published Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

UT Vols coach Butch Jones challenges 'soft' defense

  • photo
    Tennessee coach Butch Jones yells at freshman defensive lineman Corey Vereen as he leaves the field against South Carolina in the Vols' upset win last October. Vereen has been perhaps the hardest-working Vol in the offseason, and that has shown in his added size and strength.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — When Tennessee football coach Butch Jones mentioned marshmallows on a few occasions during the Volunteers' practice Tuesday, he wasn't talking about the puffy white clouds in the sky on a gorgeous April afternoon.

Nope, he was talking about his defense.

Following their performance in Saturday's scrimmage, Tennessee's defenders, who typically wear orange jerseys in practice, instead wore white as their offensive counterparts earned the right to wear the Vols' primary color.

And early on Tuesday, Jones let them know they looked "soft like marshmallows" in their white practice jerseys.

"You've just got to kind of block him out," cornerback Cam Sutton said with a grin following practice.

"You hear what he's saying, but at the end of the day you just keep rolling with it."

As the Vols enter the back half of their 15 spring practices, Jones said some players are "stepping up" while others are "tapering off," and with reinforcements in the form of the rest of Tennessee's touted 2014 recruiting class slated to arrive in the summer, it's an important time for a number of players.

"With such a young football team, we're building kids," he said. "We're building young men. We're building a work capacity. Right now, I see our work capacity starting to increase.

"We have to live toughness every day," Jones added. "You can't be soft and expect to be tough on game day. That's why we've done a lot of the drills that we've done."

Jones reiterated themes of "fundamental improvement" and "competing all day" to the players Tuesday.

"This week we set personal goals for ourselves, as well as team and unit and goals," Sutton said. "Our goal for today as a unit was being physical, and from my standpoint we didn't accomplish that today, but there's always another day where we can accomplish that again.

"At times we have [shown urgency], but it's got to be more of a consistent basis. It can't be on and off. It's got to be all the time. The time is now. We can't wait until summertime and fall camp and things like that to try to turn it on. It starts now in spring."

Quarterback talk

Jones said he thought the offense took "great strides" in tempo -- he graded it a B-minus after it was a D-minus in the first spring scrimmage -- and was encouraged by the running game and by the quarterback play "in general."

At this point, it doesn't appear the Vols will trim any reps among its quarterback quartet of Justin Worley, Josh Dobbs, Riley Ferguson and Nathan Peterman, making the last few spring practices even more crucial to that competition.

Jones wants to see all four continue their development and maturation while avoiding turnovers and making plays.

"That's one of the big things about the quarterback position, is creating plays when there's nothing there," he said. "Creating a play may be throwing the ball away and not taking a sack.

"It's managing situational football, managing our offense but really taking care of the football and really having a complete and total grasp of the offense and what we're trying to accomplish."

Lane's learning

Tailback Marlin Lane continues to practice with his left hand/wrist in a hard cast for an injury suffered during the first full-padded practice last month, and it caused him to sit out a couple of practices.

The rising senior, now up to 216 pounds, missed two games with a foot injury last season, hurt his wrist during the 2012 offseason and battled nagging knee pain earlier in his career after tearing his ACL during his junior season of high school.

"I think I blame that on my mentality," Lane said. "Through high school, I could have a little injury and never tell nobody till way later down the road. I just felt like it's catching up with me, and I just try to keep myself in the training room and keep my body right on anything and everything."

Now, though, he feels he has a better grasp on how to take care of his body with treatment and continual training room visits.

"I still had my high school mindset of it's not broke, I'm going to keep going and not knowing it was getting worse and worse," he said. "I learned that. I took me three years, but I've got it down pat."

Jones called Lane a "model of consistency" this spring despite his injury.

"He's playing right now and focused like a senior should in our football program," Jones said.

Status updates

Defensive tackle Jason Carr (wrist) returned to practice Tuesday, while defensive ends Jaylen Miller (leg) and Malik Brown (ankle) remain sidelined. ... Former Tennessee coach Johnny Majors, who had a heart-valve procedure last month, was a practice visitor. ... Freshman tailback Jalen Hurd practiced with a bulky brace on his left elbow.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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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