While Butch Jones’ primary purpose for meeting with the media on Wednesday afternoon was to discuss Tennessee’s upcoming matchup against Bowling Green, perhaps the biggest news involved UT’s home opener against Oklahoma the following week.
Jones confirmed what had been reported several weeks back – that Oklahoma will, indeed, be the game that fans are asked to “Checker Neyland” – forming an orange and white checkerboard pattern in the stadium like fans did against Florida last year for the first time.
Tennessee is directing fans to the website CheckerNeyland.com where they can input their seat number to find out if they should wear orange or white for the Sept. 12 showdown against the Sooners. The idea was originally inspired by Oklahoma’s striped stadium when the Vols took on the Sooners at the beginning of 2014. What began as a grassroots idea and a design by Spencer Barnett (@CleVOLander on Twitter) now appears to be a new yearly tradition for the Vols.
Youth still served?: Jones hasn’t been hesitant about reminding that this year’s team is still young.
“We just concluded doing our travel roster, and we are actually younger this year than we were last year,” he said. “It’s exciting, but it’s also a challenge in and of itself.”
Jones rattled off several stats to back up his claim about the youth and inexperience on the roster:
• 22 to 23 true freshmen are expected to play against Bowling Green on Saturday
• 27 total freshmen on the travel roster – five are redshirt freshmen
• 34 players on the travel roster have never taken a snap for UT
• 56 players on the travel roster have one year or less of SEC experience
• 16 players on the travel roster were on the travel roster two years ago (2013)
Replacing McNeil: Todd Kelly Jr. is listed as the starting safety in place of the injured LaDarrell McNeil on the official depth chart, but neither defensive coordinator John Jancek nor Jones have been ready to confirm that he’s the sure-fire starter on Saturday.
“We started off with that position being a strength in terms of depth, and what we found out in football terms is that depth can be diminished at any moment in time,” Jones said on Wednesday. “We hope [Todd Kelly] can pick up some of the reps, Evan Berry can pick up some of the reps as well. So there’s some individuals that are going to need to step up. Max Arnold will get some quality repetitions as well. Again, it’s everyone understanding their role and embracing their role and being ready to go from the get-go.”
Jones also confirmed that freshman Quart’e Sapp is cross-training at both linebacker and safety in practice as the Vols look to add more depth.
“He’s doing a very good job at linebacker, but also we have to be prepared for anything,” Jones said. “As we always know, you’re one snap away. It’s just adding to the preparation at that position.”
• Jones said redshirt sophomore walk-on Trevor Daniel will get the first opportunity to punt on Saturday against Bowling Green. Daniel has been in an ongoing competition with transfer Nathan Renfro and freshman Tommy Townsend in camp to handle the punting duties. All three will be on the travel squad, however, and the competition will be ongoing.
• Backup quarterback Quinten Dormady continues to look like he could get some snaps against the Falcons. Jones has said throughout camp that he is the backup, and that he wants him to get experience this year regardless. “I’ve been very proud of his approach,” Jones said of Dormady. “He’s been very, very consistent. He’s continued to get better and better and better. So I do anticipate him playing, and I anticipate him playing throughout the course of the year.”
• Jones didn’t back down from saying that freshman receiver Preston Williams will play against Bowling Green, but wasn’t willing to give a snap estimate for the talented five-star receiver who was just cleared to practice late last week: “The game dictates that,” Jones said. “We don’t go in and say, ‘Hey, he’s going to have 15 snaps, 20 snaps.’ It’s basically a feel thing, how he’s doing. Basically, the situation of the game and also the health of your football team as well.”