Tennessee enters spring drills with depleted depth along the defensive line, but Vols fifth-year coach Butch Jones said it’s “vital” that the team maintains a physical approach in practice to prepare for the 2017 season.
“We cannot compromise our physicality as a football team. Nor will we this spring,” Jones said.
"It’s vital that we become a much more physical football team, a much more explosive football team.”
During Monday’s press conference, Jones lauded the offseason work of new strength and conditioning coordinator Rock Gullickson. The 39-year-coaching veteran spent the last 17 seasons in the NFL and Jones brought his longtime friend to Knoxville to overhaul a program missing some critical direction in the last year.
“It all starts in the weight room,” Jones said.
“Rock Gullickson, our entire strength and conditioning staff have really done a remarkable job. They’ve set the temperament for our football team. Coach Rock has a unique way of challenging our players in a very, very positive way. We’re getting the results necessary.”
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In January, Gullickson, who knows Jones dating back to their days together at Rutgers, said he came to Tennessee for two reasons.
"I want to help (Jones) achieve his goals," Gullickson said. "And I want to help these kids win a championship."
Earlier this spring, several Tennessee players noted their strong rapport with Gullickson after just a short period of time, responding well to his extensive background and old-school approach. The added emphasis on free weights and explosive movements has apparently paid early dividends, too, with Jones saying guys like Quay Picou, Darrell Taylor and signee Trey Smith have all made “monumental gains.”
“Tomorrow, when you’re out there for a little bit of practice, you’re going to see a much stronger, much bigger, a much more explosive football team,” Jones added.
“We still have a long way to go in that area, that’s why this start of spring football, we still need to have that growth and development from a strength and conditioning standpoint.”
By virtue of the academic calendar, Tennessee is starting spring practice a bit later than usual, and the delay allowed Gullickson to have two full months with the team.
"We felt we really needed that eight weeks to train and get bigger, stronger and faster," Jones said.
Toughness was one of three keys Jones identified for Tennessee this offseason, hoping both the mental and physical aspects ultimately translate when the team hits the field Tuesday, especially in regards to tackling and blocking.
“We worked harder than we ever have in terms of explosive movements in the weight room,” Jones said. “So now being able to see that transition to the weight room and the football field.
"Our entire team has made strides and progress."