KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The 1998 Tennessee Vols knew they had some key pieces to replace, so Al Wilson saw to it the team hit the practice field over the summer for 7-on-7 work.
It was a time before that sort of skeleton work had taken off, in terms of all the camps and competitions seen today. But with Peyton Manning, Leonard Little, Terry Fair and Marcus Nash among 8 departed NFL draft picks, Eric Westmoreland said the Vols knew they had to do something.
Fast forward to Team 121, a team replacing six NFL draft picks including star defenders Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton, along with QB Josh Dobbs.
Coach Butch Jones clearly recognized the need for added summer work, so he gave his players the green light to organize voluntary 7-on-7 workouts.
“The coaches aren’t allowed to be out there, so it’s on us, we have to be out there and develop it, and then get the timing down,” senior tight end Ethan Wolf said Thursday at the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.
“It (7-on-7) builds leadership, because you can’t do it without leaders. Everyone has to be on the same page and running the same plays.”
Wolf said the offense improved with QBs Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano taking leadership roles and competing with the defense.
“We’re not going out there just to throw the ball and have incomplete passes against the defense,” Wolf said, “because then we’d hear it from them.”
Senior safety Todd Kelly Jr. said the competitive nature of the Vols’ 7-on-7 drills benefitted everyone.
“It helps us out on defense with our communication, and guys are figuring out things, especially the young guys out there that don’t know too much yet because we’re not in training camp,” Kelly said. “Just calling guys out saying you are supposed to be here instead of there.
“Holding each other accountable is big, because we are going to need each other. The coaches can tell you to do a lot of things, but the people that make it happen are the 11 on the field,” Kelly said. “Then, it’s just competing with each other, we like to have fun, we like to have bragging rights offense versus defense.
“It gets hot now and then, but that’s the game of football. When that whistle blows on Sept. 4 we’re all on the same team and so we’re trying to make each other better.”