Admittedly, media were on Haslam Field Tuesday or a combination of there and inside the Neyland-Thompson/Anderson Training Center through stretch and four periods — which seemed to be a solid 25 minutes or so of seeing collegiate football players in cleats and helmets and coaches in coaching gear — with, as I’d noted in the last edition, Kevin Beard donning cleats while working with his wide receivers.
For the record, I love that about Beard.
It was an overall upbeat, positive, energetic vibe.
For the record, I think this is almost certainly Butch Jones’ most complete staff to date — and I say that with full disclose that I still speak with Mike DeBord, Zach Azzanni and Mike Bajakian anytime the opportunity presents itself. I bumped into John Jancek during the Coaches’ Convention in Nashville in early-January and enjoyed my chat with him.
I wish all those guys the best, especially DeBo, Z and Jake — and it has zilch to do with football, though obviously I hope them successful, and everything to do with the fabulous family men that each one of them is every day. Every one of those guys spent time with me in his office on multiple occasions during their seasons in Knoxville, and usually I got to watch film with them. It was great.
Still, I’ll remember the men they are first and always.
But enough nostalgia. Beard probably was the most energetic, most vocal of any coach out there Tuesday. The others ran shop with relative smoothness as well.
Admittedly, I most focused on the WRs and QBs. I thought Mike Canales was intense and also brought credibility. He stopped more than one drill or one player midway through a rep to make a correction. He had all the quarterbacks get snaps under center. He had them practice drops, even as they took “hits” from the never-tiring group of managers charged with whacking the quarterbacks to simulate hits from the left and right sides.
See, it wasn’t enough for the QBs to absorb those thuds and hang onto the football. Canales preached how each one of them should keep his eyes downfield in an effort to keep hope alive for a play rather than scramble free and then refocus downfield. Small detail, but it resonated. I liked it. I liked the blend of encouragement and hard coaching from a bevy of the Vols’ assistant coaches.
And about the silence? What was silent and why did it matter? Well, it was Butch Jones. He was trusting coaches to coach and players to listen and practice. Jones seemed vastly more relaxed.
I think that’s Jones growing and maturing on the field as a coach; I think it’s also Jones realizing he must better pick and choose his moments of being seen and heard.
Additionally, I believe it’s Jones knowing Rock Gullickson and the man Gullickson brought with him, most recently UC-Davis head S&C coach John Krasinski — who knows Gullickson from their time at Rutgers and also owns experience at Cal-Berkeley as head of S&C as well as time at Oregon, have pushed this team and prepared this team in the proper manner this offseason.
It was interesting to hear Jashon Robertson when I asked him about the difference in offensive line depth in his rookie year compared to this, his senior campaign.
“Well, when I first got here we had Jacob Gilliam out there with a torn ACL and all kinds of stuff,” said Robertson, the Nashville native and most experienced of the many Vols’ returning linemen. “Now I look in the room and it’s deep, super-deep. There’s not any space in there.
“We just look at our group and individual drills and it’s just so many dudes, especially to be sring. I mean we only got one guy coming in in the summer. We’re pretty much filled up.”
Before Robertson answered the salient leadership question of the KNS’ Rhiannon Potkey about who had ascended into the status voided by Dylan Wiesman’s graduation, other staffers already had told me this week Robertson had been the guy in the offensive line room to most emerge into that role.
“I am, yes mam,” Robertson said. “Sometimes, it’s something you may like and go after and try to achieve, leading your group, and sometimes it falls in your lap. For me, I’m just enjoying the opportunity to have that type of respect from the guys in my room.”
The quarterback who might have most impressed that likely we won’t speak with all spring? Rookie Will McBride. Whether it was his peers at the position or, again, others I spoke with or what I saw in drills, McBride stepped into every situation ready to compete and — he had to be nervous, right? — looked calm and collected.
As the pic atop this entry reflects, the Vols clearly have a new mantra for at least this spring if not the entire season: D.A.T. Way. It stands for Details, Accountability, Toughness.