Tennessee freshman receiver Preston Williams was just cleared by the NCAA last week after re-taking his ACT. Butch Jones said on Monday that the former five-star recruit, who is also coming off a torn ACL during his senior year in high school, is expected to play against Bowling Green on Saturday when the Vols travel to Nashville to face Bowling Green.
“He’s in the mid-90’s [percent healthy] and I think once he gets into football condition he’ll be fine,” Jones said. “That’s the thing, can he play in an extended drive, and can he play at a high level for five, six, seven, eight plays in a row? We’ll know that more today, because we’ll do a lot game-type situation in practice today. We’ll know a little more when we walk off the field about where he’s at.”
Williams has faced an uphill climb this month to be in position to play in the opener. The eligibility question took Williams completely away from practice field, limiting his ability to learn the offense and get into football shape. Jones credited Williams’ individual work ethic during that time for his ability to be as close to ready as he is, but said it will have to be a process as they bring him along.
“To his tribute again, he’s worked very hard on his own with his conditioning levels,” Jones said of Williams. But you have to make sure you don’t overload him immediately. He is a young man who has had no training camp. So no structured conditioning, he has done it all on his own so he’s really been removed from our football team. We have to make sure we take it in a step-by-step process.
“We don’t ask too much of him too early; not only from a mental standpoint, but also from a physical standpoint. You can run straight ahead and you can try to manufacture conditioning-type scenarios, but the acceleration, deceleration, the getting in and out of cuts, the finishing of plays. Playing a football style has a wear and tear on its body all to its own. So we just have to be very smart and creative in how we get him to the game and give him a package he can handle, and not ask him to do too much.”
In other words, for now, go long Preston, and they’ll throw it to you.
Injury updates: Jones confirmed that freshman wide receiver Vincent Perry is out for the season after undergoing a knee procedure on Friday for a meniscus injury he sustained in practice last week. Jones added that the surgery went “very, very well.” Junior receiver Jason Croom, who also had a knee scope on Friday, will miss somewhere between three and five weeks and it, “just kind of [depends on] how his body heals.”
Asked for an update on safety LaDarrell McNeil, Jones stopped short of completely ruling him out for the season, but also called it a “long shot” that he’ll return in 2015 as he deals with neck instability, an injury that was first announced last Thursday. Freshman safety Stephen Griffin, who missed a large portion of camp, will return to practice Monday. Jones also declared Marquez North 100% healthy after he’d been limited the past couple weeks with a knee sprain.
The freshman 22: The 2014 version of the Vols was known as one of the youngest teams in the nation, but Jones said this year’s team, Team 119 for the Vols, could be even younger – in a way.
“In terms of freshmen, we could play upwards to the amount of about 22 true freshmen Saturday afternoon,” he said. “If you look at last year’s team, we had 21 play in the home opener, I believe, 23 overall. Arguably, this football team, Team 119, could be younger than Team 118. Again, it’s the game of the unknowns. How are these individuals going to react when the spotlight goes on and you’re playing for real now, and there’s a score on the scoreboard and everything’s about winning the football game?”
Jones summons Vol fans to sell out Nissan Stadium: Exact ticket sales information hasn’t been released, but there are still a fair amount of seats available for Saturday’s opener against Bowling Green in Nissan Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Titans. Jones wants the blue and red seats painted orange on Saturday when the Falcons come to town.
“We need a home field-advantage, and Vol Nation has been outstanding,” he said. “When we’ve asked them to respond, they’ve responded. When we’ve asked them to come and fill Neyland Stadium and have 40,000-plus for an open practice, they’ve responded. We need Vol Nation to respond to make this a home field advantage. We need to sell this football game out. Team 119 is calling on our fans to do this, because when you take a home venue, when you take a home game off your campus, one of the things, as your football team, that’s critical in college football is the home-field advantage.”