Jones, a 6-5, 300-pound offensive tackle from Nashville, was buried so far down the depth chart last fall you needed a search warrant to find him. Following a so-so spring, however, he has been one of the Vols' biggest and most pleasant surprises this preseason.
"I wasn't expecting Steven Jones to be able to help us very much," head coach Phillip Fulmer admitted following Tuesday's practice. "But all of a sudden he's playing pretty good. He's actually pushing for playing time."
Asked whether Jones' improvement has been more physical or mental, Fulmer answered without hesitation.
"Both," the coach said. "It's his attitude about being fundamentally good and fundamentally tougher. He's showing a lot of toughness right now. He's finishing blocks. Sometimes guys just need time to mature.
"It's really been tough on him for a couple of years but now it's all paying dividends. He gets up, rolls his sleeves up and goes to work every day. That's the kind of guy you like to coach."
Some other obscure Vols who have a chance to rise from the bottom of the depth chart this season are tight end Justin Reed, wide receiver Bill Grimes, defensive end Jared Hostetter, linebacker Marvin Mitchell and defensive back Jarod Parrish. If several of those guys could exceed expectations, Tennessee has a chance to be outstanding.
"You're going to have injuries along the way," Fulmer noted. "If you can get a few of those and build your depth, you'd feel a lot better about things."