When Tennessee coaches and players spoke to reporters Friday at Tennessee’s annual media day, one word kept coming up.
Both sides of the football have been restocked, restored and retooled with a cast of newcomers and wily veterans with NFL hopes.
The “bricks” are in place from top to bottom. Butch Jones says his team’s added depth this season has already made an impact on the practice field.
For the first time in his tenure at UT, Jones can field a competitive third-team squad.
“We’re able now at times to go with the threes,” Jones added. “We’ve never been able to go with the threes. You look at a Marcus Tatum who is giving you quality reps and you see him getting better and better. The depth brings up in practice.”
But Butch Jones will tell you there’s still lots of work to be done.
“We’re still not there nine across the board,” Jones said on Friday. “I know people don’t like to hear it but it is what it is, it does take time across the board, especially when you look at the offensive and defensive lines. Those are developmental positions, but really, football in general is a developmental sport.”
For a team that didn’t have a player drafted last season, the Vols are stocked with NFL ready talent all across the field.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie has two future pros in his position group alone. Gillespie says that he sells his group’s versatility and depth in recruiting.
“You want to go somewhere where you’re not just going to be the workhorse, where everything has to be on your back,” Gillespie said. “We have an offense that will allow multiple guys to be successful.”
Gillespie is confident in the skill set of his running backs. He even said it scares Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop.
“I think it’s a nightmare for the defensive guys,” Gillespie said. “Coach Shoop has come to us several times and said those are the things that have him waking up in the middle of the night. To have a guy like Alvin (Kamara) that can do multiple things and also Jalen (Hurd) who can surprise you with some of the things he can do on the perimeter, that’s a weapon we want to take advantage of.”
The offensive and defensive lines may still be areas of concern in Coach Jones’ mind, but Tennessee’s lineman are confident in each other’s depth and talent.
Redshirt freshman tackle Drew Richmond says the competition level between the offensive and defensive lines has grown to a new level this fall.
“It’s always competitive,” Richmond said. “I think we have the best D-line in the country. Point-blank, period. It’s tremendous. They’re helping us become an offensive line that can win a national championship.”
Tennessee is yet to play a game, but its new found depth has already made it more competitive on both sides of the ball.