Coaches and Players Transcripts: Veteran Leadership On Display As Week 2 Of Spring Ball Begins

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With dozens of new faces around the program this spring, Tennessee football will undoubtedly rely on its veteran players to provide continuity and serve as mentors to the young influx of talent brought in from Josh Heupel‘s highly rated 2023 signing class. The second week of spring practice kicked off Tuesday as the Vols took Haslam Field for a morning of on-field development.
One leader that has stood out is redshirt senior tight end Jacob Warren, who elected to return for his sixth season with the program in 2023. The room is led by first-year tight ends coach Alec Abeln, who discussed Warren’s role and experience in comments to local media Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve said it before, but he really is like another coach for us,” Abeln said. “When I’m watching a guy that’s going, as guys are coming off the field, he’s grabbing them and teaching them. He’s another coach for us.
“He is such a pro just the way he approaches every day, but now understanding you have earned the respect of the guys in the room, continue to push leadership and continue to be vocal with it. You do not always have to be a rah-rah guy, but when you see something going wrong, not being afraid to step up and fix it.”
In the trenches, returning starting center Cooper Mays has continued to build upon his leadership while going through his third year of spring practice. Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee spoke to the Knoxville native’s ability to lead by example through the first week of 2023 spring ball.
“He’s kind of been the cowbell,” Elarbee said. “He’s gotten after guys when things haven’t been right, has led in the meeting room, has coached on the field, has coached in the meeting room.

“The biggest compliment I can give to him, I was running a drill, and two young guys weren’t doing it right. Before I can even get to correct them, it was just like a flash, and Cooper came out of nowhere, blurred across my face, grabbed them and started demonstrating and doing it. I think that kind of leadership translates. My guys see that, guys want to help coach and be a part of it. He’s not skipped a beat and has stepped right in on that leadership role.”

Spring practice culminates with the Orange & White Game on Saturday, April 15, kicking off at 2:30 p.m. inside Neyland Stadium.

Premium and non-premium seating will be available for the contest. Admission is $5 for non-premium seats, and all proceeds will count as a contribution to the My All Campaign. All seats can be secured now at or by calling the UT Athletic Ticket Office at (865) 656-1200. All open sections of the bowl of Neyland Stadium will be general admission seating.
Full transcripts from Elarbee and Abeln’s Tuesday availabilities can be viewed below, along with select quotes from Warren, redshirt senior tight end McCallan Castles and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Addison Nichols.

Tennessee Football Press Conference | March 28, 2023
Offensive Line Coach Glen Elarbee

On how he’s figuring out where his best options are at the tackle spots…
“Really similar to the process when Cade (Mays) left. You had JJ (Jeremiah Crawford) and we brought in (Gerald) Mincey. Darnell (Wright) had been in the offense, it was easier for him to flip and still be able to play and let those two guys sit at left side and learn. Now, they are the ones who are flipping and rotating and trying to be able to play at right so John (Campbell Jr.) can take some at left and same thing with Dayne (Davis). Those three are kind of the guys who will move around and letting John, because that’s what he had played previously, kind of learn and see if he can get comfortable on the left side.”
On what it means to lose Jerome Carvin given his versatility and how healthy he was, and who he envisions as the backup for Cooper Mays
“The only thing I disagree with that statement is how healthy he was, that was a tough son of a gun now. He played through some things, he was just unbelievable. I think the first place you miss him is just in the room. Just who he was as a person, his attitude every day, his leadership. Probably one of my favorite players of all time. Then, you just didn’t realize how lucky you were you had a starting left guard that could take only a minimal number of snaps at center during a week and if something happened, take off the glove, go to center and not miss a beat. That part is definitely missed. It’s almost like losing two positions for us. Addison (Nichols) has been repping some center there, trying to figure that piece of it out. Vysen (Lang) has been repping some center trying to figure that piece of it out. You have Ollie (Lane) and (Jackson) Lampley coming back that both have played guard. You got Andrej (Karic) and Addison also that can have a chance to play guard. Just trying to piece all of that together. It’s kind of what spring is, you know. Just see who can rise to the occasion and be the starting left guard and who can be the two center.”
On what Addison Nichols’ other skills told the coaching staff about him during his recruitment…
“Just a highly intelligent guy. Just enjoys the process of different things besides just football, or just academics. He is super intelligent; I think that translates for him. I think that was probably the number one thing it told me is that he wasn’t just sitting there playing video games all day.”
On who is taking on biggest leadership role on the offensive line…
“For sure Cooper (Mays). He’s kind of been the cowbell, he’s gotten after guys when things haven’t been right, has led in the meeting room, has coached on the field, has coached in the meeting room. The biggest compliment I can give to him, I was running a drill and two young guys weren’t doing it right and before I can even get to correct them it was just like a flash and Cooper came out of nowhere and blurred across my face and grabbed them and started demonstrating and doing it. I think that kind of leadership translates. My guys see that, guys want to help coach and be a part of it. He’s not skipped a beat and has stepped right in on that leadership role.”
On his role in game planning the offense and relationship with coach Joey Halzle
“I’m really excited for Joey. Talk about a great guy. I used to be a lot more positive in my younger days. Something about offensive line and old age make you a little bit cranky. He always will try to make my smile, try to be the positive energy in the room. He’s an unbelievable person and really understands the offense. I wish I was as smart as him and Coach Heupel. Those two guys are freaky intelligent. Joey knows what the overall mission, goal and what we are trying to get accomplished in every aspect. He’s done a great job. There’s been a seamless transition in the staff room. I’m really happy for him. As far as I go, it’s a collaborative effort. We all try to build the run-game. I feel like the older I get, the more I listen to people and not do things my own way. I always try to have as little of an ego as possible. I’ve got great guys with me that help coach. I’ve had good guys in the past. Age will still be a part of that process, so that’s kind of my role.”
On the leadership of Cooper Mays
“I think every year he’s grown. Him and Jerome (Carvin) kind of ran the room last year. With Jerome moving on, Cooper just snatched the bull by the horns. It’s his room. Other guys are coming on: (Javontez) Spraggins, Dayne (Davis) and Ollie (Lane). Guys are leading. Jeremiah (Crawford) and Mincey are trying to coach up young guys. There’s a good culture in the room. I love where it’s at. Cooper for sure keeps getting better. There’s a clinic tape with him and I was like, “Man, there’s this undersized center, he kind of reminds me of you.” That night, he watched it, and the next day at practice he’s just doing stuff that is freaky. That’s the sign of a mature player that all he wants to do is get better as a football player and then help other guys get better in the room too.”
On the skillset of transfer offensive linemen John Campbell Jr. and Andrej Karic
“John is an older guy. I love his intensity to the game of football. He takes notes, cares about getting better. Just loves the game. Sometimes, you get some guys that like the things that go around the game of football. He actually loves the game of football. He’s intentional, seasoned, knows a lot. It’s just about translating the plays from what they did into our verbiage and getting used to the tempo a little bit. I love what he brings. Andrej is not as old as John, but Andrej brings a motor and an edge. The guy plays unbelievably hard, he’s really athletic. It kind of helps that demeanor of the room of when to go be physical and move the line of scrimmage. I’ve been really pleased with both of them.”
On how much the Orange Bowl practices helped the offensive line…
“For sure, I think for the young guys it did, and especially the guys that got to come in early and practice. One, to see what it is actually going to be like, two, start learning the verbiage and seeing how it all pieces together. I think they showed up in January and it was like you had already taken a big step and we were constantly trying to use that time meeting with them, taking advantage of every single second we could. I think that has led to them being able to step in the spring, take reps, and it is not just completely bad.”
On Andrej Karic getting reps in at guard and why they made that move after he played tackle at Texas…
“Really, Andrej is very versatile there. He was their sixth guy that came in and played tight end. He did play tackle on both sides. He has played guard as well. He had moved all around. I think the only position he didn’t play was center and he has kind of had experience everywhere. Most of his reps were at tackle. Just body type, I feel like that is where he is suited. What we do, the way he plays, just our depth chart too, where I feel like we have a little more depth at tackle. I thought his chance to help us immediately would be coming in and playing guard.”
On how beneficial it is to have the continuity and stability at offensive line…
“It is great, just because you are not having to coach every little thing. They are your eyes on the field. They are your eyes in the meeting room. Like I said, I try to have as little ego as possible. Man, when we are in the meeting room Cooper (Mays) is coaching, Dayne (Davis) is coaching, Ollie (Lane) is coaching. Guys see things that sometimes I don’t see. They know what we want. They know where we are trying to get in result-wise and we are all on the same page. It just helps us grow exponentially. Where we are at this point in the spring versus spring one or spring two, just knowledge-based, just playing the game of football – man pretty cool, a lot of fun. What you want it to be.”

Tight Ends Coach Alec Abeln

On coaching the tight ends the first five days this spring…
“It’s been awesome. We’ve had two months leading up of working indoors, where it’s just a taste of actually getting to go do it. Really once the pads go on, we’ll get to feel it for real. It’s been awesome.”
On what he’s seen from Ethan Davis
“Just starting off athletically, he’s really unique. He’s got a chance to be a really special player. Coming off a shoulder (injury) and not having spent a lot of time in the box in high school. I’m really impressed with where he’s at right now. He’s got a long way to go, but as the days keep adding and more wrinkles start coming, he’s got to focus and continue to lock into the details. He’s been really good so far.”
On if McCallan Castles can have the same role as Princeton Fant did…
“I think every guy is a little unique. He’s certainly got enough wiggle to do some of the things Princeton did. Similar to Ethan, finding the offense is early for him too. Being able to operate before we design stuff for him but, athletically, in space he can fill that role.”
On how helpful it is to have Jacob Warren back…
“I’ve said it before but he really is like another coach for us. When I’m watching a guy that’s going, as guys are coming off the field, he’s grabbing them and teaching them. He’s another coach for us.”
On his coaching style…
“I think you have to bring juice, but at the same time I think, being able to process what happened and give feedback where it’s not a million things all at the same time. Where we’re different is whistle-to-snap happens so fast, you didn’t really get to coach between the play. As drives are going on you think, I’m going to tell them about this play and them about that play, and then kind of debrief with them when they come back to the sideline. By that point I think you get a little bit of time to, one, process it and really think about what you’re telling them, and also emotionally cool down where you can give them information in a way that’s easy for them to process.”
On what the first five practices have been like…
“A lot of fun. There’s stuff we have to get better at. Today we took a step which was positive. This is the best part of my day, being out there. It’s fun to be back.”
On his relationship with offensive line coach Glen Elarbee
“I’ve played for him in college so he’s like another dad to me. He’s a guy that’s super open and really challenges what the right way is to do things. He’s also hyper-detailed, where if this is what we decided we’re going to do, what’s all the little nuance to it. As a mentor and as a friend, I can’t say enough about him. The entire offensive staff is a family, I know it’s cliche but, I’ve known these guys for a long time and it’s cool to be able to go work with them every day.”
 On McCallan Castles learning the offense…
“He has been awesome. He is a smart kid and cares at a really high level. He’s been doing everything we have asked him to do. Playing in this offense is unique — there is a little bit of a learning curve, and I think for our guys, when it clicks, it really does click. For him, I think he wants it to be perfect right now; it is not going to be. Being able to make a mistake, put it aside, play the next one, that is something that he has got to continue to grow at. But he is a really smart kid and works his butt off, so he has been really good.”
On running the offense with multiple tight ends…
“Ideally, you would have three, because we do not really sub a whole lot in-drive, so having guys that can roll, having guys that can spell each other, I think it makes it really tough if you do not have two. At the last place, we usually had three guys that could really roll, and that is ideally what’ve got.”
On the importance of unpredictability with the personnel…
“We played 11-personnel, one tight end and one running back, probably 80 or 90 percent of last year, and in normal downs almost exclusively that. It is just how we operate, the way we use our tight ends, they are out in space, they are in the core, they are in-line. I think whether you are playing with one, two or none, we can hide what we are doing pretty well.”
On Jacob Warren’s development…
“I think he has just got to become more comfortable being vocal. He is such a pro just the way he approaches every day, but now understanding you have earned the respect of the guys in the room, continue to push leadership and continue to be vocal with it. You do not always have to be a rah-rah guy, but when you see something going wrong, not being afraid to step up and fix it. As far as on the field, I think, one, just reducing pad-level in general. A couple of things run-game wise to clean up, and then just doing something when the ball is in his hands, I think that has been a huge emphasis for him in the spring.”
On getting Jacob Warren more involved in the passing game…
“He is as unselfish of a guy as we have in the program. There’s times where stuff was designed to go with him that did not necessarily play out like that. The beauty of our offense, too, is that there are options all across the board, it is not just one guy that is getting a target. Sometimes, those targets are something that is intentional, but as a whole, I think those are really earned and something that, as he continues to get better this spring, he will see more of those.”

RS-Senior TE McCallan Castles

On his reason for transferring to Tennessee…
“I have one year left of college football, and I feel like I hit my max potential playing FCS football. I’m grateful for the opportunities I got out of UC Davis, but if you want to play at the next level, taking that step, you have to keep playing in higher level competition. I wanted to prove to myself that I actually belong in the NFL setting, and coming to the SEC, playing at Tennessee allows me to practice with those guys that are going to be there all the time and play against guys that are going to be there.”
On what kind of role he sees himself playing and how he can help the tight end room overall…
“I think I can do a little bit of everything, like Jacob (Warren). (I) got to get a little bit more fundamentally sound with the blocking just because it’s bigger guys in FBS, (I) got to get used to that. Other than that, I think I can run routes and block just as well as anybody else, so hopefully I can take some reps off of Jacob and me and him can get a good switch going every other series or something like that.”
 On how fast the connection with the other guys grew and the nickname the team gave him…
“Pretty quickly. I don’t even go by my real name, my family doesn’t even call me by my real name. They call me Cally, so they picked up on that pretty quick. But just coming out for bowl practice, I wasn’t able to practice with them, but I spent a lot of time with the guys. That whole room was super accepting right off the get go. You have dudes from all kinds of different places, like I would have never thought that me and Ethan Davis would be as good of friends as we are. The way we get together, it’s all laughs and good stuff and we both coach each other off of each other because we are both learning at the same time. You know he’s young, so he doesn’t have bad habits like I do, so he’s a little bit more moldable than I am.”

RS-Senior TE Jacob Warren

On what it has been like working with tight ends coach Alec Albeln these past few months…
“It has been great. Just him being with us through bowl prep and everything, it was really nice because we were kind of just able to get that introduction to him and how he is as a person, how he handles us, and how he handles more of the classroom side of it. Being able to come out and be on the field for spring ball has been great, seeing him in action and kind of forming those bonds that are a lot different than it is in the classroom. When you are out there on the field, bullets are flying, things are happening, how is he able to handle each individual? You have a lot of different types of guys in that room, so he’s done a great job so far adjusting to us and us adjusting to him as well.”
On being considered a coach on the field and how he has developed over the last year…
“Just my understanding of the offense and trying to continue to progress in that aspect, and being confident in my knowledge and what I know. Seeing things that are not right, but being able to make it right, I think that is something that earlier on in my career, maybe I would know something wasn’t right but maybe didn’t have the confidence to, didn’t have the want-to to call it out and make changes. But yeah, it has been great that he (Alec Albeln) has been able to let me lead our room in a way. Any time that I have something to say, I make sure that is alright with him. Like, ‘Hey, this is supposed to be what we are coaching?’ and he’s like, ‘Yes’ and I’ll go correct it and get it fixed, whatever it may be. I have been really appreciative of him just letting me do my thing and be the leader that I want to be and need to be for our group.”
On what stands out to him this spring opposed to the last five years of spring practices…
“I think for me personally, a little more intentionality — kind of going into each day thinking about what all do I want to get better at today. What was bad yesterday or what do I need to work on? Being able to take notes and look at my notes and (say) okay, tomorrow I am going to emphasize getting that extra yard on third down, or being quick to the tuck when I am catching a ball over the middle. Just anything like that. Just trying to be more intentional. I have seen it a lot. I am used to the workload it takes to get through spring ball, so now it is just a matter of locking in on the details of the little things. For everybody else, like for the younger guys especially, just learning how not only to survive, but how to thrive through and take what it is right. It is hard. It is not easy. We are waking up early, a lot of meeting time, just being able to process everything and push through, it just builds a little bit of mental toughness as we are moving along. That has been the main emphasis for sure.” 

RS-Freshman OL Addison Nichols

On how his time between center and guard is being divided…
“At the moment it’s all center. Just working it and making sure I’ve got it down so when we make it to the season, I can play both really well. That’s kind of the idea behind it right now.”
On how comfortable he is at center compared to last year…
“I feel very comfortable with it now. Last year was interesting, but it feels like second nature now. I can go back from left to center comfortably. I kind of felt it at the end of fall camp as I really switched back to left guard. I went to center through spring and then during fall camp did pretty much all left guard, and then going back to a few snaps at center. Going back to it was just super easy and super simple. Now, instead of thinking about what I’m doing I can think about bigger calls and the bigger picture.”
On how Cooper Mays has stepped into a leadership position…
“Cooper has been amazing. There have been times in practice where I’ll do something a little off, and before Coach Elarbee can even get words out, he’s right next to me demonstrating it for me. He’s done a really good job of not just teaching me what I need to know, but teaching the bigger picture stuff. Like I was saying earlier, he gives me ways to set, where to look, what to look for, how to read things out before they happen and other stuff. He just gives me a more veteran knowledge sense of things. Without him I don’t know where I’d be. He’s done a fantastic job.”
On Joe Milton III
“I love Joe. I think he’s a fantastic guy and he’s done an amazing job stepping up into that leadership role. There have been times in our workouts where we’ll get up and get set and the coaches will blow the whistle to run, but he’ll call everyone back on the line because something wasn’t right. His idea of a standard — he’s very strict on it and he just holds us to a higher level. He’s done an amazing job.”

-UT Athletics

Vols Line of Scrimmage / Credit: UT Athletics


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