Everything Josh Heupel Said To Close Spring Practice

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    Tennessee took Haslam Practice Field for its final scrimmage of spring practice Thursday morning. The Vols have one more practice remaining this spring, but head coach Josh Heupel met with the media for the final time this spring following Thursday’s scrimmage.

    The second year head coach discussed needs in the transfer portal, Tayven Jackson’s big day and more. Here is everything Heupel said to close out the spring.

    Opening Statement

    “Ended up being a great day out. Ton of competition, got some special teams working as well. I thought there was some back-and-forth offense, defense and great way to finish spring off as far as our last scrimmage. Our kids are excited about what’s transpired here over the first 14 days and are excited for a little bit of a break here with Easter weekend too. Some of those guys will get a chance to go home.”

    What he wanted to see at the final scrimmage

    “You see guys align, sign and play ball and make plays. Defensively, tackle well in space. Do a great job of running to the football. Play assignment sound fits, have great competition and strain early in the scrimmage. Offensively, be able to be efficient and do your job at a really high level. I thought the quarterbacks did some really good things in some of the situations. Coming out with four-minute drill at the end, just clock management. A ton of positives from today.”

    On how his team performed on the line of scrimmage

    “You see guys align, sign and play ball and make plays. Defensively, tackle well in space. Do a great job of running to the football. Play assignment sound fits, have great competition and strain early in the scrimmage. Offensively, be able to be efficient and do your job at a really high level. I thought the quarterbacks did some really good things in some of the situations. Coming out with four-minute drill at the end, just clock management. A ton of positives from today.”

    On the offensive tackle position

    “Dayne (Davis) was playing his best football. His offseason season showed in the way that he was moving and playing at the tackle position early in spring ball. (Gerald Mincey and Jeremiah Crawford) have been rotated kind of back and forth based on who graded out the best the previous day. Thought they’ve both grown in a really positive way. For everybody on our football team, there’s more time from now until kickoff than there is from when they got back in late January in the offseason, so there’s a ton of time to grow physically, grow in the understanding of what we’re doing offensively or defensively on the line of scrimmage and become a much better technical football player. Excited about the growth that we’ve seen from those two guys here through spring ball. Want to see a bunch of competition and growth here as we go through summer.”

    On offensive line knowing where to be

    “I think alignment is one thing but then also your fits off of that is something that we have to continue to grow in. At the end of the day, you want to be perfect in those things. One guy creates a vertical seam, and that’s a huge play. You have to limit plays, tackle them for what the gain should be and find a way to create third-and-long situations. If you look back a year ago, there’s a lot of things that we have to be better at on offense, defense and special teams. Defensively, one of the things is being really good at third-and-long situations. We created some zero (yardage) and negative plays got to be better in those known passing situations.”

    On how well the offense has taken care of the ball

    “For me and inside of our program, the effort and the strain that you play with is the number one thing that you must have. If you don’t play harder than your opponent, very few times you’re going to have an opportunity to win. The ball is the second measuring point for us. Offensively, we’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of it. Defensively, want to see us get more rips, more punches and ultimately more tips on the ball and find a way to create more turnovers. It’s not that we’re not emphasizing it; it’s the first thing we do on every single practice. In the media, you guys see us, that’s how we start our day. Just have to be a point of emphasis as we continue to go forward.”

    On the leadership of Jaylen McCollough and Trevon Flowers

    “Two guys that have completely thrust themselves forward. They recognize that it’s needed; the leadership inside of that room and on the defensive side of football. They recognized and accepted that they have a role to play in that, they’ve embraced it. They’ve grown during the offseason, and that was a point of emphasis and what we did every week in the lead up to spring ball. You can see and sense and feel their energy out on the practice field every day. They have grown into becoming really strong leaders for us. Need them to continue to do that. They will be a big part of our defensive secondary playing at the level that they’re capable of and us as a defensive unit and our football team.”

    On what he’s looking to add int he transfer portal

    “You just take a look at your roster with where you’re at and what are some needs that you absolutely have to patch whether it’s starters, depth or competition at the position. It’s all those things. So, in today’s landscape, it’s so different than it used to be. You have a 365-day cycle essentially to kind of evaluate your roster and try to help it out.”

    On how close to the 85 scholarships he expects to be at in the fall

    “You know just depends on where we’re at as far as picking guys up in the portal. Guys that we feel like can help us as we grow as a program going into next fall and years beyond that too.”

    On which unit improved the most this spring

    “I couldn’t just pick one unit. I think there’s been a ton of growth and in small details that matter from playing with great pad level and using our hands on the defense side of the ball to competitive strain on the offensive side of the ball and being able to get pad under pad. There’s been a lot of fundamental and technique growth, and that’s what spring ball should be. Obviously, the scheme and the understanding of it, you want to grow in that, but you have to grow fundamentally, and I think our coaching staff have done a great job. Our players have been very purposeful in the way that they’ve worked. I really like what we’ve done through the first 14 days.”

    On if there is anything they wanted to accomplish but didn’t this spring

    “There’s a long list for me as a head coach in all three phases of the game that we revisit every third day of spring ball and make sure that we’re working towards that. That could be roster development, where your young guys are trying to create that competition, make sure they’re getting enough reps to schemes and install some things that you want to look at that are different than what you did a year ago. As you get into the summer and training camp, you definitely want to maintain those things and those be a part of essentially your playbook. I think the hardest thing for us this spring is just the secondary with the number of guys that were out and not being out on the practice field. I do think they did a great job of staying really engaged in the process. Those guys were assigned while they were lifting or probably early in the practice but came out with a purpose, watching a guy, critiquing him throughout the day and handing that to their position coach and the guy on the back end of the practice. I thought they were really engaged in the process and did a great job out on the grass. They did a great job in the meeting room too.”

    On how the receiver’s developed this spring

    “Continued growth in competition at that position. Jalin Hyatt had a great offseason, and it’s shown in the way that he’s grown as a competitive playmaker at the wide receiver position. The young guys that came into our program have transitioned into college football really well. They need to get on the back end of spring ball, revisit the installs, revisit the cut ups, grow in their strength here as we go through the summer, give themselves an ability come back and play at the level that we need to next fall.”

    On if anyone’s progression stands out

    “If you’re talking about the wide receiver position, I think Jalin Hyatt. You felt that way because of the offseason that he had, the gains that he made in strength and conditioning program, like it showed in his confidence and it showed up right away with just a physical presence about him on the field. As he has gone through spring ball, you’ve seen him continue to gain confidence, and I like the momentum that he’s created here. A guy that’s been here for a while is Trevon Flowers. I feel like he’s playing his best football by a long way, and that comes from confidence, comes in his leadership, but it’s shown in the way that he has played on the football field. He’s physical and great at making plays in open space when we’ve had scrimmage days. He’s been great in his fits. I like his growth.”

    On if position groups have either over or underachieved

    “There’s certainly position groups that we feel like we have to add pieces to the roster, competition, potentially starter and depth, absolutely. On the back end of spring ball, we’ve positioned ourselves or we have an opportunity to get a couple of kids that can come in and impact us. And at the same time, I think you’re always looking to add elite players to your program, so we’ll continue to evaluate that in the transfer portal.”

    On is he liked scrimmaging in poor weather

    “I think it’s important that your kids have an opportunity to function in those things. You get into training camp, and it’s going to be hot and sunny. It’s going to be like it is in September. You need some days that are going to look like October and November. I think the opportunities that we’ve had with adverse elements have been perfect. It’s been a great spring here. We’ve been outside every day. We haven’t been inside for one practice. It’s been really pretty. Today, there was a little bit of mist in the air, and a little bit of wetness on the grass. It’s good to handle the football on the offensive side of the football, understand how to play with great pad level and have your feet underneath you.”

    On how momentum with leadership and accountability will affect the team going forward

    “I think it’s a little bit like the snowball. Let’s go on downhill. You have a chance to create momentum, speed and acceleration of the growth of your program as you get everybody pulling the rope the same direction. Everybody has the same mindset. Your work habits have grown so much, I think you have a chance to really accelerate. That’s true in our accountability and in how we operate together inside of our program. It’s true in the leadership in our program, and it’s true in the fundamentals and techniques. In year two, they have a clear understanding of who we are, what we want to do and what we want to accomplish. When we’re not there and the players are running things, I think they have a real clear mission of where we’re trying to go to.”

    On how quarterback Tayven Jackson developed this spring

    “Today was probably his best day. He was operating and functioning really well. He was clean with his decision making. As you go through spring ball, in the first three or four days you go through a lot of that with them in the lead up to spring ball, so there’s some comfort there. Then, you start changing some of your installs. It almost becomes overload for him. I love that on the back third of spring ball he’s handled himself well and has been really composed. He finished with the last scrimmage today the way that he has been. At the quarterback position, young players, they have a chance to come back and be a completely different player by the time you get to summer and by the time you get to training camp. We’ll lift when we get done with our spring ball next week. He has a chance to go back through spring cut-ups and really evaluate himself and how we operate and function. Then, he’ll go back through the installs this summer, and he’ll be a player that’s really in charge and in control of all the things that are happening at the quarterback position.”

    On the need to be good in the middle of the field

    “You want to be strong down the middle of the football field. You don’t want to be weak on the outside either. You want to be strong everywhere, but it does matter. Center, quarterback or running back, give yourself the chance to get everybody on the same page. We need great decision-makers. Somebody that can make a play with the ball in his hands at running back has a chance to help you grow offensively. Defensively, your interior is stout, cleans your linebackers up and lets them go flow and make plays. Your safeties must be great in their fits and in pass cover suit. With some of the experience that we have on both sides of the line of scrimmage down the middle of the football field, as long as we continue to grow and have a chance to help us play at a better level next fall.”

    On how long it takes for the tempo to be game ready

    “I think it’s more than how fast we’re snapping the ball. It’s the efficiency of our players. In the back half of spring ball, even our young guys have operated efficiently. From ball mechanics to eyes, being able to set their feet and get in the ground and the communication up front is a big part of that too. The pictures are changing late, because the defensive line and second level are getting set and getting everybody on the same page. I like where we’re heading in that direction. The last couple of days have been the cleanest that we’ve had. It has to be a point of emphasis as we continue to go.”

    Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.