Seniors want to leave Vols with momentum

InsideTennessee brings you the latest Tennessee football information. Scroll down to read all the highlights from Monday's press conference.

The loss to Vanderbilt stung, but Tennessee offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James kept his head high. It's what leaders do.

As players trudged off the icy field and slipped into the warmth of the locker room, James shook the hand of every player and told each the same message.

"We still have one game," he said. "And we have a lot to play for."

For James and 27 other seniors, Saturday's game against Kentucky marks their last in a Tennessee uniform.

James wants to go out with a win, but not for him. He's more concerned about the future of the program.

James remembers heading into the offseason after a lackluster loss to the Wildcats in 2011. He wants his last game as a Vol to leave the program with a momentum-building win heading into Year 2 of the Butch Jones era.

"It is way different this season," James said. "We have that sense of pride and accountability for the younger guys. We are not going to let them slip up or let this week of practice go to waste just because we lost our opportunity to go to a bowl game."

With a bowl game out of the picture, Jones said the new goal is to be 1-0 after Saturday.

Tennessee's first-year head coach said Saturday is a vital opportunity for the Vols' youth to gain experience, especially without bowl-week practices

"It is another opportunity," Jones said. "For the younger players it is another opportunity to put their football identity and their football resume on film as we continue to build this football program and move forward."

Jones said the week is off to a good start, as every player was at the football facility Sunday watching film.

"Motivation won't be a problem," Jones said. "If you are a competitor, it is another opportunity to compete. We always talk about competitive character in our football program. So that is first and foremost. You are representing Tennessee."

Taking some time to reflect on the year after the Vanderbilt loss, Jones said the most important goal of setting a foundation during his first season at the helm was accomplished.

"That standard of excellence by which we are going to abide by in the classroom, on the field, that is in place," Jones said. "Do we have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. I say it every week. But I see the progress but sometime it is not measured in wins. But I see it everyday."

Other than harnessing offseason momentum with a season-ending win, James said the offensive line has another goal to accomplish Saturday.

The group of veterans entered the year with the goal of blocking a Tennessee tailback to a 1,000-yard season. Senior running back Rajion Neal is 10 yards shy of that benchmark.

"That'll be a proud moment for (Neal). He hasn't ran for 1,000 yards in his career, and that'll be a proud moment for all of us," James said.

Updates and notes

  • Freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson has been battling a small tibia fracture, Jones said at a public speaking engagement.
  • Jon Gruden called Jones today and said he sees Tennessee adopting Jones' mindset.
  • Michael Palardy said he was "fully healthy" against Vanderbilt.
  • Calling all leaders

    With the 2013 season winding down, Jones was asked to compare his first season at Cincinnati to his nearly-completed first chapter at Tennessee.

    Pausing for a moment to chew on the question, Jones said there are more differences than similarities.

    Jones went 4-8 in first season with the Bearcats. The next year he was 10-3.

    The difference, Jones said, was the amount of leadership and experience Cincinnati returned going into the second year.

    Obviously, that's not the case at Tennessee with the likely departure of its entire offensive and defensive lines and linebackers corps.

    "It's been a hard year and I know everyone here hurts," Jones said. "Our fan base has been outstanding. We have the strongest football family in the country. We'll go through adversity together, and we're extremely optimistic about the future."

    With a young team growing even younger next season, Jones said redshirted linebacker Curt Maggitt "needs to lead."

    "We have some older players that now they have to learn what it takes to lead and hold everyone accountable to a standard of excellence," Jones said.

    While most of Tennessee's leadership is departing after Saturday, seniors like James and Daniel Hood are trying to share their experiences before they depart.

    "(Daniel Hood) has been another great spokesman. He holds court at training table and lectures to everyone about mistakes that he made early in his career from the weight room to that standard of performance, of your body is your weapon, of improving your strength and telling stories about his career and talking about man I wish I had another year or two in this football program, and when the younger players hear that, that helps everyone else," Jones said. "I can't say enough about Ja'Wuan. I can't say enough about Daniel Hood, but really the entire senior class. They've all been like that since day one."

    Dobbs named starter

    Joshua Dobbs will be Tennessee's starting quarterback against Kentucky, Jones said Monday.

    While Jones said Dobbs' "age" showed during his last outing, he's not about to pin all the passing struggles on the freshman quarterback.

    In what has turned into a season-long theme, Jones said the Vols' young receivers need to do a better job attacking the football.

    Dobbs paired 53 passing yards with two interception in a lifeless performance against Vanderbilt.

    Jones also wasn't shy to emphasize the impact of losing freshman wideout Marquez North to an ankle injury early in the game.

    "A big chunk of our offense was removed," Jones said. "I haven't hidden from the question about our lack of depth. It is what it is. I'm a realist and that's an issue that we have to get corrected in the recruiting process. We have to recruit our way out of our depth issues."

    Butch Jones video, per the university

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