Butch Jones, Vols enter season optimistic

HOOVER, Ala. -- As SEC media days roll on, this is the time of year when everybody is optimistic. It doesn’t matter if its Auburn, the defending champ, or the Tennessee Volunteers, a team having to replace nearly half its roster, everybody is optimistic about the upcoming season.

“Obviously, it’s an exciting time of year right now,” Butch Jones said Tuesday. “Everyone starts at 0-0.”

Jones, who is entering his second season at Tennessee, has already turned around the perception of the program. Whether its the recent recruiting success or simply faith in their head coach, people are once again excited for Volunteer football.

It doesn’t matter that last season's team won five games, one shy of reaching the postseason. As Jones told the media, no two teams are alike, and this season’s squad is different from last year’s, just like like last year’s was different from the one the year before.

“I think the whole dynamic of our football program has changed,” Jones said. “From a work capacity, from a mentality, from a passion to represent the University of Tennessee, we had some great seniors last year and are very indebted to them, but overall as an organization, losing is a disease. We’ve been sick, we’ve been ill, and we’re working to get over those ills.

“This football team has worked exceptionally hard, and they have a great competitive component about them.”

Will this be the group that gets Tennessee back to a bowl game, that lays the foundation for future teams and begins the restoration process for a once-proud football program?

“I know we’re going to turn it around,” senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said. “We were a couple plays away, a couple inches away last year. We’re going to better ourselves this season, so it’s going to turn around. I didn’t come back for my senior season to not win.”

There are still plenty of question marks surrounding this Vols’ team: How do you replace both interior lines? Who starts at quarterback? How will the freshman respond? But with the SEC East wide open, what is stopping Tennessee from making some noise? It happened just last year with both Auburn and Missouri.

“That’s the great thing about this conference,” Jones said. “Everybody’s talented and anybody is capable of beating anybody. That’s why we just have to focus on the process and never get ahead of ourselves. Don’t worry about the end result.”

Maybe Tennessee will be that team in 2014. Now is the time for optimism.