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Everything Rodney Garner Said After Tennessee Spring Practice Week One

Rodney Garner
Tennessee DL coach Rodney Garner. Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics.

The first week of spring practice for Tennessee football is wrapped up and in the books. Saturday’s practice to bookend the week was a big one, though, as the Vols threw on full pads for the first time this spring.

Saturday’s practice was also the fourth of the spring so far. The Vols will return to the practice field twice this coming week before a big scrimmage in Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 1.

After practice this past Saturday, Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner, a third-year coach under Josh Heupel in Knoxville, pulled back the curtain on his position group. Garner spoke about the interesting mix of veteran and younger players that he has on the line and how both of those groups will be important to the development going forward.

Garner also spoke about one of his newer players in specific, former Arizona transfer lineman Omarr Norman-Lott.

“He is a powerful, quick-twitched guy,” Garner said about Norman-Lott. “He has to learn to strain and play the way we want to play. I think (his previous school) was doing more mirror step on the line of scrimmage, where we want to be more vertical, create knock-back, all that. I think the kid has some natural stuff and that he can help us on the defensive side of the ball.”

Garner closed by speaking about the addition of VFL Robert Ayers Jr. to the defensive side of the Tennessee coaching staff.

Check out everything that Rodney Garner said on Saturday below, in addition to the video of his press conference underneath the full transcript.

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Defensive Line Coach Rodney Garner

On what he likes about his position group throughout spring practice so far…

“Right now, I think the guys have a great attitude, are working hard, taking coaching and have attention. At the end of the day, I was a little bit disappointed. I told them that I felt like at the end they slowly ran out of gas, and they started to stand around and weren’t competing. That’s when you have to find out who you are. When you’re faced with that adversity, we have to find a way to strain and tough it out. We have to continue to fight. That’s something we have to get better at.”

On how the team dealt with a long practice today…

“That’s what we are working for and are built for. It’s easy to be a front runner. Everybody is good when it first starts, but how are we going to finish it? That’s what we built this program on. When we started, we tried to establish playing with relentless effort, playing hard, playing with physicality. Those are the things that are our trademarks, those are our standards. We can’t compromise who we are and what we are.”

On if he asks more out of veteran players that have been in the program longer…

“I would say that. Guys that are veterans that have been in the program and have been a part of this, which is our third year in it. Guys that you think are the better players or who they say are the better players, you’re going to be more demanding on them. You’re going to hold those guys to higher standards. I hope that we’re trying to hold the whole unit there. How we play and the number of snaps that we play, we need to find 10 to 12 guys that can play at the championship level.”

On how realistic the idea is of having 10 to 12 guys that can play at a championship level…

“That’s what we have to get done. That’s the bottom line, that’s what we’ve done every year. We’re going to rotate, and we’re going to play multiple guys. We have to find 10 to 12 guys that show in practice that they can go out and execute and play at a championship level and that we can have trust to put them out there on Saturday and go compete.”

On having so many seasoned players in the defensive line room…

“I think they know the routine. They know the demands. Obviously, they’re good with the younger guys with helping them who don’t quite understand, know the commands or know where I’m coming from. I think they can help smoothen the transition. With a bunch of guys back, we still have a lot of production that we have to replace. We have to have guys step up. That’s what we have to get going. We have to accelerate the learning curve, especially at the Leo position to replace all the production that Byron Young gave us. Just the steady play, people don’t realize how valuable LaTrell Bumphus was. When we go back and we’re looking at our cutups from this past season, he did a heck of a job for us. We have to have that guy that we can count on. That guy did everything right exactly how he was coached, strained and he was selfless and played for the team.”

On the LEO position…

“We definitely have the body types that we are looking for. We have to get going. We have to get the juices flowing, get the confidence going an get them the technique where they can get loose, let the hair down, let some personality come through and get the confidence where they say, “I can go out there and do it down there.”

On how he instills the confidence in his players and if that has to come in practice…

“It has to. They have to make plays. It is not so much me, but they have to go do it. There isn’t a false narrative, we can’t give them participation points. They have to go out there and make plays. When the game is on the line, they have to find a way to get the job done. They have done better, but it’s been inconsistent. We have to get somebody that you can count on.  When it’s third down, they need to pin their ears back and go make a play.”

On what he has seen from James Pearce Jr. since the end of the season…

“I’ve seen some growth out of James. He’s maturing a lot on and off the field. He has to continue to do that. He has to keep moving the needle in the right direction. He has a lot of potential, but he has to make sure that he’s invested enough in it to get what he wants out of this. That’s what it has to take.”

On his early impressions of Caleb Herring

“I think he is going to be a really good player. I’m really excited about him. I think he really loves football. I think he’s tough, has the length and has the skillset. I think he has a bright future. I think it’s important to him. I’m pleased with all of those guys. We have to keep working and you hope you start to have some separation. From where they’re all right there together, we need some people to start pulling away.”

On redshirt junior DL Omarr Norman-Lott

“He is a powerful, quick-twitched guy. He has to learn to strain and play the way we want to play. I think (his previous school) was doing more mirror step on the line of scrimmage, where we want to be more vertical, create knock-back, all that. I think the kid has some natural stuff and that he can help us on the defensive side of the ball.”

On getting in game shape through practice or working out on your own…

“I think it’s all-encompassing. Obviously, you have to do stuff on your own, be able to take care of your body and do different things, but as you can tell, we work them pretty good in practice. We strain them pretty well. Today was just our fourth day. I thought we did some good things, and obviously I think there’s a lot of things that we can improve on. When you go upstairs and see the film, it won’t be as bad as we thought it was out here, nor as good. Somewhere in between will be where reality lies, and we’ll go make the correction. Monday is a meeting day, so we’ll get a lot of time to show them film, and Tuesday try to come out here and correct some of those mistakes that were made today.”

On the leadership within the defensive line group…

“That’s something we’re still trying to cultivate. We have some good young men in that room. I can’t say that (leadership is) probably a strong suit. Omari Thomas, he’s going to do everything the right way, but is he willing to grab the bull by the horn and snatch a knot when that isn’t really his personality? He does it by example, but we still need him to grow and become an even better leader. We still need for some other leaders to come on. You don’t have to be a senior to be a leader. You can be a young guy and be a leader. It’s just about you doing things the right way, and people know you’re doing it the right way, and they’re willing to listen and adhere to what you’re saying.”

On anyone separating themselves to fill the role of LaTrell Bumphus

“Obviously, he was a defensive end. We have Tyler Baron back, Dominic Bailey back, (Tyre West) back, Jayson Jenkins, so you’ve got some veteran guys at the defensive end position. But still the same thing, we need to continue to grow at that position. Tyler’s been a little banged up. Today was probably the most practice that he’s done, so we need him to keep taking that—he has really good leadership qualities, so we need him to get that (group) pointing in the right direction. He is an influencer, and we need him to be a positive influence.”

On VFL Robert Ayers Jr. joining the staff…

“I think Robert’s going to be a really good young coach. I’m really excited about him. Obviously, he’s got credibility instantly. He’s a first-round draft pick, played 10 years in the NFL. When he says something, those kids believe him and hang on to it. He’s very passionate about it. He knows what he is talking about, so I think he’s only going to help us to get better and become a better football team. Hopefully, one of the things we said coming out of last season that we needed to improve on was being better on a four-down pass rush. Hopefully, he’ll be able to bring a lot of (insight) to that, to be able to help us improve in that area.”

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