Middle linebacker Nick Reveiz has always appreciated the game of football. Growing up the son of a former All-American and All-Pro, it's certainly natural. Reveiz has spoken for several months about what it means to play for and learn from defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
Saturday, Reveiz has the challenge of trying to help Kiffin in his chess match against famed offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
"It's crazy," Reveiz said. "You put those two guys resumes together and it is over a lifetime of work. People could work forever and never have the accomplishments they have had in football. It's humbling to be a player under Monte Kiffin and go against Norm Chow. Two guys who arguably are the best two at their position. It's exciting."
The former walk-on was excited about his play following the Western Kentucky game till he popped on the tape and then quickly found out that this defense has plenty to work on despite not giving up 100 yards of total offense in the season opener.
"I was excited coming out of the game. I thought we did really well. But in watching the tape, there are some things we could have done better," said the former Farragut star. "The first series they came off the sidelines right to the ball and we were trying to make adjustments quick and we got one wrong. It's one of those things now the nerves have calm down, the excitement has calmed down a little bit and we can just focus on the other team and what they are doing."
A year ago, Reveiz played only on special teams in Pasadena, but in his preparations for his start against the Bruins on Saturday, the junior said you can see a big difference in UCLA from last year till now.
"They have really improved," Reveiz allowed. "They are a lot more sound. They have improved at every position and are a big-time threat.
"They are getting mobile with their quarterback in their sprint-out package and are trying to make plays down field. They are trying to make big explosive plays down field. That is what we are really going to have to handle."
GOTTA HAVE FOOTBALL
Wednesday afternoon, for the first time in three weeks senior center Josh McNeil put on a helmet and worked a little on the practice field in hopes of being able to finish his senior year.
"My hope is to come to practice (Thursday), get in there, get a lot of reps, and get back in a rhythm of things to be ready," McNeil said. "I am trying to be 100-percent ready when my name is called."
Added head coach Lane Kiffin, "Josh did some stuff today over there on the side. He's come back a lot quicker than anticipated. We'll see how he responds, do some more tomorrow, and continue to bring him along gradually. We want to make sure we don't re-injure it."
McNeil faces career ending surgery. He has to have a meniscus transplant and a bone graph in his right knee. McNeil was thinking he was going to go ahead and have the surgery, but the doctors said they cannot get the meniscus he needs till December or January and McNeil said why not play football in the mean time.
"The most depressing thing was not being around my teammates," McNeil offered. "I am a football player. I have been one since I was 8 years old. This is where I feel the most comfortable.
"I know that at the end of the season, my career is over. I need this surgery. I know that is what is waiting for me. I am just going to come out here and enjoy football and help my team as much as I can."
McNeil admits that his knee is constantly hurting, but the Mississippi native is not interested in divulging too much about how his knee really feels.
"I keep telling the trainers this week that it doesn't hurt at all so that they will turn me loose on the practice field and clear me to play Saturday," McNeil said. "It's something that never goes away. I have to deal with it constantly."
CONFIDENT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH
Kiffin was a bit displeased with Wednesday's practice, imploring his team to improve in Thursday's final drills before Friday's walk-through and kick-off against the Bruins on Saturday.
"I think they're very confident. We've got to make sure they're not overconfident. That was not as good a practice as we need to have," said the coach. "We need to have a better one tomorrow. They feel good about themselves, but we've got to make sure that we're doing things right and playing extremely well."
Part of the Vols playing well is the ongoing position battles all over the field. Kiffin has noticed players healing a bit more quickly with no guaranteed spots in the offing upon returning.
"I think so a lot (competition promotes faster healing). I think competition, one of the big things it does is get rid of superstar mentalities and superstar status," he said. "When you that when you sit out there's a good chance someone takes your spot, I promise you that you get healthy faster. A lot of getting healthy is in your mind. That's why we don't tell our players, 'You're going to be out for this many weeks.' Because when you tell them that, they usually are. I think Denarius (Moore) is a good example of that. A lot of people would have told him he would not be back until Florida, and we continued to push him and he played some for us last week."
Kiffin noted Janzen Jackson and Brent Vinson are among those players vying for increased roles in the secondary. Marsalous Johnson earned the start last week because he generated the best week of practice leading into the opener.
"(Johnson) played really well and finished camp extremely well," Kiffin said. "There's a lot of competition. Brent Vinson had come back, but had not practiced enough to our standards to be able to start yet, but there's a lot of competition in the whole secondary, especially at corner.
"A lot (Jackson's push for a bigger role). Janzen, we'll continue to look at a lot of different things for him. I would think Janzen will play a ton of plays for us this year."
San Diego-area native Cody Pope knows plenty of guys on the Bruins' roster. The backup offensive guard also knows he must be prepared at any time should the Vols need him on Saturday. Tennessee's depth -- or lack thereof -- along the offensive front has been well-chronicled. Pope was forced into some first-team action during Wednesday's practice because starting center Cody Sullins was nicked up.
"Today I played a little first team; Vlad Richard is out. Cody Sullins kind of got bumped up today, you saw," said Pope. "Wherever they put me, I've got to go."
Having played a variety of positions throughout his Tennessee career including tackle, tight end and guard, Pope sees the benefits of being well-versed in a variety of positions.
"I think it really helped me learn things quicker, especially looking at defenses and what-not," he said. "Learning other spots just gets you more comfortable. I think if I can get it at other spots, it's going to help me get on the field quicker. I hope that does help."
Pope freely acknowledges this game against UCLA is special -- more so of because of his familiarity with so many Bruins.
"Definitely (comfortable and ready). I've got to be. UCLA, and I'm from California. I can't wait if I get a chance," Pope said. "I know a few (Bruins). I've played against a few. A couple were in my league in high school, so it would be kind of cool. Like high school days."
But Pope doesn't buy into the notion that Pac-10 football is somehow less physical or impressive than the brand played in the SEC.
"Pac-10 is definitely a tough league, just like the SEC is," he said. "We're all tough leagues. We all play football. At the end of the day, it's not about the Xs and Os, it's the Jimmys and Joes. Whoever is lined up against you, hopefully you're tougher than them. It doesn't matter about league. It just really matters if we come out and execute our game plan."
A feeling of perhaps being overlooked on the Vols' defense has the linebacker corps determined to uphold their end of the game plan, according to Savion Frazier.
"It's always motivation when you're overlooked by someone. When you feel you should be put in the same category as other people and you're not, it just makes you want to work harder," said Frazier. "All of us as linebackers. Not just me. We want to be the best we can be and we want to be the best for coach (Lance) Thompson."
Frazier logged his most extensive action in a Vols uniform during their 63-7 win over Western Kentucky, including a highlight-reel forced fumble and recovery.
"I don't remember the call, but I just know I saw him bobbling the ball and I just wanted to get back there and get it out. I just raked on the ball and he dropped it and I just dropped on the ball," he said. "It was probably one of the happiest moments, it was probably just one of the happiest moments I've had since I've been here. It was nice, though."
Frazier praised the unit's camaraderie and ability to urge each other to improve.
"Competition is good. We're all competing and pushing each other," Frazier said. "We don't want to be the weak point or anything. We're trying to make it to where we're, I guess, top level, one of the best linebacker corps in the nation. We're just working hard."
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