Quotes: ‘Athletic’ Vols Complete First Preseason Camp Practice 

Quotes: ‘Athletic’ Vols Complete First Preseason Camp Practice 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After a productive spring and summer following the program’s first New Year’s Six berth in the College Football Playoff era, Tennessee football’s preseason camp practices are underway with an 18-period workout in helmets and shorts on Wednesday at Haslam Field.

For head coach Josh Heupel, the first camp practice of 2023 illustrated how far the roster has come in terms of depth and athleticism since he first took over a program in 2021 that was decimated by transfer departures.

“It’s dramatically different than we were in year one,” he said. “I would say that with the guys who ran out there with the first unit too, but if you just look through the depth of our roster, the length and size, ability to bend up front in particular, the athleticism, the ability to move out in space with our skill guys and big skill, it’s dramatically different.”

That transformation on the field includes the signing of back-to-back top-15 recruiting classes, sports performance work with Kurt Schmidt, competition and the knowledge of Heupel’s schemes. A total of 23 players from the most recent signing class went through spring ball with several being present for Orange Bowl practices.

Six additional members of the class went through their first collegiate practice on Wednesday, including defensive lineman Chandavian Bradley, offensive lineman Ayden Bussell, defensive lineman Trevor Duncan, running back Khalifa Keith and defensive lineman Tyree Weathersby. All met with the media following practice.

Also participating in his first practice was five-star defensive line prospect Daevin Hobbs. Hobbs enrolled at Tennessee in January but missed the spring due to an upper body injury. The athletic Hobbs, a standout basketball prep player, was the No. 1 recruit out of the state of North Carolina and can play end or in the middle.

“I took the time to study my playbook and watch over everything because I couldn’t do anything else,” he said of the spring. “I took in everything, what coach likes and what we do. I am excited to be doing stuff again and anything I could do to get on the field.”

The Vols will hold their second practice on Thursday morning before tight ends coach Alec Abeln and newcomer players meet with the media. Abeln was recently named to 247Sports 30 Under 30 rising coaching stars in college football.

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening Statement 

“It was a great first day. There was a ton of energy as you would anticipate. We need to keep that energy up as we go through training camp. We’re obviously not in shoulder pads, so there is a lot of fundamental work, some group work as well and a little bit of team work. Overall, I’m pleased with it.”

On how he measures success of the first day of fall camp…

“Part of it is coming out healthy. We’re intentional in the positions that we’re putting our guys in early in training camp. I think that’s important for the long haul. Also, great fundamental work. Where we start, you’re looking backwards and where you finished training camp, have we continued to grow and make strides over the course of the summer? I feel like we’ve done that. Obviously, going back to watch the tape will tell a lot more. For your young guys, how quickly are they transitioning into what you’re doing based on what we did in the summer. Those are things that once you get done with practice, you’ll be able to tell.”

On freshman tight end Emmanuel Okoye

“He was a great basketball player, too. We got a chance to watch some of the footage and his athletic traits. Being able to watch his hands a little bit on the basketball court too, we felt like that would transition over. With his length and athleticism, that’s why we started him at the position we did. He has a long, great football journey ahead of him. Today was day one for him on the field. You think about where he was 12 months ago and where he’s at today, it’s a drastic difference in the competition and everything that he’s facing. We’re excited about him because he’s urgent, he cares and he continues to grow from day to day and rep to rep. It’s a long process here as we begin this journey with him.”

On what freshman defensive linemen Nathan Robinson and Daevin Hobbs learned from being around the team in the spring…

“I think as much as anything for them, they get a lot of it outside of truly being the guy doing the rep. They get all the installs. They have a great understanding of our defense. They understand the fundamentals and technique that we’re talking about. They’ve continued to have an opportunity to grow a little bit more during the course of the summer than they did in spring ball that way. At the same time, they’re much further ahead than a guy who this is the first day they’ve ever been on the practice field with our football team. They understand the flow. They understand the expectations. Now it’s about going out there, doing a lot of things right and probably making a bunch of mistakes too. Just don’t make the same mistake twice and continue to grow as a football player really quickly.”

On Squirrel White coming out of his shell and his changes off the field in the past year…

“I think for you guys, it’s a glimpse into his true and real personality. Initially getting here, being in a different environment with new people and being at this level of college football, he was very intentional about how he worked and competed, but I think at times you didn’t see his true personality. We’ve seen it inside the building for a lot longer than you all have because we interact with him every single day. I just feel like in the back third of last season, we got a chance to see a little bit more of it and certainly since we’ve been back this entire offseason. You’ve gotten to see a true sense of who he is and what he’s about outside of just lining up and playing football at a really high level. He cares. He’s really engaging. He likes to have fun. He comes out with a great energy every single day, competes really hard. Today was really good, but that’s who he is, and that’s how he competes every day.”

On what he thought of the competition level during day one of camp and what Daevin Hobbs can bring to the defensive line…

“It’s not just today on the field seeing the competition and feeling it, but it’s driven guys in the summer too. That’s in how they’re preparing their bodies but also in the meeting room when we get a chance to spend a little bit of time with them or out on the grass, there is a heightened sense of competitiveness because there are other guys in the building that look like them and have the athletic traits that they do too. We felt that all offseason and felt it today too. I think it was awesome. One of you said yesterday something about some of you all playing linebacker for us our first year here. You go ones, twos and threes, and there are real players at all levels right there that we certainly didn’t have early in my tenure here.”

On if he likes to have his two starting offensive tackles set prior to the season opener…

“The reality is we’re going to need all of those guys to play. That’s been proven over time everywhere that I’ve been and since I’ve been here too. At the end of the day, this is the time of year where you have to let the competition unfold. The guys that are consistent, are playing at a high level and doing all of those things at a championship level are the guys you have to find a role with. We’ll see where that ends up by the end of training camp.”

On if Wednesday’s practice was clean in the sense of players retaining information from the spring and summer…

“You reset. As you go through the spring, you continue to add to your installs, and you do some of that in the summer. You get back here, now it’s going to come faster than it did in spring ball just because you’re practicing back-to-back days. You are resetting to the beginnings of who you are structurally in all three phases. That’s also why guys reset and they grow. My expectations for when we got out there were that they were dramatically different players than they were when we finished spring ball, in particular our young guys. The guys who have been inside of our program, that’s freshmen as well, I thought today you could see them retain, execute at a higher level and be better fundamentally. I thought that offensively and defensively, in our individual work and some of our group work, and in special teams today as well. Without going back and watching the tape yet, I’m pleased with where those guys are. The new guys inside of our program, you have to understand it’s the first day for them. There are a lot of things that those guys have to clean up for us to practice the way that we want to. All in all, I’m pretty pleased.”

On what he saw in wide receivers coach Kelsey Pope before bringing him on staff…

“You interview him, and he’s striking in his ability to communicate at a really high level. His understanding of fundamentals and technique at the wide receiver position, overall scheme, his understanding. Then he had a year of incorporating truly into what we’re doing. From the moment that he’s been here, he’s had great relationships and cares about his players. That’s true of all the guys who are in our building. That’s where it starts. You have to build trust with your players, and that only happens with great communication and them understanding that you care about the person more than you do the player. We care deeply about the player too, but we want these guys to be successful and grow. You guys have seen the change in the players inside of this program. Kelsey’s done a phenomenal job of that. In year one, him being instrumental in the growth of some of the guys who played at a high level like Cedric Tillman, or the development of Jalin Hyatt. Our guys have great trust in him, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him here.”

On if he feels like this roster looks more like an SEC team than in his first year at Tennessee in 2021…

“It’s dramatically different than we were year one. I would say that with the guys who ran out there with the first unit too, but if you just look through the depth of our roster, the length and size, ability to bend up front in particular, the athleticism, the ability to move out in space with our skill guys and big skill, it’s dramatically different.”

On if he’s ever seen a bad first day of practice…

“You hope the first day’s a good one. Have I ever seen a bad one? Yeah. If you don’t do a great job of being intentional and making sure early in training camp — I don’t care, at any level of football — that you’re building them the right way. You end up having a guy that gets nicked up, whatever it might be, I think that’s something that you have to be really intentional with at the beginning of training camp. There’s a lot of things that you’re always trying to work on, but I think the ability for your players to communicate at a high really level, some of the things that you’ve been intentional with all spring and all summer. If those things don’t show up, it’s a tell-tale sign that the culture that you’re trying to build isn’t going in the right direction.”

On what traits could make linebackers Aaron Beasley and Keenan Pili and effective duo…

“They’re both athletic. They both have the ability to play in space, and that’s the nature of the game right now. Depending on which way they’re splitting out, those guys having to defend in space. They’re both physical on contact, and I think they have really good eye discipline, which allows them to see something and pull the trigger. Both of those guys are hyper-aggressive, and they’re really intentional in the way that they work. They affect their guys on the defense and in the linebacker room in a really positive way, too.”

-UT Athletics

Vols DE Tyler Baron / Credit: UT Athletics

Country News


  • Forecast
  • Currents
  • Planner