9, including Alabama at No. 2, Oklahoma at No. 3 and South Carolina at No. 9. Throw in No. 12 Georgia and No. 19 Ole Mis and the Big Orange figure to have a plus symbol next to their name courtesy odds makers quite often this fall.

Has Jones at least contacted someone about TNT to blast open a route to the tunnel and binoculars to find the light?

The second-year head man secured Scout’s No. 4-recruiting class in the country for 2014 and each and every member of that 32-player group is in Knoxville and in full pads.

Just Tuesday, Jones boasted about several players in that ’14 group. He’s “really excited about Todd Kelly Jr., “needs his development” with Elliott Berry, Dillon Bates is “going to be a very, very good football player,” and Jashon Robertson “continues to shine every day.”

“Everything is about energy,” Jones said. “It starts with me. It starts with the coaches. It starts with our leaders, and you have to get excited.”

Those words…were about practice, which he relates to the chaos of recess.

“Every opportunity to get better is critical.”

Not looking too far ahead is what the Tennessee staff is depending on for Team 118 to achieve success. By that, it’s the eating of the elephant one bite at a time.

While the patience and understanding of the process are paramount, wondering about bowl qualification or snapping the nine-game losing streak against Florida isn’t going to aid in each player developing for the 13th practice of camp Wednesday evening at Neyland Stadium.

Redshirt junior Marcus Jackson must knock on freshman Coleman Thomas’ hotel room door to converse about what it was like to put his hand on the Shields-Watkins Field turf back on Oct. 29, 2011 and embrace the moment of having to block an SEC defensive tackle like Kelsy Quarles after being in Vero Beach, Florida, less than a year prior.

Senior A.J. Johnson must encourage freshman Gavin Bryant to ask questions during the early-Wednesday-morning linebackers meeting.

RYAN JENKINS
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

Senior tight end Brendan Downs must accept that freshmen Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf are a major reason why Jones says their position is “night and day” different from 2013. Then, help the former Scout four-star prospects understand how long to help out the tackle on Florida’s Dante Fowler and Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche before rolling into the flat to give the Vols’ quarterback a check-down option.

“He’s in the building all-day, all-night. You heard Pig (Alton Howard) talk about live it, love it, like it. He lives it every day. He’s a football junkie. He watches every single film, every video clip of practice whether it’s individual, team situation, situational football. So, he wants to be great; he has that inner drive.”

That’s Butch Jones talking about Ryan Jenkins, a wide receiver not expected to be a part of the two-deep that hasn’t seen a snap in a game since his Lassiter team was upset on by Brookwood 24-21 in the 2012 Georgia High School Athletics Association Class 6A state playoffs.

The coach points his fingers toward his orange visor, explaining that’s the mindset in which he’s referring — the here-and-now approach of a redshirt freshmen. That is the mental psyche the coach seeks.

“The culture is in place,” Jones says.

It’s not about getting ready for Utah State in the opener or even impressing at Saturday’s open scrimmage — not yet.

Win the drill. Win the day.

Butch Jones video interview

Dillon Bates video interview


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Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the Scout team July 2011.
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