The Vols have slowly shifted from being the hunter to being the hunted as preseason accolades and SEC Eastern Division contention are now in, replacing hope and rebuilding in Knoxville. Butch Jones understands that, and he was pleased with the way his team attacked its first day back after a summer of budding hype.
"I liked their intensity. I liked their effort and particularly, I wanted to see their retention; our retention from the meetings to the classroom," Jones said. "I thought for the most part, our older players did a good job. I thought our younger players, for their first time and with the volume of installation, that they handled it pretty well.
It wasn't all roses and hugs, either. Jones knows it's tough to glean much information from Day 1, but he still wants to see a more crisp passing game and more attention to detail. But as far as first days go, this was one the Vols can count as a success.
"We still have to get much better on some little nuances with the way we practice. Also, our tempo, our details, what it takes to play winning football. We have to continue to improve our tempo but I thought it was improved from the spring," he said.
"We need to do a better job overall in the throw game. I thought our execution was a little bit off, our timing was a little bit off, which will get corrected. A lot of times that happened on day one. But overall, we talk about getting one percent better and I thought we were able to get one percent better and I was pleased with Day 1."
Jones said the competition at backup quarterback will be one of the most fierce on the team, and freshman Quinten Dormady did a solid job of coming out of the gate swinging. Dormady, who secured the No. 2 duties in spring practice, showed good command in his first day back with the team.
"Quinten did a great job of really coming out and you could see the command presence, where Sheriron (Jones) is still digesting the playbook and all of that," Jones said. "He'll work exceptionally hard to get better, but I was really, really pleased with Quinten and he did some really good things. It's just the growth and maturation from spring football and you could see the momentum from the spring game carry over into practice No. 1."
Edge monsters back
After missing spring practice to heal from injuries, two of the most important pieces to Tennessee's defense were back and fully participating in practice. All-American contenders Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett hit the ground running Tuesday, but their head coach knows he'll have to monitor their participation to make sure they stay healthy heading into the regular season.
"We're going to have to [manage them] because they only know one speed and that's full speed. We are going to have to do a great job because it is a long camp," Jones said. "We chart everything, live repetitions, we chart it all, so we make sure we manage them and the great thing about them is they have great maturity in terms of recovery from practice, getting the necessary fluids in, the protein and nutrition and then obviously going through the recovery circuit as well."
Loaded at linebacker
Despite not having a clear-cut middle linebacker in place, Jones raved about the potential of a unit that boasts a handful of young, capable starters chomping at the bit to play. Freshman linebacker Darrin Kirkland was singled out for his ability to retain the knowledge he learned in spring practice despite missing due to an injury, and Jones was also impressed with the leadership and communication of veteran Kenneth Bynum.
"We are very youthful there but we have some youthful talent, which is very encouraging," he said. "But the big thing for us is to continue to grow and get better mentally, as camp moves on. Like I said, this was just Day 1. This was probably one ninth of our schemes on offense, defense and special teams."
Different Day One
Jones walked onto the practice field for his third fall camp start Tuesday, but there were a couple of measurable differences from the first time he stepped onto Haslam Field for the start of fall camp. Despite having a two-deep of scholarship offensive linemen and limited depth problems, there was one other extreme change.
"The first glaring difference is the team's speed, particularly in our backfield. Obviously, with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, it's the speed in the backfield and then you throw David Abernathy in there, you throw Joe Young in there, you throw John Kelly in there; it's visibly different from a speed-level standpoint," Jones said.
"I just think the overall maturation, culture maturation in a football team and understanding the standards and the expectations but I think the overall confidence level. We have had two very productive days in terms of meetings and expectations and players understanding how you approach the day, how you approach meeting days now as training camp goes on.
Click the InsideTennessee logo below to be taken to Tuesday's practice notes in premium message board VolChat: