It is Wednesday of game week, so you know what that means; SEC Teleconference time. The Tennessee head coach made his first appearance on the weekly coaches appearance. As tradition, the head coach gives a few opening remarks regarding the upcoming game, which Heupel discussed his excitement for Thursday night.
“Really proud of what we’ve done,” Heupel said. “And we’re kind of at the point right now where it’s time to go play and see where we’re at. I know our guys are excited to see our fans at the Vols Walk, run out through the’ T,’ make a righthand turn and listen to Rocky Top and go compete our butts off. Really excited about what we’ve done, excited about tomorrow night.”
Since this will be a Thursday night game and the SEC crowd paying attention to what Tennessee can do coming out of the gate, Heupel was asked for his thoughts on the season opener and playing on a weekday.
“I think for us, Year 1, Week 1, have the entire country be able to watch what the new brand of Tennessee football is, to showcase the history and tradition that is unsurpassed anywhere in college football, to be able to showcase the new brand that we have here, it’s a great and unique opportunity for our program. So I think it’s really beneficial to the recruiting side of it. I think it’s really beneficial for our players. And then on the back end of it, our coaches have the opportunity to go out and hit the road recruiting on Friday night and be able to get a jumpstart on that as well.”
During the question portion of the teleconference, Heupel spoke about Theo Jackson and Trevon Flowers as punt returners for the Vols. The Tennessee head coach is relying on their natural ability to track down the football and catching, giving them veterans and speed on the field.
“First of all, just in the building and the sense of who they are as competitors,” Heupel said. “Their accountability and who they are every day, how they interact with their teammates—great sense of trust in those guys to begin with, outside of the football side of it. Ever since we’ve gotten here and been on the field, those guys have taken reps at the return spot. They’re extremely natural catching the ball, tracking the football. They’re really good decision-makers on those in-between balls. Do I go get it? Or do I pull off of it? We take those guys through ball security (drills). They’ve been so consistent in their ability to catch the football and track it, and so great with their ball security, that we feel like those are guys we really trust back there.”
As the offensive line takes shape, Cooper Mays will be the starting center. Heupel raved about his communication skills and getting his teammates lined up.
“Smart,” Heupel quickly stated. “The ability to communicate, to get all five guys synchronized. Handles playing with tempo in a really positive way. Been consistent with his snaps all through spring ball and training camp. And I love his competitive spirit and how he walks into the building every single day. He’s going to be a great one here.”
As for the receiver position, Velus Jones Jr. has been dealing with a hamstring problem for the last few weeks. So when Heupel was asked if Jones would be ready to go Thursday night, the head coach was a quick answer.
“I think he’s ready to go play and play in a great way,” Heupel said.
Now all the team has to do is continue preparing for Bowling Green, with their final walk-through on Wednesday afternoon. The team will then head off to the hotel, where they will be in meetings on Thursday, along with some downtime as they wait for the late kickoff.
The Vols will face Bowling Green at 8 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.