Trio of senior Vols recap open week, preview trip to Auburn

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    Vols senior wide receiver Velus Jones met with the media on Tuesday to discuss why he decided to come to Tennessee, his relationship with Tee Martin, the potential of coming back for another senior season, and how comfortable he feels about playing each wide receiver position.

    Here’s everything Jones had to say:

    On what his experience at Tennessee has been like so far:

    “My Tennessee experience has been a great experience. Bonding with my brothers, my teammates, the offense, the QBs, it’s been a great experience. There’s nothing like SEC football. This is something I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a kid coming up, just making dreams realities, so it’s been a great experience. We’ve been blessed to have fans at the stadiums due to COVID, so I can’t complain. I’m just blessed to be here.”

    On how his relationship with Tee Martin played a role in coming to Tennessee:

    “Tee (Martin) was my former coach at the University of Southern California. It was big on my decision, but not only that, knowing the history of Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt and what he’s done in his time being a coach and his accomplishments, then Jim Chaney as well. Also, the absence of the two top receivers that left for the draft. That played a big role for me coming here as well.”

    On what the biggest challenge for him has been since arriving at Tennessee:

    “I wouldn’t say a challenge, it’s just the difference between playing Pac-12 football and SEC football. The SEC is like a junior varsity for the NFL. Players are a lot bigger, stronger, faster and it’s a lot more physical and stuff. First time in this system, (it’s) familiar, just different terminology, so I wouldn’t say challenges, just like adapting and getting a feel for everything.”

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    On if he liked hearing Jeremy Pruitt say Tennessee needs to be more aggressive on offense:

    “I’m apart of everything with my coaches. They call the plays and we line up and run them. We’re gonna live by that and die by that — me and the offensive guys. If they call a play, we just gotta go out there and execute at the end of the day. There’s no such thing as a bad play call. You can turn a call good, or you can turn it bad. Us as an offense is going to stick together and keep working our butts off.”

    On his role in this offense:

    “I see my role in this offense, as a veteran, giving knowledge, because it’s all about giving knowledge to the younger guys because once you leave, you’re replaced. Just taking those younger guys up under my wing and stuff and giving them as much knowledge as possible and hopefully turning them into better players than I am. Also, I’m here for my team, any way I can help my team be successful and get a win, at the end of the day or night, it’s good for me. So, I feel like my purpose is to be the best team player I can be and also better myself and my skillset to help my team be successful.”

    On if he has considered coming back for a second senior season:

    “I’m just focused on the task at hand due to COVID and these postponed games. I’m just taking it one step at a time and that’s what I’ve been trying to get better at over my years of being a college football player. Just stop thinking ahead and live in the moment, and work your tail off in the moment. When that time comes, that time will come. That’s where I’m at with that right now. I’m here now and I’m going to work my tail off to make sure we’re winning games at the end of the day.”

    On his transition to Tennessee during COVID:

    “Before last season when I was at USC, I had intentions of coming here. I talked to the family and getting my degree was the best thing for me so I stayed an extra year. After this past season I came to Tennessee and it’s been a great experience. There’s no other place I’d rather be. Even though times were tough because of COVID and we were limited to things we can do, so every chance we got, we bond. Whether that is going out as a group or every time we hit the field, teach each other and coach each other. At the end of the day, it’s about the people that’s playing on the field sticking together. It was challenging because we were so limited to the things we could do. But I feel like we did a good job with the way we came along.”

    On how nice it is to have someone from his hometown like Tee Martin be his position coach:

    “It’s a blessing. Not many players have that connection with their coaches. Him understanding me, understanding our background, our culture, where we come from, I look at it as a blessing. There’s a different level of thinking and stuff like that. Tee (Martin) knows the type of player I am. He knows the type of young man I am, and he knows my potential and where I can be. He’s going to push me, so just having that and him having that understanding of our background and what we came from and how hard we worked to be in a position, me playing in the league in the future, him being a coach now, it’s just a great feeling to know two kids from Mobile, Alabama are out here chasing their dreams. Just to have him as a coach is a true blessing.”

    On if he’s always enjoyed being a kickoff returner and what it takes to be good at it:

    “I went to USC in 2016. I redshirted my first year and my former special teams coach John Baxter, he believed in me and I always believed in myself. As a player, you have to believe in yourself even if nobody will and I always believed in myself. I knew I could accomplish anything through Christ. I’m a big believer in the Lord. Also, being motivated from my older cousin Kylen Towner* that has the kickoff return average in the NCAA, he’s the leader of that. So, that motivates me and the athletes I had in my family, just like my background. Football is like a culture in Mobile, Alabama. I’ve been playing since I’ve been four years old and I haven’t missed a year. Football is like everything to me, and so when you take that serious, it’s been built in me since I was young. Whatever I’m going to do, I’m going to do it to the fullest and I would never, ever give a poor performance. I will always give it my all. So, that was the mentality and the rest just took care of itself.”

    *Kylen Towner played at Western Kentucky and holds the NCAA single-season record for kickoff return average (40.3 in 2016)

    On why Tennessee has struggled to produce explosive plays offensively:

    “We have to stick together. The season isn’t over yet and we know the season hasn’t been the way we wanted to, but there’s still four more games. We can turn that all around. We’re just going to stick to the script. At practice, everybody is giving 100 percent because it all starts at practice. We have to stay tough on each other, tough love, we have to be a coach to one another, we can’t cut slack on one another. We have four more games on the season and I definitely believe we can turn this around with deep shots and all.”

    On the freshmen receivers:

    “Malachi Wideman, I see a lot of potential. He also plays basketball and I’m sure you’ve seen some of his highlights. I’m just telling him to be consistent and the rest will take care of itself. He has the body frame and his strength is high-pointing balls. If he can do that consistently, he can be playing in the league and making money for a long time.

    “And Jalin Hyatt, I told him he was a different receiver the first time I met him. His skillset, not many people are blessed with that skillset that early with his route-running ability, and he’s blessed with speed. Whatever you’re good at, use that to your advantage. I believe in all the young freshmen and I know they’ll do great things here. They’ll definitely be future All-Americans.”

    On how important it was to have an open week to get back on track:

    “I feel like everything happens for a reason. This was a blessing for us to get our feet back under ourselves and for people to heal up. This week was really important to get back to basics. There’s no need to panic. We need to tell ourselves why we’re at Tennessee, why we’re here to compete. We’re all here for the same reason and that’s to win an SEC Championship and a National Championship. This week was a great week to reflect on ourselves and who we are. This week was very much needed.”

    On if he believes he’s getting better:

    “Yes, I see myself getting better every week. It all starts at practice. What you put in is what you’re going to get out. Everybody knows that. The greatest know that. The work you put in, you’re going to get out. The work you don’t put in, it’s going to show. Just staying self-motived is very important. Keeping my swagger, never getting down on myself, always pushing each and everyday to be better as a leader and a player to help my team win.”

    On if he feels he can play all three wide receiver positions:

    “Yes. I’m extremely blessed to see placed outside. I’ve been labeled as a slot guy throughout my career. Being outside has taken it to a whole another game. Not only to help me at this level, but it’ll help me at the next level as well. Them placing me out there, learning to run the outside routes and stuff like that. My route-running ability is much-improved. Once you master the outside and then they place you on the inside, it’s like taking candy from a baby. I love playing outside but now I’m in position to be anywhere they need me to be on the field and know what to do.”

    On comparing Los Angeles to Knoxville:

    “I would say Los Angeles is a busy city. The city doesn’t sleep. There’s always something going on. The population is way greater and the weather — it gets real cold here. The thing I can say about Knoxville is that there’s a home feeling. I’m six hours away from Mobile, Alabama. My family gets to come up here and see me play. I didn’t get that at USC. I probably got to see them once or twice a year. They would come out to one game. Knoxville is definitely a home feeling. I love the people here. The people are very nice. Los Angeles is just a different animal. It was definitely a culture shock coming out of high school. But now I feel like I’m back in my element being in Knoxville.”

    Go to the next page to see what Deandre Johnson had to say.