HOOVER, Ala. -- Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and three of his players arrived at the SEC Media Days on Wednesday morning after a plane trip that Jones described as like a “family vacation.”
As he prepared to face the media horde, offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James marveled at the progress his coach had made in a few months.
“I call him ‘super star,’” James said. “I feel like the whole world loves him.”
Jones is likely to get a more skeptical reception in Hoover, where former coach Derek Dooley said only a year ago that the rest of the league would no longer have the Vols to “kick around” anymore.
A year later, the skill position stars that accompanied Dooley are gone, and three linemen -- James, Antonio “Tiny” Richardon and Jacques Smith -- are here to represent Tennessee.
“I think that shows you our strength is the offensive and defensive line,” Richardson said.
Smith wore an orange blazer similar to the kind worn by former men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl -- “I like his style,” Smith said -- while the other players were dressed more conservatively. Jones sported an orange tie.
Jones said it was important to manage expectations today amidst the excitement surrounding his first year.
“We’re going to focus on the process and not worry about the end result,” he said. “If you do that, you’ll be happy with your body of work.”
In other news:
Jones said he was pleased with his group of veteran linemen, but with many departing after this season, “We need to take a gigantic step in the recruiting process.”
Richardson said the offseason workouts included a lot of running, including an infamous morning with 52 110-yard sprints. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life,” he said.
South Carolina star defensive Jadaveon Clowney praised Richardson as the best lineman he had faced in 2012. He also said Richardson holds more than any other lineman.
“That’s part of the game,” Richardson said.
James joked that Clowney had “never been to my side before” and he defended Richardson’s alleged holds.
“That’s our job. On every play there’s holding,” James said. “It’s just whether it gets called or not.”
Richardson, a junior, had no interesting in talking about his NFL future. “I’m worried about winning the SEC championship,” he said.
Richardson did say he was in the process of taking out an insurance policy, which many NFL prospects do.
Jones said James, who elected to return for his senior year rather than pursue the NFL draft, “has been a model of consistency.”
“He’s a great football player and an even better person,” Jones said. “He’s a great representative of Tennessee football and a great student as well.”