Tennessee Coach Butch Jones Preaches Patience
By Dan Harralson
A day after JUCO national signing day, Butch Jones met with the media to discuss Tennessee's signings and the offseason.
Team 117 finished 5-7 and nearly won the Georgia and Vanderbilt games. If Pig Howard was able to hang on to the ball while approaching the end zone against Georgia in overtime, or if referees did not overturn a late Vanderbilt failed fourth down attempt, the Vols would be bowling. But the "what if" game does not exist and bowl practices are not taking place at Haslam Field.
"Looking back on this year, I think we have taken some great strides, monumental strides. But we are nowhere near where we need to be. Losing is not an option. It will not be tolerated here at Tennessee," Jones told media at Thursday's press conference. "There are steps in the process. I've spoken about it the entire year. We have to focus on the process. We are still going through that process. There are no quick fixes. I think we all know that. We are going to do things right and great things will happen. I'm the worst one with having patience. It starts with your foundation of excellence, your standard of expectations, your culture and having the right people in the right place."
Many positions will become better for Team 118, like wide receiver, running back and linebacker, but there will be voids at certain positions in 2014.
Tennessee has to replace its entire starting offensive line. Individuals such as Dontavious Blair (JUCO, already signed), and high school commitments Orlando Brown and Ray Raulerson will be looked upon to step in immediately.
"I have never been in that type of situation," Jones said of replacing the entire offensive line. "That is when we talk about building this football program. We are down an entire recruiting class in the offensive line position numbers wise. The thing that we have to guard against in this recruiting class is we cannot fix all of our deficiencies in a recruiting class. It takes time.
"It is going to be a big challenge to replace the offensive line but I am also encouraged because Marcus Jackson gained his redshirt year, Mack Crowder gained some valuable game experience, Kyler Kerbyson gained some valuable experience. I am excited about three freshman offensive lineman that we brought in last year, and you couple that with Blair coming in and other individuals coming in. Change is good, there is going to be a high level of excitement and competitiveness. Playing in this conference having to replace as many offensive and defensive lineman that we have to it is an area of concern."
Behind the offensive line, competing in the SEC begins with having a reliable quarterback.
Josh Dobbs will need to grow into a more mature quarterback when spring practice begins. Just like all of the other positions, the right to be the Vols' signal caller next fall is up for grabs.
"Every position is all even starting at ground zero," Jones said. "You are responsible at creating your football identity. Because some individuals may have had success in the past, that doesn't guarantee them success in the future. You have to earn everything that you get, it is by a body of work over time and that position, just like every other position will be up for competition."
More From Butch
On Making Strides To Year Number Two
"The players understand the standard and expectation. They understand that we are going to win in the classroom. They understand the demands of the program, how we start meetings, where they are going. The great thing is, you welcome 14 new individuals, but we have a collective group of returning individuals that can teach them the standards and expectations of Tennessee football. It is monumental. I know much more now today than I did a year ago and that will continue to develop. We still have a lot of work to do and it is not going to be 100 percent corrected overnight. It is going to be a process."
On What Sets This Offseason Apart
"Adding 14 new individuals. Some very highly recruited individuals, some skilled individuals. It will add to the overall competition and as we know competition is extremely healthy. We are going to compete this offseason in everything that we do. We may even race to the drinking fountain. A competition of who can keep their locker the cleanest. Who can be the best leader. We are going to compete in everything that we do and try and create stressful situations because that is when you really find out about leadership. I am excited for the players that are returning. They have been through a full year, they have gained confidence in the way that we want to play and our style of play. They know what we did well and what they didn't do well."
On A.J. Johnson's NFL Decision
"A.J. is still weighing his options. We have been in constant communication. It is our job to educate our players. That is part of the Vol for Life program, part of our NFL readiness program and educating him. We present the facts to them, what we are hearing around the league, where we think they are at, the pros of coming back, the cons. Give them as much advice as possible. At the end of the day it comes down to them making a decision. We do, we try to present the reasons why. We are building something special here, we try to present that to them and the they have to make that decision, what is best for them and their family."
On Meeting Team Needs On Signing Day
"We won't know entirely until the February signing date. I think we are taking a monumental step at the receiver position to playing football the way we want to play here. We have upgraded in every single position. We have to make sure that we guard against not placing too many expectations on this incoming class. They are still 17- and 18-year-old young adults. Very, very talented, but very, very young. We will know more once signing day rolls around because we know it is always changing. That is our job we have to try to address and continue to get better and better."