KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, Joshua Dobbs, Darrin Kirkland Jr., and Josh Malone spoke to reporters at Monday’s press conference at 11:30 a.m. ET in the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.
(Opening Statement – Head Coach Butch Jones)
“Moving forward to Kentucky, they are a great football team. It’s going to be a challenge in and of itself, going over to Lexington. It’s going to be a great environment with a 7:30 kickoff. I have a lot of respect for what Mark [Stoops] is building at Kentucky. He has done a very good job there. They are very explosive on offense. They can score any time they get the football. They can score from anywhere on the field. They do a great job of distributing and running the football. I am very familiar with Patrick Towles, being from right outside Cincinnati. We recruited him at Cincinnati, and he was our number one target. We have a lot of respect for him. He is a winner. He comes from a great high school program. I think he is one of the best quarterbacks in our conference. Defensively, they are very physical and play with great effort. They are very stout upfront and have the luxury to play man-to-man coverage anywhere on the football field. It’s going to be a challenge, and it start with a great week of preparation.”
Reeves-Maybin Thriving, Bringing Kirkland Along
Junior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin has continued his steady production as a team leader and a central facet of the Volunteer defense. The Clarksville, Tennessee, native leads the Vols in five major defensive stat categories (total tackles, solo tackles, assisted tackles, sacks, and tackles for loss) and is coming off another solid outing after racking up a team-high 11 tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss at Alabama.
Heading into Saturday’s contest at Kentucky, Reeves-Maybin ranks third in the SEC in tackles for loss with 1.5 TFLs. He also ranks among the conference leaders in tackles per game (9.3) and solo tackles per game (5.5).
Given his production on the field and his vocal leadership in the locker room, Reeves-Maybin has become a natural mentor for the up-and-coming Tennessee linebackers looking to make a sustained impact on Rocky Top. One of those players that has taken up a residence under Reeves-Maybin’s wing is freshmanDarrin Kirkland Jr.
“You know, he’s the leader of our room,” Kirkland said. “He’s done a great job of putting me under his wing, and bringing me along. Everything we’ve done this year, he’s been great. I’ll hopefully just follow in his footsteps.”
When it comes to following footsteps, Kirkland is off to a nice start. The true freshman has appeared in all seven games this season – with starts at the MIKE linebacker position in each of the last three – and has notched 29 total tackles to go along with two sacks. He matched his season-high this past weekend with seven tackles against Alabama.
Martin Impressing on the Field
Sophomore defensive back Justin Martin has been earning more and more playing time for Team 119.
“We have a lot of confidence in Justin Martin,” Head Coach Butch Jones said. “Our players do, our coaches do; everyone in our football organization has a ton of confidence in him. He’s an individual who has great instincts, great length, and he’s very, very competitive.”
At 6-1 with great length and speed, Martin has a prototypical body for a cornerback. He also has something else.
“When you think of Justin Martin I get excited because he loves to compete – he loves football,” Jones said. “He wants to be in those trying situations. He wants to be in those competitive matchups. He wants to run down on kickoff. Justin Martin has been one of our most productive players on kickoff as well.”
Martin is in his first year at Tennessee after transferring from Northeast Oklahoma A&M. Additionally, the Antioch, Tenn. native is doing this after missing a large part of training camp due to injury.
“To his credit, he worked exceptionally hard to get himself back, and I thought he did some very, very good things,” Jones continued. “A lot of it is he just needs as many repetitions as possible in terms of technique and all that.”
Martin had the most productive game of his Volunteer career against Alabama as he recorded seven tackles and a pass breakup against the #8 team in the country.
“I thought he did a good job of tackling in space and leveraging the football,” Jones said. “I thought he had a very productive day for us. I thought he played winning football for us.”
Seeing Blue In The Red Zone
The 2015 Wildcats have made their mark in the red zone, where UK is tied for 12th in the nation offensively (.917 red zone scoring efficiency) and ranks 33rd defensively (.781). Both are major improvements over Kentucky’s 2014 red zone offense (37th, .872) and red zone defense (123rd, .932).
Kentucky has scored on 22 of its 24 trips inside the 20-yard line. Consistency has been the key with just one turnover in those 24 drives and 7-of-7 field goal kicking by Austin MacGinnis.
“I have a lot of respect for what Mark [Stoops] is building at Kentucky,” Jones said. “He has done a very good job there.”
Junior QB Joshua Dobbs
“They fought until the game was over. I love seeing that. Obviously we all have things to improve on, but I love seeing them come out and compete and competing to win. They’re out there from the beginning with a good look in their eyes that they were confident and ready to go and motivated to play hard.”
(On rushing and how it affects his game)
“I feel great. It’s good; it’s been productive for us. We’ve put up numbers and we’ve been able to move the ball effectively. Anything to help the team win, that’s what I am here to do.”
Sophomore WR Josh Malone
(On teammate Jalen Hurd)
“Jalen is a great back. He does a lot for the team. He is a hard worker just like everybody else out there. He is definitely one of the top backs in the nation.”
(On difference in wide receiver production)
“What we are doing better is really just focusing on the assignment and detail and coming out every day for practice, focusing on getting better and certain skill sets.”
Freshman LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.
(On the teams mindset this week)
“Really just getting better. We’re really just a motivated bunch. You know we got Kentucky next week. That’s all we’re really focused on right now. Just being better and getting another SEC win. That’s all we’re focued on.”
(On personal improvements)
“Really just my mental focus. My mental capacity of the game. Understanding the game from a bigger overview. You know, taking my weekly preparation for the game a lot more seriously, that’s helped me prepare for the bigger teams that we have played.”