Between sophomores, redshirt freshmen and mid-term enrollees, roughly 50 percent of Tennessee's players participated in their first spring practice Friday at Haslam Field. Several made an impression on Vol veterans but Pearson and Malone clearly made the biggest splashes, even though they are new to the Big Orange offense.
Justin Worley, who started seven games at quarterback last fall, later adding: "I think they're going to provide a spark to us."
Pearson, a 6-foot-3, 181-pounder, caught 93 passes for 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at Feather River (Calif.) Community College. Malone, a 6-foot-3, 202-pounder, caught 71 passes for 1,404 yard and 19 touchdowns last fall at Gallatin High School.
Their work on Friday also caught the eye of Joshua Dobbs, who started the final four games at quarterback for the Vols last season as a true freshman.
"Von Pearson did a great job; Josh Malone did a great job," Dobbs said, diplomatically adding: "All of the new guys did a great job. They picked up the offense extremely well and they did a great job executing today."
Riley Ferguson, who redshirted as a freshman quarterback last season due to a shin injury, also was impressed with Pearson and Malone, noting: "We have a lot of weapons on the receiving corps, so that's the main excitement for me. Throwing to guys like Von Pearson and Josh Malone is going to be very interesting."
Pearson and Malone have looked so good to date that they seem to be bringing out the best in Tennessee's veteran receivers.
"Everybody's getting better," Worley said. "It's not just the new guys coming, taking spots. Quez (Marquez North) and Jacob Carter and Jonathan Johnson — all of these guys — have done a good job getting better this offseason."
Pearson and Malone weren't the only newcomers to turn a few heads on Friday. Freshman cornerbacks D'Andre Payne and Emmanuel Moseley did some showing off with their athleticism and intensity.
"Really, D'Andre and Emmanuel both kinda showed they want to play," said senior defensive back Justin Coleman, who worked at cornerback, nickel back and safety on Friday. "I seen Emmanuel make a couple of plays out there."
"Von and D'Andre Payne caught my eye," McNeil said, citing "the tempo and intensity they brought to practice. I think they'll do good this spring."
With roughly half of the scholarship players being new to spring drills, there was an excitement level on the practice field Friday that was unmistakable. They may be college underclassmen but they exhibited the youthful exuberance of a kindergarten class.
"We had a lot enthusiasm," Ferguson said. "As a team, we just came out with a lot more energy this year. It's a different feel for some reason. I don't know what it is; it's just a really good feeling."
Worley noted the heightened energy level, too, and believes so many fresh faces may be responsible for it.
"There's a lot of different personalities and playing styles out there now," he said. "I think like 50 percent of our team is underclassmen, so there's a lot of young guys out there. It's exciting to be around."
Junior linebacker Curt Maggitt picked up on the same vibe.
"There was a different feel, definitely, with so many new guys," he said. "We had a great offseason, and I feel like there's going to be a lot of competition, a lot of good things going forward."
McNeil also noted a greater sense of excitement.
"You could tell, especially with it being the first day," he said with a smile. "The intensity was very, very high. They brought it to practice today."