Ahead of schedule

InsideTennessee.com brings you coverage from Haslam Field as the Vols get back to spring practice. Read the latest on Justin Hunter and watch video interview footage from IT.

It's official: It is once again football time in Tennessee … spring football time at least. And one of the most anticipated storylines is wide receiver Justin Hunter and his knee rehabilitation.

Hunter, bare knees and all, waltzed onto Haslam Field Monday morning with a set of restrictions and went above and beyond in his first day of organized football in 191 days.

"I'm pretty excited because the first day it wasn't that bad," Hunter said. "Tomorrow is going to be a different day because I was running on it a lot today. I'm excited about it."

The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder out of Virginia Beach, Va., tries not to think about the Saturday afternoon that collapsed his breakout sophomore campaign after collecting 17 receptions, 314 yards and two touchdowns in just three games in 2011.

"I think the biggest thing is, I can't think about it," Hunter said of the way he landed at Florida. "If I think about it, I'm going to re-injure it somehow. I just try to go out there, not think about it and make the best of it."

Head coach Derek Dooley knows that Hunter isn't back to 100 percent, and now the challenge becomes managing the knee throughout the remaining 15 practices of spring.

"It's not where he can go full speed, and then we back him down," Dooley said Monday. "He's kind of at the same pace throughout practice. It's hard for him when he's getting pressed and those guys are full speed.

"He went through the whole practice. He ran a lot of routes. We just now have to see how his knee responds today. We'll figure it out day-to-day."

While Hunter may be back in a limited capacity, no one person's excitement can rival that of the 2010 Coaches Freshman All-SEC selection.

"I hate sitting on the sidelines," Hunter said. "It's so boring. You want to help your team, but you can't help your team. Being on the field, you can do that. It felt good. I didn't feel a lot of pain when I was out there. Overall, I had a good day today. I felt like I did real good on my routes and everything else."

Watch Hunter's comments following Monday's opening spring practice below:

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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