The bye week was good for the Vols from a health standpoint. At his Monday press conference, Butch Jones said defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry won’t play against Kentucky, but other banged up players such as Marquez North, Coleman Thomas and Marlin Lane all should play when the Wildcats come to Knoxville.
Jones did say that despite Thomas’ return to the field, redshirt senior Jacob Gilliam will remain the starting right tackle.
Jones confirmed that receiver Josh Smith, who had 10 catches for 135 yards this season, did indeed undergo season-ending surgery on his ankle after an exploratory procedure revealed that it needed to be done. He will miss the rest of the season, though Jones does expect him to be healthy for spring football. Smith will return as a redshirt sophomore in 2015 since he appeared in less than 30 percent of Tennessee’s games this season.
“I think the bye week came at the appropriate time for a number of reasons,” Jones said. “First and foremost, the grind. As we all know, our depth is very minimal and very limited. So it was an opportunity to get our health back a little bit, as much as you can. One week isn’t going to get your health back.”
Another sellout close: Jones again called for a full house at Neyland, saying there are approximately just 1,000 tickets left.
“I believe it will be our fourth sell-out, which is amazing,” he said. “The fan base has been outstanding, the student body, and we are going to need it at 4 o’clock to make Neyland another great home field advantage for us. So we need everyone to come out and continue to support us, which they have.”
Dobbs still looking for consistency in practice: Jones has been very slow to heap too much praise on Joshua Dobbs despite his impressive two-week run at quarterback. Before the South Carolina Jones said he didn’t want to “crown” anybody at this point at quarterback, and heading into this week, Jones continues to look for more in practice from his sophomore QB.
“Needs to work on it,” Jones said of Dobbs’ consistency. “Not what we needed. And again, it’s easy to write things when you watch a game or two, but we see it everyday in practice. There’s a lot different. Josh knows it. For us to be successful, he has to play with great consistency, day in and day out. That’s his biggest challenge, and he understands it. We work on it each and every day.
“We talk about it, but we need much more consistency not just from him, but if it’s Nate Peterman, whoever is our quarterback. Being able to make the routine plays and Josh in game situations has done a very good job of that and managing the offense. But the more you put your identity on video, the more there is, the more different game plans you’re going to see, the different looks you’re going to see because they have more opportunities to game plan you now because of your video.”
On Lil Jon’s visit to practice: “It was great to have him at practice,” Jones said. “I know our players enjoyed that. That’s the power of Tennessee. He was in town and wanted to come over and be a part of practice and all of that. It was great to see. The first thing he said to me is, ‘I can’t believe practice. It’s chaos.’ I said, ‘It’s controlled chaos.’ It was great to have him but no he didn’t call any plays.”
Linebacker A.J. Johnson added: “It was pretty cool. He came and spoke to us before we went out to practice. It was exciting to be able to meet him in person and stuff. He had that grill in his mouth shining, it was really shining like that in person. That was nice to see.
“Pretty much just wanting to come by and say he wanted to show us some love. He said he’d show us some love in the flesh. I know he did a video for us in the Neyland Stadium and he was in town, so he wanted to come by and holler at us and tell us to keep fighting pretty much, and get to a bowl game. That’s one thing he said, we’re close to making stuff happen so we might as well finish it off. He said our coach is a cool cat. He liked Coach Jones a lot.”
Jones on Kentucky:
• “You start with them offensively – very, very explosive, up tempo, everything starts with the quarterback, Patrick Towles. Know all about him. Even though he is from Kentucky, he is from Highlands but that is right across the river in Cincinnati. So we were involved in the recruitment of him. He is a winner. He has won numerous state championships. So it is going to be a great challenge for us. The major difference we believe in their offense is their speed. They have really improved their overall speed, especially on the perimeter. They have some bigger-bodied guys up front. They are scoring a lot of points. They are going to playing with a lot of up tempo, fast-paced, so we have to be ready. Again, that is why the communicative aspect is imperative in moving forward.”
• “Defensively, older, veteran group upfront. Have done a very good job. They are down by seven to the No. 1 team in the country (Mississippi State) entering the fourth quarter. Again, they have improved their speed in the back end. They are +8 in turnover margin. Getting back to offensively, I think they are one or two in country in fourth downs. They have gone for it 20 times. So again, not just playing third down, we have to have the mindset to play through four downs of football.”
• (On if the grind of playing eight in a row is wearing them down): “I don’t know. I don’t see their players every day. I’m sure they have a great handle on it. I know for us, all I can speak of for us, this conference is a grind, not only physically but mentally as well. Everywhere you go on the road, you’re playing in hostile environments. This is a conference that’s unyielding. It’s relentless with everything that you do. It does take its toll on a football team, but I can’t speak for them. All I can do is speak for us.”