KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Defensive line, quarterbacks and running backs. Just about the only thing these three units have in common on this year's Tennessee team is talent. So assistant coaches Tracy Rocker, Chris Weinke and David Johnson have their hands full with one thing or another with their respective units. Here's a look at what they said today and what has been the focus so far in Fall Camp.
TRACY ROCKER - DEFENSIVE LINE
Rocker is looking at a unit that has very little game experience, especially with senior Emmit Gooden tearing his ACL early in camp. There are seven defensive lineman on the team who are new to Tennessee or wore a redshirt last season. One of those players, Aubrey Solomon, is still waiting to find out if he'll even have the opportunity to play.
"Aubrey is practicing, Aubrey is doing his part and working hard and doing a good job at it," said Rocker of the Michigan transfer.
Last season, there were some veterans for Rocker to lean on with the group. With a different team, comes a different demeanor for the coach.
"You have to know when to push and pull and also be demanding, but also know it's part of the process of growing up and the next day they come back, they'll fight and all of a sudden the wheel comes off and, hey, we put the wheel on, let's go again."
He once received advice from a Tennessee legend, Reggie White, on how to handle young teams just like this.
One more note, Rocker said junior LaTrell Bumphus has stood out in camp as a pass rusher and redshirt freshman Greg Emerson has shown flashes as a run-stopper in the middle of the line at nose tackle.
CHRIS WEINKE - QUARTERBACKS
While Rocker has to deal with a lack of experience, Weinke has one of the most experienced players on the team at his disposal in Jarrett Guarantano. The dynamic with the quarterbacks is interesting however.
Behind Jarrett Guarantano, not a single quarterback has taken a snap at the collegiate level. So what does Weinke do to challenge a player who knows he will start?
"You have to find a way to create competition. Knowing and understanding that he’s a veteran guy and is going to be our starting quarterback, just having that relationship, talking to him about ‘hey listen, you have to approach every day like Tom Brady is in the room and you are competing against him. Elevate your game on a regular basis.’ I think he’s done an outstanding job. The leadership that he has shown this fall is leaps and bounds to what I saw last year. He’s taking a step in the right direction and we need him to do that at this position," said Weinke.
As for the players behind him on the depth chart (J.T. Shrout and Brian Maurer) Weinke said even though Shrout has an extra year on campus, he's treating both as incoming freshman because of the new system under Jim Chaney. Making them better, according to Weinke, is about making them compete.
"They're wired a little bit different, they come from two different offenses, obviously J.T. has a little more experience because he's been around here for a year. Brian has got a very high ceiling, but still has a lot to learn like every other young quarterback and I think what we've provided for them is an opportunity to compete and as a quarterback that's all you really want."
DAVID JOHNSON - RUNNING BACKS
After coaching wide receivers last season, David Johnson has at his disposal one of the most talented position groups on the team in the running backs. Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan had great moments for Tennessee last season, Jeremy Banks is an absolute spark plug on and off the field and Eric Gray is a highly touted prospect coming out of Memphis. Gray is already making a name for himself.
"I think Eric’s been doing a good job, he's still a freshman. He has a lot to learn but his work ethic is second to none. He comes in like a professional with meetings and everything, but he's been doing a good job in camp and Ty and Tim, you know, have really been holding that room together," said Johnson.
Chandler is on the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list, an award which goes to the nation's top running back, but what has a lot of fans excited this season may not be his ability to run after a handoff, but to fly after a catch out of the backfield. Chandler averaged 9.6 yards per completion last season, scoring three touchdowns through the air. Johnson said Chandler has been hard at work becoming a better receiver.
“He's been on the indoor, on the jugs machine, daily, all through spring, but that's one of the things that he has to improve on. If we can get the ball in his hands in space, he's really explosive.”
Tennessee continues fall camp, with the first game of the season against Georgia State set for August 31 at 3:30 p.m. in Neyland Stadium.