KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee appears poised to add some real reinforcements for its showdown against South Carolina on Saturday, as Volunteers coach Butch Jones delivered some positive news on the injury front Monday.
Tennessee spent much of its bye week in the training room, nursing to health nearly its entire starting offensive line and key contributors like linebackers Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Cortez McDowell.
But in between the rehab and taking the team to the movies, Tennessee spent much of its idle week preparing underclassmen for potential increased roles moving forward.
Last Tuesday, the Volunteers held “a youth development practice,” with concentrated coaching on guys like freshmen Daniel Bituli, Nigel Warrior, Carlin Fils-Aime and Baylen Buchanan.
Jones sarcastically quipped the practice included several underclassmen who already have assumed major roles in recent weeks.
“It’s kind of funny — but it’s not really funny — we have a youth development practice and we’re out there practicing, and we look out on the field and it’s basically almost our entire starting offensive line in the Alabama game,” Jones said.
“It was mostly individuals that had significant repetitions from the previous game. That’s kind of still where we’re at in the program. I think every young man had an opportunity to get better.”
With no game last Saturday, the midweek practice allowed Tennessee to give “valuable reps” to the aforementioned freshmen, as well as offensive linemen Drew Richmond, Marcus Tatum and Venzell Boulware. The added attention was designed to accelerate the development of individuals Jones said “we’re going to need to play winning football for us down the stretch.”
Jones has harped on the message of “constant growth and development” for his team’s younger players, stressing the importance to underclassmen that to be successful on Saturdays starts with preparation during the week.
“You can’t play with the intensity on game day if you don’t have it every single day in practice. These are all the little nuances that younger players go through,” Jones said.
“Understanding the consistency in performance that you have to have day in and day out. There can be no peaks and valleys in the game of football. That’s kind of a progression that young players go through. When we get them, and they come in (to) the Anderson Training Center, it’s all football. But what you don’t understand is all the things outside of this building — from academics, from social life, from all that goes into it. That’s what we talk about being a mature competitor.
“I thought the bye week, the workweek was very, very productive — in particularly for our younger players.”