Dillon Bates arrived in June as arguably the most heralded signee in the Vols’ 2014 recruiting class. The four star linebacker from Ponta-Vedra, Florida was written in by many as a presumed starter before he even stepped foot on campus – something not all that uncommon with highly ranked players at positions of need. The fact that he is also the son of a true Tennessee legend only added fuel to that fire. But, to his credit, Bates never made being a starter his personal goal. His only goal is to show up and work hard – the rest will take care of itself.
“All I’ve been looking for ever since I got here was a chance to put on the pads, a chance to be out on the field with my teammates that I’ve been working hard all summer with,” Bates said. “To finally get out on the field and start practicing, it’s been great.
“I can’t really control whether I’m going to play or whether I cant play. All I can control is how I go about every day and how I go about making myself better on the field. If something happens and someone goes down and I’m out on the field then all I can do is play my game and play it to the best of my abilities.”
Through twelve practices, however, Bates has indeed already seen some reps with the first team defense in certain looks, and the rangy outside linebacker has performed quite well. When asked about his ability to adjust, Bates said time in the film room has proved to be the most beneficial factor in how well he has been able to perform on the field thus far, but also noted that even studying the film hasn’t closed the gap entirely. When asked about the biggest difference between high school and what he’s seen so far at this level, Bates answered without hesitation.
“It’s a lot faster,” he said. “Especially with the tempo that our offense goes by. You’re in the meeting room and you’re seeing everything on film – it clicks. You know your mistakes, you know everything you need to work on. Then when you take it to the field, it’s so much faster. Everything is live and there are so many different things going through your head – am I aligned right, what’s my assignment – then the ball’s snapped.
“That’s why you get a lot of time in the meeting room and out on the field with the coaches, walking through things so it becomes second nature and you can just fly around and make plays.”
The ability to “fly around and make plays” is something that Bates sees a lot more of in his near future, especially once he’s able to learn the schemes, calls and assignments. In the meantime, however, he still has a plan for how to attack each play and each rep – even if he isn’t certain of his assignment.
“Coach Jones says you can always correct a wrong play with your speed and your effort, so if you give great effort on a play you can always correct something.
“There’s always those times that you know you messed up and you’re slowing down, but they always tell us that if you mess up, go 100-percent. So I know that If I’m going to hit the wrong gap, then I’m going to hit it going 100-percent. There’s those little things that you really need to take in and really concentrate on, but if you do mess up – and it always happens – go at it 100-percent.”
But even if Bates isn’t listed as the starter at linebacker at any point during the season, his head coach confirmed on Tuesday that fans are sure to see him on numerous special teams units this fall. Dillon has already proven to be an ace on kick and punt coverage and has made an appearance or two on the field goal block teams as well. Most highly touted freshman aren’t exactly thrilled with the notion of playing only on special teams, but given that his father (Bill Bates) was the first ever player in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl as a special teams player, Dillon possesses a slightly different outlook.
“I knew growing up that special teams is almost as important as any other position on the field. All the coaches know that and they’ve told everybody. I’m playing a lot of special teams so that I’ll be able to see the field.”
The younger Bates admitted that it isn’t only special teams advice that he gets from his father, but also advice on how to handle everything that is being thrown at him this early in his career. As things are coming at him faster and faster, his father’s advice all along has remained consistent and simple.
“He always tells me to slow it down. Take everything in and every day work on one thing at a time.
“I call him every other night just to talk to him and he always asks me how everything’s going. I go to him for tips and advice and if I ever have any questions on the field or things that I’m struggling with. He’s my greatest asset, as a father and as someone to look up to.”
Along with his father, Dillon said that he has a lot of people that he looks up to on this current team as well. You will rarely catch him wandering too far away from senior All-SEC middle linebacker A.J. Johnson, who Bates says has been instrumental in teaching him the nuances of the game and about living life as a collegiate athlete. In fact, Dillon complimented all of the older linebackers for their help in making his transition a smooth one.
“I try to stick with the older guys, see how they practice, see how they go about their day. I take any tips and any little things that I can because obviously they’re successful in what they do, so modeling things after them can only help you.”
While many freshman across the country sign with a school because they are promised early playing time or a starting position, Bates’ plan all along has been to come in and earn everything that comes his way. His approach on the practice field, both physically and mentally, has been noticed and praised by his head coach and he continues to make a strong push for quality playing time at outside linebacker in addition to his growing role on special teams. Through all of it, though, Dillon’s approach hasn’t been a difficult one to understand. Much like his father’s advice on how to handle playing at this level, Dillon’s goals that he set for himself each and every day are also consistent and simple.
“I’m really just going out every day and trying to make plays, trying to better myself as a person out on the field and better my teammates.”
You’re on the right track, Dillon.