Jones seeks solutions for Tennessee's depth issues

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 23, 2014 at 2:53 pm •  Published: April 23, 2014
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee football coach Butch Jones doesn't hesitate to point out his biggest concern heading into his second season.

"Hands down, it's depth," Jones said Wednesday in a post-spring interview with The Associated Press. "It's depth still throughout the entire football program. We're still dealing with the realities of building a program."

Jones has created plenty of momentum off the field thus far. He has signed a recruiting class ranked among the nation's top five by multiple services. Tennessee's Orange & White Game this month had an announced attendance of 68,548, the second-highest total in its 54-year history.

But he's still trying to end Tennessee's string of four straight losing seasons, the first time that's happened at Tennessee since 1903-06. Tennessee went 5-7 last year in Jones' debut season.

Tennessee's quest for a bowl bid this fall could prove challenging because of its lack of depth. The Vols must replace all five starters on the offensive line, including four likely draft picks. Senior linebacker A.J. Johnson is the only returning starter from the front seven on defense.

"But it's also invigorating," Jones said. "This is probably the most rewarding, the most enjoyable spring I've had in terms of just coaching on the field, that I've had in a very, very long time."

Jones says the team is showing a greater commitment to success. He says more players have come into his office asking how they can become better leaders or inquiring what the coaches need from them.

He believes that attitude can result in a more confident and productive team his fall.

"It's earning the right to win," Jones said. "It's not hoping to win but believing you're going to win. You earn that right through your consistency in performance, your goal setting, your accountability and also the leadership and toughness that's involved. That in turn lends itself to bringing confidence."

Jones still has plenty of questions to answer before the Aug. 31 season opener with Utah State. The most obvious one is at quarterback. Senior Justin Worley, sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson are competing for the starting spot. Jones hasn't named a leader.

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