Ask Butch Jones what he expects out of the spring game this year and he’s likely to correct your word choice. The third-year Tennessee head coach is more fond of saying this year’s Orange and White Game will be a spring “event” rather than a game due to injuries that have caused a lack of depth at key positions like defensive line and running back.
Spring game formats have continuously progressed since the days of simply lining up with two units and scrimmaging in front of fans. Rice helped spark the change in 2007 when the Owls went with a unique scoring system that awarded points to both the offense and defense for big plays. USC announced earlier this month it would again use a segmented scoring setup that paved the way for a 19-15 final score last season.
Now Jones and his staff will take a turn at the unconventional when they announced the format the Vols plan on using for Saturday’s “event.”
“It will be very similar to what we’ve done in the past spring games, but it will be an event. What I mean by that is there will be different things going on,” Jones said. “Our fans love the one-on-one competitions, so we’ll have offensive line versus defensive line. We’ll have receiver versus (defensive backs) in the red zone, a lot of the things we’ve done in the past. We’ll have a quarterback challenge also.”
The stress on individual drills comes at a point in the year when Tennessee needs to stay healthy while cultivating competition across the board. As position battles wage from center to linebacker, Jones knows how important it is to keep his young talent both engaged and injury-free heading into the summer.
But it won’t just all consist of one-on-one drills. Fans will be able to see plenty of 11-on-11 action as well, as Tennessee plans on also playing two halves of running clock football. The first two quarters will be 15 minutes long, followed by a second half that will feature two 12-minute quarters.
“We will go 11-on-11,” Jones said. “Some of it may be ‘thud’ because (running back) Jalen (Hurd) is hurt and we need to get him some repetitions, and then there will be some live situations as well.”
The Vols will use the scoring system Jones installed when he first got here that allows both the offense and defense to earn points for plays. Sprinkled within the live action will be the drills Tennessee is hoping fans will enjoy.
“I don’t really expect any difference. We’re still going to go out there and compete like every other day,” offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson said. “It’s going to be more like a practice than a scrimmage and we compete every day in that too, so the one-on-one drills, the situational stuff that we’re going to do, is going to be very competitive.”
Fellow offensive lineman Brett Kendrick was quick to concur. The redshirt sophomore is going on his third spring game and believes the new format will give way to some epic battles across positions.
“I’m expecting a lot of competition. Normally it’s a big scrimmage and there’s a lot of things going on at once. There’s going to be 90,000 eyes on you,” Kendrick said.
“When we’re doing pass, there’s 90,000 eyes on me and (defensive lineman) LaTroy Lewis or whoever I’m going against. There’s going to be a lot of heated competition, I’d say.”
So while the new-look Orange and White Game may be a bit different than what most fans are used to, it won’t drift far from what Jones has done in his previous seasons at Tennessee.
There is just one difference.
This time it will be an event.