Butch Jones closed out the coaches' press conferences of Day 2 of SEC Media Days with a lot of optimism. He didn't set himself up for future ridicule like Derek Dooley once did when he proclaimed that no one would "have Tennessee to kick around anymore", but it couldn't have been more obvious. He likes this team and is expecting big things from it.
Jones is a seasoned pro at giving coaching press conferences, so he can spar with the media with the best of them. He wasn't much in a sparring mood. He did take a moment to shoot back at Steve Spurrier from earlier, stating that no one in Knoxville was doing somersaults or backflips over a 7-6 record. After that, he painted a fairly rosy picture of where his program is at and where he believes it to be going.
He had more nice things to say about returning quarterback Joshua Dobbs than anyone else, although he was also asked about Dobbs more than anyone else. Jones said he didn't think Dobbs was quite ready to step in last year, which is why Justin Worley was the starter initially. He was very pleased with Dobbs' progression though, and he now calls him a "CEO quarterback": one who can run the whole team. Jones even quipped that he thought Dobbs, who is an aerospace engineering student, might try to fly the plane down to Hoover.
His face could barely contain his excitement when someone asked him about his running backs of Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Other SEC running back tandems are getting more press right now, like Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins at Arkansas or Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake at Alabama, but Jones clearly loves his two guys. He noted that Hurd is now listed at 6'3" 242 lbs, which puts him in the neighborhood of Henry and even Tim Tebow.
Jones was a bit evasive when asked how he knows his team is ready to win. He said that you have to have a defining moment that proves the team is ready to win, but then he said he saw it down the stretch. "Down the stretch" isn't exactly a single moment, but we'll give him some slack since he was speaking off the cuff. He did praise his team's bowl preparation, calling it "remarkable" and one of the best he's ever seen. His Vols smoked Iowa 45-28 in Jacksonville, if you've forgotten how that went.
All in all, Jones sees things pointed in the right direction. When asked, he even cited his program's switch to Nike as a big factor in their favor. He jokingly expressed some misgivings about the accompanying "Game of Jones" campaign, since sitting on the iron throne hasn't worked out well for anyone yet, but it's hard to argue with him. Nike's uniforms do look better than the old adidas ones, and Nike's experiments of late have turned out far better than those from adidas.
The offseason narrative surrounding Tennessee is that the program is ready for a breakthrough year. Nothing Jones said today pours cold water on that notion. It'll be up to him and his team to prove that 2015 is going to be the first one since 2007 that qualifies for that title.