Getting back into blogging form now after essentially a week hiatus to finally check out Major League Baseball Spring Training and recharge for the fifth edition of Spring Camp Butch Jones, this week on the eve of Jones’ fifth spring-opening presser (Monday, noon) contains a bevy of info from news on the coaching staff’s chemistry to what Larry Scott considers a successful spring camp to how Beverly Davenport, per multiple trusted sources, never remotely considered David Blackburn a legit candidate and more.
Let’s start with Scott, who joined Chris Low and myself Sunday night on the statewide IMG-syndicated radio show ‘The Nation,’ when asked how he would judge the composite of the next six weeks as a success and whether or not Scott would consider a two-quarterback system.
“As far as when we come out of the spring, one of the things that I feel like, personally, that I’ll know we’re headed in the right direction, we’ll go, ‘Boy, that’s a tough football team. Mentally tough, physically tough, great attention to detail. And playing together, playing for each other.’
“One of the things that I’m really big on and that I’ll talk to about with these guys, is one of us ain’t going to get it done. It’s going to take all of us, and when we all pull together in same direction, loving each other playing, playing for each other and with the passion that it takes to be a champion, that’s when we know we have something special.Getting these guys to step outside of themselves and put the T out in front of them and understand what it means to represent the University of Tennessee, and that it takes all of us, every one of us. If we come out of it and we’re tough, but we’re doing one thing, that we’re tough and we’re playing together, then that’s when I think we’ll really have a chance to be successful.”
Um, so the potential of seeing both junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt-freshman Jarrett Guarantano potentially sharing quarterbacking duties? Not quite as clear an answer. As in muddier than most bracket pools.
“It’s just really, for those guys right now, the most important evaluation is just being prepared and coming out each and every day and someone establishing a high level of consistency,” said Scott, aboard the Vols’ staff for just his second year and widely viewed by peers and agents as a future head coach. “That’s of vast importance for the quarterback position. You can’t have the up-and-down days, you can’t have the up-and-down series, you can’t have those things. A guy that’s going to be steady in his approach, steady in his preparation, a guy that’s going to come out each and every day and kind of be the same guy every day, so to speak. Perform at a high level of consistency to keep the offense moving and keep the offense efficient as it should be.
“And again, back to the word toughness, a guy that can come out and demonstrate that at a high level of consistency, obviously he’s coming out every day and has some mental and physical toughness about him.”
OFFSEASON BUZZ …
First and foremost, as guys recuperate from a rash of offseason surgeries on the Vols’ football team — especially shoulder operations aside from Evan Berry and Shy Tuttle (both leg ligament injuries) — there’s widespread belief inside the Anderson Training Center that Tennessee should drastically reduce said shoulder mishaps with Rock Gullickson at the helm of the Tennessee Strength & Conditioning program. Folks with the UT football program point to the NFL’s Rams’ lack of shoulder issues overall with Gullickson’s tutelage, and also it’s important to note Tennessee, at Gullickson’s command, just ordered several new items of equipment for its weight room — many aimed at preventing shoulder mishaps.
Speaking of other newcomers’ buzz from a staff standpoint, it’s going to be fun to see the intensity of Kevin Beard on the practice field with his receivers. Not far removed himself from playing the position at Miami, Beard is the type of coach who still wears cleats onto the practice field and is a passionate, motivational type of assistant. I can’t recall the last time I saw a Vols’ assistant coach routinely wear cleats on the practice field.
“I think Walt Wells is going to be really good for us,” one other person inside the program said.
PLAYERS’ BUZZ …
Wait for it … from the (sarcastic) department of no one saw this coming … “Trey (Smith) has been incredible. One of the best freshmen I’ve seen to this point.”
Others inside indicatae Smith already has whipped touted former No. 1 JuCo player Jonathan Kongbo multiple times in 1-on-1 drills. Kongbo may yet again get a shot at defensive end, but don’t discount Kongbo also being used along the interior in rush situations.
Three of the biggest leaders right now are tailback John Kelly on offense and linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Colton Jumper on defense, with Jumper notably earning a sixth year of eligibility most recently after making noise first by earning a scholarship after walking on at UT and then earning a starting spot.
Injuries might be the other buzzword for this camp.
Among those definitely out are: Evan Berry, Shy Tuttle, Quarte Sapp, Kyle Phillips and Kahlil McKenzie (potentially can do light work, but not expected for any full-contact). Primarily or likewise completely out will be: Micah Abernathy, Stephen Griffin, Josh Smith, Brett Kendrick, and Elliott Berry likewise also is expected to be very limited. Chance Hall, too, is recovering from season-ending knee surgery and doesn’t figure to be taxed much at the right tackle spot. Ditto Kirkland, who played through not only the ligament-damaged ankle sprain suffered last season in Game 2 vs. Virginia Tech but also dealt with a major shoulder issue.
Matt drills and the Vols’ other NCAA-allowed offseason workouts have been characterized as “incredibly intense” with a strong focus on “toughness,” as Scott alluded to above in his comments. Suffice to say, “toughness” is going to be a buzzword as well of this camp.
CLEARING UP, MOVING ON …
Enough sources have indicated to me that I feel comfortable sharing that none other than Peyton Manning received numerous texts expressing folks’ “disappointment” in his perceived role in the University of Tennessee’s hiring of John Currie as vice chancellor/director of athletics. Ex-teammates and perhaps even former coaches/staffers included in that digital display of “disappointment.”
I continue to hear, as late as Sunday night with word out of Texas, that Scott Rabenold is in the mix as potentially Currie’s No. 2 man, a spot formally vacated when John Gilbert left to take over the program at Southern Mississippi.
Additionally, Tiffany Carpenter — her longstanding dedication to UT never in question and not long ago as prominent as any public relations individual on the UTK campus — also is rising in the president’s tower but also could potentially be intertwined with the workings of Currie’s athletics department. Carpenter has longstanding and strong, trust-based relationships with both Currie and Rabenold.
Already on campus, I spoke with Mike Ward, Dr. Joe Scogin and Donna Thomas — all of whom raved about Currie.
“I think we’re in an upward trajectory,” Thomas recently told me, “and I think he can keep taking us in that direction to even greater heights.”
Scogin owns some decent familiarity with Currie, when Currie was at Kansas State and Scogin was engineering an academic powerhouse for student-athletes at Missouri. It’s why Scogin is, much like Scott in terms of a head coach, a surefire head athletics director when he elects to wholly pursue that next step. He’s clear his work on Rocky Top isn’t done, noting the upcoming trip this summer to Vietnam for the VolLeaders Program and renovations/expansions upcoming to the Thornton Center.
But Scogin emphasized Currie had a reputation as a visionary and as someone driven and goal-oriented who was well respected around the Big 12.
After skipping out on the opportunity to go with Gilbert to Southern Miss, Ward — whose family prefers to plant roots here in Knoxville — said Currie is the type of guy that makes you want to get to work early every day.
“I spent time with him (the day of Currie’s introduction) and I think the thing you take away most is his passion for the place,” Ward told me. “It came through loud and clear in his press conference, and I think you can leverage that kind of passion to make anything happen.”
Ward also thought Currie’s first-day words about barnstorming the Rocky Top campus and all over the Volunteer State likewise would eventually resonate with a stung Vol Nation that had vocally preferred either David Blackburn or Phillip Fulmer. While Fulmer was considered the ‘runner-up’ once Bubba Cunningham withdrew, multiple sources — including those on campus — said Davenport refused to consider Blackburn as a legitimate finalist.
“I think it’s really important; I think he’s a Tennessee guy through-and-through, and I think that came through loud and clear,” Ward continued. “I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle for us to be successful and really prepare Tennessee to be successful for the next 20 years.
“I’m excited to get up at 5:30 in the morning and get after it every day (now with Currie at the helm).”
FROM THE JUST-INKED CLASS …
Spoke with folks this past week in Hattiesburg, Miss., and the consensus was “people at Hattiesburg aren’t feeling great about him making it (qualifying test score).”
Apparently, when Mother Nature wreaked considerable havoc on the Magnolia State last month she also forced the cancellation of the scheduled ACT/SAT tests that were on the calendars for many, including Murphy who still needs a qualifying score. Murphy, a four-star, was considered by far the Vols’ top perimeter playmaker in this ‘17 class.
ON THOSE MOVING ON …
Tennessee announced that both Charles Mosley and Dimarya Mixon remained enrolled at UT but would not be participants on the football team moving into the future. As I reported prior to the Music City Bowl, Mixon was booted from the Vols’ team hotel and sent home, with the message clear his future as a Vol football player essentially was over.
So what options might these two former three-stars, or potentially other Vols, have by spring’s end? I’d watch Eastern Kentucky, which already has landed several transfers in the two years of former Vols’ assistant coach Mark Elder’s work atop the Colonels’ program, including Neiko Creamer — who, like Mosley, was a member of Tennessee’s highly touted ‘14 signing class and transferred a year ago to EKU.