Through two weeks of fall camp, some things are finally beginning to take shape for Tennessee’s 2017 team. And according to Butch Jones, one side of the ball is ahead of the other at this stage of camp.
“I think right now we’re a little bit ahead of the game defensively,” Jones said after practice on Friday. “I think for a number of reasons. I think first of all, it’s the continuity on offense. We have zero continuity on offense right now. We have to step it up, and I trust that we will, but it’s not to our expectations.”
Aside from the offensive line, the Vols’ offense returns little in the way of experience from last season. Ethan Wolf, Josh Smith, and Jauan Jennings are the Vols’ most experienced players on Tennessee’s offense outside of the offensive line. The rest of Tennessee’s offensive players have a combined one start among them all, and that comes from running back John Kelly.
The Vols have a new quarterback, several young receivers, and all but one running back on the roster is a sophomore or younger. Tennessee is working on building up the chemistry on offense with so many new and inexperienced pieces, and that’s allowed a more experienced defense to take a few steps ahead.
As good as it is to see the defense making strides, Butch Jones wants both of his units to progress equally. And he knows the next week will be pivotal for his team.
“The next few practices are monumental,” Jones stated. “Today is the last day of summer school, so we put that behind us and we move into the hotel tonight. To me, this is all about training camp now. It’s 100 percent focused on football.
“This team has to continue to grow and mature. So the next few days are going to tell us a lot about our football team.”
But as good as the defense has looked to Jones, he still wants some of his individual defensive players to step up. And one of those is defensive lineman Alexis Johnson.
“We need a lot more,” Jones said of Johnson. “We need the mental stamina and physical stamina in terms of getting in football shape, the ability to think strategically when you’re winded, especially in a one minute situation. That’s where the defensive line really needs to come to play.
“He’s come along, but we’re going to continue to need more from him.”
In fact, aside from the Vols’ main three or four defensive linemen, Jones said he wants to see more from the rest of the defensive line.
“Darrell Taylor has been very, very consistent,” Jones said. “Really liked his approach. Jonathan Kongbo has done some good things. I’ve seen flashes from all of them. Kendal Vickers has been very, very consistent. But again, it’s the No. 6 lineman, the No. 7, the No. 8. We just spoke about Alexis Johnson, but it’s a lot of those individuals that we’re going to need to get ready in a hurry. Some youngsters like Kivon Bennett. Individuals like that have to understand that their time could be now.”
As an illustration of that, Jones made reference to Tennessee’s quarterback situation on Friday. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano wasn’t at practice on Friday due to a death in his family. And because of his absence, freshman Will McBride took all the snaps with the second string offense.
“It’s like with the quarterback situation,” Jones added. “With the unfortunate thing that happened to Jarrett and his family, Will McBride now gets all the No. 2 reps. And I think that’s a great illustration that you’re one snap away from having to go into a game and play winning football. All these teaching opportunities are invaluable, and that’s why you have training camp.”
Right now, Tennessee’s defense is ahead of their offense. The Vols’ offense still has a few weeks to catch up, however, and Tennessee will need them to in order to have the type of success they want in 2017.