Coach & Player Transcripts: Vols Look To Keep Intensity High Heading Into South Alabama Matchup

Banks, Garner Transcripts (PDF) | Player Quotes (PDF)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With Tennessee football set to close out non-conference play this weekend when it plays host to South Alabama, defensive coordinator Tim Banks, defensive line coach Rodney Garner and select players visited with members of the media Tuesday inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
 
Both teams enter Saturday’s game with 5-5 overall records and hopes of clinching bowl eligibility. Without looking too far ahead, sophomore running back Jabari Small noted his anticipation for two more opportunities inside Neyland Stadium and embracing each moment as the season wraps up.
 
“At the end of the day, we get to play football,” Small said. “I feel like that’s our mindset right now. You can’t take these practices back, these games back. You don’t have that many opportunities, so we are trying to take advantage of our opportunities. We’re all fired up. You know we get to play at Neyland two more times and just strap it up again, so it’s fun.”
 
Banks was recently announced as a nominee for the Broyles Award, presented annually to college football’s top assistant coach. Now in his 15th season as an FBS defensive coordinator, he was quick to pass the praise to his players and his defensive staff.
 
“I think it starts there (with the defensive staff),” Banks said. “Actually, it really starts with the kids. It’s obviously a tremendous honor, but at the end of the day it’s because of the way that the kids are performing, how hard they’re working, being resilient despite some of their outcomes. So, it’s exciting for them and obviously the defensive staff and how hard those guys have worked all year and continue to work. Obviously, I’m nominated but at the end of the day it’s because of the kids, because of the players and the team and our staff, but it’s great.”
 
Banks’ unit has racked up 76 tackles for loss on the season, a mark that ranks top 10 nationally and second in the SEC. In his comments Tuesday morning, Garner commended Banks’ flexibility and his ability to scheme the defense based on personnel.
 
“I think Coach Banks has done a remarkable job,” Garner said. “He’s a great leader. He’s very smart. He’s flexible. Obviously, he tries to cater what we’re doing to what our talent level is and what we are capable of doing. He’s open to suggestions. I think he’s a really good leader. The kids believe in him, the staff believes in him, and he’s a great guy to work with, just like this entire staff. I think that’s that one thing Coach Heup has done, he’s put together a group of remarkable men that right now get along well and work well together, good chemistry.”
 
SALUTE THE TROOPS: Saturday’s game against the Jaguars, set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on ESPNU, will serve as UT’s annual Salute to Service game. Vol Village will feature Salute to Service activations, including a flight simulator and military vehicles. At halftime, Army and Air Force ROTC Cadets will conduct a joint contracting ceremony, then the Pride of the Southland Marching Band will perform a patriotic themed show featuring a live performance by Lee Greenwood.
 
More details on Saturday’s festivities and promotions can be found at utsports.com/gameday. Tickets for Saturday’s contest are available at AllVols.com.
 
Full transcript for Banks and Garner can be found below, along with select quotes from sophomore RB Jabari Small, sophomore DL Omari Thomas, junior LB/DE Byron Young and redshirt senior TE Princeton Fant.
 

Vols RB Jabari Small / Credit: UT Athletics

Tim Banks – Defensive Coordinator

On being a Broyles Award nominee and what it says about the defensive staff they have…
“I think it starts there. Actually, it really starts with the kids. It’s obviously a tremendous honor, but at the end of the day it’s because of the way that the kids are performing, how hard they’re working, being resilient despite some of their outcomes. So, it’s exciting for them and obviously the defensive staff and how hard those guys have worked all year and continue to work. Obviously, I’m nominated but at the end of the day it’s because of the kids, because of the players and the team and our staff, but it’s great.”
 
On how much he’s had to adapt his scheme to the current players and how that might change when they recruit their own players…
“Honestly, I think you always adapt to your personnel. You obviously recruit and you try to develop, but at the end of the day, the pieces you have, if you want to be successful you have to figure out what they do well and what their weakness are and obviously try to play to their strengths. These kids have been outstanding in terms of their approach and coming to work every day. We don’t necessarily worry about what we have to do in terms of getting the right guys in here. We feel like we have the right guys in here already and we just got to continue to work and develop them and hopefully some more guys will want to be a part of something special that we’re building here at UT.”
 
On the drop-off in TFLs over the past two games…
“I don’t necessarily have an answer on that one. I think at the end of the day you just kind of go out and do what you do. I’m not a big stat guy, I didn’t know until really you guys told me a couple of weeks ago. We just try to continue to do what we do and try to do it better each and every week. But the reality of it is, we’re continuing to play talented teams every week in this conference, so we just got to continue to work at it because obviously you want to be able to be aggressive, you want to be able to put people in different situations that are more advantageous for what we want to do on down and distance. Getting in the backfield, tackles for losses, all those things are important to us, but I think if we continue to chop wood, we think those things will come.”
 
On where they have evolved defensively and where they need to continue to grow…
“You always want to tackle better, particularly in space. This is a space league, it’s a space time that we’re in and everyone that you play from the quote unquote top-tier teams to some of the other teams, you got to be able to tackle in space. So, we need to tackle better. I think, for the most part, we’re playing good team defense. We don’t have a lot of busted assignments, guys are executing the assignment for the most part, but I think overall we just need to continue to tackle better.”
 
On some guys who continue to get better despite not getting a lot of playing time…
“Well, we’ve kind of emptied the tank and played just about everybody we can if it’s a warm body. But, Kamal Hadden, obviously is coming along, he’s continuing to get better week in and week out. (He) didn’t play a lot earlier in the year but we feel like he’s gaining confidence the more reps he gets, so we’re excited about him. Honestly, everybody that can play has played for the most part. Having a chance to work with Christian Charles daily, we think he’s coming along and hopefully he’ll be able to add something to it moving forward. But again, we don’t have a lot of depth as it is, but at the end of the day, as I tell you guys every week, we’re the few, the proud and the guys that are playing are working hard at it and I think they’ll continue to work at it.”
 
On the style of play on offense and if that had an impact on him coming to UT…
“Heupel’s a good guy, you know. So, I think a lot of guys would love to work with him. But I will tell you this, any time we get a chance to step between the lines is an opportunity for us on defense. That’s our mindset. If we’re playing a lot of snaps, then that’s a good thing because we got opportunities to make plays and get the ball back to give our offense a chance to be explosive and do what they do. We don’t worry about how many snaps we’re playing, I didn’t know we we’re leading the nation, but the reality of it is we got to get off the field when our time comes and, you know, if we got to go back out there in ten plays or in three plays. It’s just another opportunity to go out there and play great defense and show who were are at UT.”
 
On the biggest improvement from the beginning of the season till now…
“Yeah, I think being assignment sound, which is what you would expect. A new system, guys trying to learn exactly what to do in different situations. Like I said we have very minimal busts. Guys have a better grasp of what we’re trying to do in real time, if that makes sense. So, I just think we’ve gotten better with our assignments and understanding exactly what to do every rep.”
 
On Byron Young’s abilities and playmaking Saturday…
“Yeah, Byron Young is getting better each and every week. He’s a tremendous athlete, as we all know, and I think as the game starts to slow down for him, I think you’ll see even more production from him. He’s not a guy who’s played a lot of football, as you guys know. To see the progression and to see how he’s getting better week-in and week-out has been a pleasant surprise to be quite honest with you. We thought he had a chance to be pretty good but now we realize he’s really just scratching the surface. I’m excited for him and I know he’s a worker and I think his best football is yet to be seen here.”
 
On the areas the defense has exceeded expectations in…
“I mean obviously the expectation is to play well, to play hard and be assignment sound. Those guys play extremely hard, we’ve gotten better as the year’s gone on, in terms of our assignments. After that, we just go play football. To me, if you’re playing hard and you’re doing the right thing, I think everything else will fall in line. So far, those guys are playing extremely hard and again we’re playing smarter.”
 
On South Alabama…
“They got a really good scheme. Some pretty good athletes out there, the quarterback is athletic, strong arm. Just like anything, I tell guys all the time, anybody can lose, and anybody can win on any given Saturday. We’re preparing for them no different than we would prepare for any team on our schedule. We know we’re going to get their best shot but, at the end of the day, it’s about us giving our best shot. That’s no different from our approach week-in and week-out. It’s the same approach we’ll have with these guys. They’re talented and, like I said they have a good scheme. We know we’re going to have to bring our A-game to be successful.”

Rodney Garner – Defensive Line Coach 

On if he took it as a challenge to get the most out of his guys when he arrived…
“I think as coaches, that’s what you always want to do. You want to get the most out of your players and push them to greater heights. I don’t know if we didn’t have the expectations. Obviously when you come in, everyone’s competitive in this business. We all come in thinking that we are going to be good and compete and strain and try to go out and play at a championship level. And that’s the thing we ask these young men to buy in and believe when we got here, that if they would play as one, if we can get 11 guys playing with one heartbeat, we felt that we could be pretty good. If we just put our heads down and just focus on one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time, and just see where it took us to.”
 
On the job Tim Banks has done…
“I think coach Banks has done a remarkable job. He’s a great leader. He’s very smart. He’s flexible. Obviously, he tries to cater what we’re doing to what our talent level is and what we are capable of doing. He’s open to suggestions. I think he’s a really good leader. The kids believe in him, the staff believes in him, and he’s a great guy to work with, just like this entire staff. I think that’s that one thing Coach Heup has done, he’s put together a group of remarkable men that right now get along well and work well together, good chemistry.”
 
On how he would assess Coach Heupel as a communicator…
“I think Coach Heup does an outstanding job of communicating to us his expectations, the expectations of this program, what our goals are long term and short term, what it is he expects from us individually, collectively. I think he’s a really good leader. Obviously, he’s very competitive. I think that shows every day that we come into this building. He wants to win. It’s 1-0 every day. That’s how he approaches it and that’s how he’s trying to program these young men to think. I think he’s done a remarkable job and look forward to where he’s going to take the program going forward.”
 
On how much he believes investing into his players’ personally impacts them as players…
“Well, I just try to pour into these young men like I remember my coaches poured into me when I played. Being a poor kid from a small town in Alabama. I think the kids, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Obviously, with my coaching style, being as demanding as I try to be with them, they’ve got to know I care about them more than just on the field. It’s a deeper commitment for them to allow me to push them and try to strain them to get the good stuff out of them. You know, it is personal. To me, it’s not a four-year relationship, it’s a lifetime relationship. I just think back to the young men I recruited when I was at Auburn the first time and the relationships I had with them, and the guys I had here previously. I got the chance to see Peyton (Manning) and Trey Teague last week. That’s what it’s all about. Charles Grant came up for the game this week and brought his son. Johnathan Sullivan was here. You know, it’s good to just hopefully impact those guys lives where they feel like I played some type of role in their success and that they want to still have a relationship with me beyond this.”
 
On what Matthew Butler means to his group and what it’s been like to coach him…
“Matt is a unique individual. Obviously, he is very, very intellectual, very smart. He’s probably the smartest guy I have ever coached, by far. He’s a great young man. He’s a man of character. He works really hard. I’ve really enjoyed watching Matt, I feel like, improve his game and play at a higher level. I think he’s having some relative success and doing some really good things. He comes to work every day. He wants to be good. He wants to be pushed. He’s tough. He can take it and do it with the best of them. He responds. The whole room really, it’s an enjoyable room. I’ve really enjoyed watching these guys grow and enjoy watching them compete. Like I told them the other day, obviously I’m disappointed that we haven’t had the success that we all wanted, but still just to go out there and watch them game in and game out, how they go out there and compete. They play hard. When I sit there and watch the film on Saturday night after the game whenever we get in, I’m always amazed how hard they’re playing. My thing is, we just have to learn how to play smarter. But they’re straining for one another, they’re competing for one another, so we have made progress there. Now we just have to get the component of playing smarter.”
 
On how he put a plan together to manage a smaller group of players and increase their level of play…
“I’ve always said, my goal is to always have 10 guys that can play at a competitive level on Saturdays. To me, that’s ideal. Obviously, I’d like to have 12, but if we have 10 guys, at least we can rotate them and we can stay relatively fresh. The biggest thing that I try to stress to them is I want to play the fourth quarter like we played the first quarter. I want to see us running to the ball. I want to see guys straining and guys leaving everything they’ve got on the field. I don’t want them bringing anything back into the locker room. For big guys, obviously, you’ve got to keep them fresh. We’ve got to rotate them. We’ve been blessed. We’ve had some bumps and bruises and we’ve had guys that are nicked up, but for the most part, they’ve found a way to fight through it. The one thing about it that I think my guys see is that if you practice hard, if you earn it in practice, you’re going to get an opportunity to play. If you don’t, then you won’t. It’s a merit deal where they’ve got to go out every day, earn it and get it done.”
 
On if the lower number of TFLs in the past two games is a direct relation to the level of competition…
“Obviously, we’ve played some really good competition here lately. Like I said, when you sit there and you look at the film, there are things that we can do better. Obviously, we played two really good teams and those teams were the better teams—on this past Saturday anyway. They were the better team. But we still did some things that were probably a little bit uncharacteristic of some things that we have done in the past. Maybe we missed a line, we didn’t check certain things that we knew to check and that we’ve done. When you look at it, hindsight’s 20-20. That’s the thing I tried to tell them. We’re not a good enough football team where we can go out there and aid anyone in beating us. We have to play at our best every single game and we have to execute at a high level. We compete at a high level, but our execution somethings is not where it needs to be. If we’re paying attention to the finer details, then I think those things will happen. We didn’t have the TFL’s that we needed to have this past game and the opportunities were there. Sometimes it was a guy that missed a line. Sometimes it was a guy that didn’t run the assignment. There’s just technical things and obviously we’ve got to coach it better too. It’s not on them. The only mistake that they can make in a game is not playing hard. Any other mistake, that belongs to us. As a coach, I have to own that. We’ve got to teach it better and we’ve got to make sure that we’re executing it better.”
 
On if it’s hard to recuperate after the defense played 103 gradable snaps at Kentucky two weeks ago…
“I think the way Coach Heup has our practice scheduled, I think it’s conducive to keeping our players fresh. The model that we go with on Mondays is a stretch to get their blood pumping, move them around, walk through. Then, really our tough two hard days of work are Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, we tone it down a little bit on Thursday just to make sure we can go out there and execute our assignments and get all our fits correct and then come back in Friday and crank it back up a little bit more and move at a little bit crispier pace. I think the way he has it structured is really good. Like I said, we played a lot of snaps in the Kentucky game, but we played very poorly on third down. That’s as much on us as anything. Like I told them, on third down, we’ve got to be able to get off the field. We’re in those opportunities. We get them in a third down situation. Now we’ve got to be able to finish, get off the field and give our offense more opportunities to score points. Fortunately, we have a really good offense, so we need to play better, get them the ball and let them do their thing.”
 
On stopping opposing quarterbacks when they scramble out of the pocket…
“We’ve got to do a better job of staying in our lanes. We’ve got to do a better job of condensing, restricting, keeping our eyes on him and playing smarter. Those are things that we’ve got to work at. We’ve got to get better at that. There’s one play that comes to mind last week that happened and it was purely athleticism. There was no way he was going to make that play. He was so much more athletic than us. There are a lot of things that we’ve got to do to get better. We’re constantly working at it. These guys, they’re aware of it. As coaches, we’re aware of it. We’ve just got to keep working and keep improving.”
 
On what Ja’Quain Blakely has meant for the defensive this season…
“Ja’Quain is a great young man. He comes to work. I guess he’s a poor man’s guy. I think he’s got an elbow. He’s got an ankle. He’s got a knee (injury). He’s got a little bit of everything that’s going on right now, but he’s a tough guy. He’s from South Georgia. I think he loves football. He’s just a blue-collar type of guy and he just comes out there and comes to work every day. I think he’s getting the most out of his skillset that he has. I think he’s probably maximizing it. I’ve talked to him and given him a little bit of a hard time that, ‘if you were 10 pounds lighter, you may be a step or two quicker.’ I think he’s playing above his skillset. I’ve been proud of him and the way he works. He takes coaching. He tries to go out there and he tries to apply it. That’s all that you can ask of any of them—that they try to apply what you’re trying to teach. Hopefully, they’ll see themselves have some success and then they’ll buy into it more and believe in what you’re doing.”

Jabari Small – RB – Sophomore

On what Coach Heupel has meant to the program…
“He’s instilled a lot of confidence into us. You can tell by the way we play, the effort we play with, the way we compete. He’s just a coach that you’d love to play for. Whether it’s just putting away all the outside noise and just playing football, you know he’s just a great coach and he instills a lot of confidence into us.”
 
On keeping the intensity up for the last two games of the season…
“At the end of the day, we get to play football. I feel like that’s our mindset right now. You can’t take these practices back, these games back, you don’t have that many opportunities, so we are trying to take advantage of our opportunities. We’re all fired up. You know we get to play at Neyland two more times and just strap it up again, so it’s fun.”
 
On Coach Heupel building a connection with the team…
“I feel like the connection is very strong because when he came in, he was like everything is good. Now we have went through adversity together, so just to see how we’ve responded to adversity and how close we get and going through certain things together, it just makes us closer. So, I feel like it’s a great bond and connection that he’s built and the culture he’s built with this coaching staff and players.”

Omari Thomas – DL – Sophomore

On the improvement in many statistical categories from last season…
“I think it’s just us wanting to be here and the coaches pushing us every day no matter what we’re doing. They’re always on us about being the best, just locked in on the small details, just focusing up on the little things and that’s why I think it’s really helped us.”
 
On how the defense has changed since the season opener vs. Bowling Green…
“Well I mean there’s always going to be adjustments depending on the type of offense that you’re playing against. But we try to keep our system the same and we try to make teams adjust to what we do because we want to be the hammer and not the nail. So, I think that’s one thing our coaching staff really instilled in us, that we’re going to play our brand of football and not cope to somebody else’s brand.”
 
On his relationship with Tennessee basketball star freshman Kennedy Chandler and his impressive start to his season…
“No, it hasn’t surprised me at all. Like, Kennedy he’s a good player, he’s just going to keep doing his thing and we talk all the time. He’s supporting me, I’m supporting him. He tells me some things that, like if he sees me lacking or something like that, he tells me, and I’ll pick it up. And it’s the same thing if I see him doing something like that. We just have that type of relationship, we’re best friends, and I’m proud of him. I’m happy for everything that he’s doing.”

Byron Young – DL/EDGE – Junior

On self-improvement this season…
“I think I improved well with my speed and stuff like that, getting off the ball making plays, just holding my blocks, setting the edge, things of that nature.”
 
On the horse collar penalty vs. Georgia…
“We were pretty upset about the call. Nobody to blame but myself. The way I tackled him, I didn’t have to grab his collar, but I did. My coaches were telling my next time wrap him and don’t grab the collar because that was one of the big plays of the game. We would’ve got a stop, either that or it probably would’ve been a long field goal or a punt. Either way it could’ve been a good stop, but they scored on that drive, so it didn’t go our way.”
 
On staying focused for this week’s game…
“Treat every team the same and never underestimate anybody. You have seen in games recently, against Florida and stuff like that, just how games can turn the tables and you never know what’s going to happen. We are just locked in and treating them just like any other team, ready to compete.”

Princeton Fant – TE – Redshirt Senior

On how he become the guy to make the throw in the double pass…
“I always throw the ball back and forth in practice and coach noticed I had an arm on me. I was throwing and coach goes, ‘P-Fant come in and just throw the ball, let’s see how you’re going to do’, and we made it happen, it was fun.”
 
On Tennessee offense in the first quarter…
“It’s just us playing together as a team. Just trusting each other, bonding with each other and trusting the coaches. That’s one of the main things, we just have to keep things going and keep it rolling and go continue to play ball.”
 
On calling the double pass and the execution…
“I can’t really say as much as what the look was, but it’s all about what Jalin Hyatt had going. For me, I feel confident throwing the ball and we wish we could hit that play, but we are definitely going to get that one going. We are going to get that one back.”
 
On Cedric Tillman becoming one of the better receivers in the SEC…
“To watch him grow is something special. I always knew Cedric was definitely a special player. We talked about it all the time when we would hang out. We talk about moments like this, going to play ball and balling out. He is a great player.”

-UT Athletuics

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