published Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Butch Jones keeps Vols' competition going

  • photo
    Tennessee head coach Butch Jones talks with his offensive linemen during spring NCAA college football practice at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Saturday.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Roughly three hours of sweat and energy came down to one final drive.

Then it came down to a series of field-goal attempts.

Then it came down to one final winner-take-all play.

Butch Jones kept wanting the competition to continue.

"There's a method to the madness," Tennessee's new football coach said Saturday afternoon after his team's first spring scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium.

"Eventually I'll let you know the scoring system."

The open scrimmage provided a glimpse of the competition that comprises every Jones practice. In drills in which the offense and defense face off, there's a winner for every rep. Points are tallied whether it's receivers battling one-on-one with defensive backs, the defensive front seven facing the offensive line and running backs in a blitzing drill or 11-on-11 football.

"It was fun," defensive end Jacques Smith said. "It brings so much more energy. Every drill is a competition.

"Every rep that you're going through, it's a point, win or lose against the guy that you're on, whether it's a one-on-one drill, whether it's a team drill. It's offense-defense, who's going to win the drill? That's what type of intensity that Coach Jones has set for this team, and we're going to be turning it up this spring."

In two scored practices, the offense has turned it up more.

The Vols' defense came up with two stops early in practice, when Jones had his team break from individual drills into a quick team period, and built a healthy lead on the Neyland Stadium scoreboard entering the final period of practice.

Led by quarterback Justin Worley, Tennessee's first-team offense found success against the first-team defense, scoring on two drives that began just inside of midfield and in another sudden-change situation. Tennessee's second-team defense came up with two turnovers, cornerback Riyahd Jones' scoop-and-score of a botched handoff and an interception off a tipped Nathan Peterman pass. After a long team period, Jones brought the kickers into the competition.

And that's where he became liberal with his rewards.

"You find out about individuals," he said, "when their blood pressure goes up and how they perform when there's something on the line. You hope that they embrace it. The great competitors, they embrace those situations, and that's what we're evaluating right now."

With just a couple of points separating the offense and defense on the scoreboard, Jones assigned a kicker -- Michael Palardy, George Bullock, Derrick Brodus and Patrick Toole -- to the offense or defense. Make or miss, with the whole team huddled closely around the kicker and long snapper J.R. Carr, the points would go to one side. Except he'd manipulate the scoring, even changing the point value of the kicks.

"There's so many things that go into the kicking game," Jones said, "and we have to rehearse those and we have to manufacture competitive situations and stressful situations."

Not satisfied, Jones called for one play from the 4-yard line with the winner taking the day's victory and the bragging rights and the orange jerseys for Tuesday's practice that are the reward.

Worley tossed a pass to tight end Brendan Downs, who caught the ball in traffic in the front corner of the end zone.

"We ran a little rollout, and I just tried to keep the play alive," said Worley, a right-hander. "We didn't really have much open, but I tried to put a ball where only Brendan could get it, and he made the play. That was huge to get that last touchdown.

"The kicking game at the very end, putting pressure on the kickers and putting pressure on the offense or defense to make stops or score touchdowns, it definitely helps with competition and makes it more of a live-game situation."

The promotion of competition in practices, scrimmages and offseason workouts is no new notion, but Jones wants to instill a mindset into his new team as he tries to teach them how to win.

"It's like I told our team: It came down to a final play, but did you know that that one rep you had taken an hour before in that one-on-one drill could have been the difference between winning and losing?" the coach said.

"They have to learn how to value every repetition. You have to value every rep in everything that you do. That's how you improve, and you value every rep to win that rep, and that's just a mindset that we're working toward getting here each and every snap each and every day."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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