Tennessee offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James (70) blocks Western Kentucky linebacker Bar'ee Boyd (40) during the Vols' Sept. 7 win in Knoxville. He's among the veteran leaders inspiring the team to shake off Saturday's loss at Oregon and focus on the SEC opener against Florida this week.
KNOXVILLE -- The University of Tennessee football team just had landed in Knoxville on Saturday following a 59-14 blowout loss at second-ranked Oregon when some of the Volunteers' leaders told the players to reconvene the following afternoon.
The tone of the players' meeting and the message that came from it were rather straightforward.
"We talked to the whole team," senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James said Monday, "and said, 'Keep your head up. This is Florida week. This is one of the most important weeks. It's SEC time. That game is in the past, and we've got a long season ahead of us.'"
The 45-point loss against the talented Ducks was Tennessee's largest margin of defeat in more than a century, but the Vols have little time to rehash it with their SEC opener looming against the 19th-ranked Gators in Gainesville.
So James, senior defensive end Corey Miller and other older players planned Sunday's gathering.
"It was great," James said. "I feel like a lot of the young guys who got their heads down, maybe who haven't suffered a loss like that, and I think they responded well. I talked to a couple guys -- Marquez [North], Devrin [Young], guys like that -- so I feel like everybody responded well. I think we're ready to have a great week of practice."
The way James spoke of the meeting, there seemed to be no major issues, just the intent to refocus the Vols after the trouncing they took at Oregon. And the team started trying to walk Sunday's talk during Monday's practice.
"When we come out today, there's people that might have some hangover from that game, but as seniors we just can't allow it to affect practice," senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood said. "When it comes in terms to running to the ball and doing the little things that's our standards around here, today's a day some people might not want to do it. It's our job to hold them to that standard and keep them at that standard all week."
Coach Butch Jones said defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry will miss three to six weeks with a knee injury suffered Saturday, though the redshirt freshman still is undergoing evaluation.
The 6-foot-4, 291-pounder from Gainesville, Fla., will miss out on the chance to play in his hometown Saturday.
"I thought he had progressed better than any D-lineman that we had," Jones said. "He was probably playing the best of anybody we had up front. Losing him was a major, major setback for the interior of our defense."
Hood noted that when Jones arrived, Saulsberry "had a hard time finishing the drills, finishing the workouts, giving that consistent effort. There was a time when we didn't even know if Sauls would be able to help us out this year, but we as a player staff had a meeting with him and told him, 'Look, you've got the talent, you've got everything else -- we need you to win.'
"Since that point, he really bought in and started giving more effort in practice, more effort in workouts, coming in and doing extra film and things like that. It really showed up on film. He was really starting to improve his game a lot."
Jones hoped slot receivers Pig Howard and Johnathon Johnson would practice Monday and return against Florida.
Both players were injured in practice last week. Howard (leg) dressed and took part of some portion of pregame warmups at Oregon. Johnson has a foot or ankle problem suffered last Wednesday, and combined with Young's broken hand, Tennessee was short three men at the slot position, which is an important one in this offense.
Instead of Howard running short, quick routes against single coverage, tight end Brendan Downs was the target for most of those.
"Half of our game plan for Oregon had to be put aside just because of being able to move receivers around just to be functional," Jones said.
Jones said he expected linebacker Dontavis Sapp, who left in the second quarter against Oregon, to practice Monday. ... There's nothing new regarding defensive tackle Mo Couch's eligibility, and at this point it appears the senior may be looking at an indefinite absence while the issue of reportedly receiving illegal benefits is resolved. ... Jones' biggest challenge to his players: "We are not a mentally tough football team. ... As we continue to progress and move forward throughout the season, our mental toughness, our mental conditioning, has to take monumental steps forward."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...