By Alex Norman
If the weather can be a harbinger of things to come, the Tennessee Volunteers had to like what greeted them on Tuesday, March 21st. The first day of spring practice took place under sunny skies with few clouds, and temperatures in the lower 70’s.
That weather was not in alignment with the on-field storms that greeted UT in the second half of the 2016 season, as the Vols limped to the finish, missing out on a spot in the SEC championship game.
Tennessee won nine times in each of the past two seasons, including bowl games, but that elusive SEC East title has remained out of reach. The Vols believe that getting the most out of 15 spring practices will help them take that next step up the conference ladder.
“Spring football is paramount to the development of your football team from a mindset, from a work-ethic standpoint, from your standards, expectations and toughness, said Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. “If you have to wait until August camp to build your toughness as a football team you are in trouble. To me, this is where your team is developed from a leadership, from a toughness… from a discipline, from a fundamental standpoint. Everything that we talked about — the details, the accountability, the toughness… it all starts here.”
The big question mark is at quarterback. Who will replace Josh Dobbs? Junior Quinten Dormady? Or redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano? The answer likely won’t come in the next few weeks.
“We want them to compete. No timetable has been set on a starting quarterback or any starting position,” said Jones. “They have to earn that right and they earn that right through their performance on the field off the field in the meetings and from a quarterback standpoint it is consistency. Consistency and performance every single day. Never being too high never being too low, individuals who can manage our offense get us in the appropriate plays the leadership that is associated with playing the quarterback position, but I would say the big thing is gonna be consistency day in and day out. And competing on a daily basis, when you compete on a daily basis you are going to improve each and every day. And that’s what we want to see, constant growth and improvement.”
Much like most of the teams in the country Tennessee will be somewhat limited this spring. At least eight players will miss all of these sessions due to injury, including three guys on the Vols defensive line (end Kyle Phillips, tackles Shy Tuttle and Kendal Vickers). But Jones says don’t expect these practices to be light ones.
“We cannot compromise our physicality as a football team, nor will we this spring,” said Jones. “And that is vital that we become a much more physical football team and a much more explosive football team.”
Those injuries on the defensive line opens the door for players like Jonathan Kongbo, who will move back to his more natural position of defensive end, after being pressed into action in 2016 at tackle.
Tennessee coaching staff went through some major changes in the off season, with four new hires and the promotion of Larry Scott to offensive coordinator. Jones says those moves have brought more energy to the program, and gives many players a fresh start.
“They have an opportunity. Everyone has a clean slate. And you are responsible for creating your identity both on the field and off the field of how you win every day,” said Jones. “These players can walk in and it doesn’t matter what you have done in the past. Good, bad or indifferent. You have that opportunity to reinvent yourself you have that opportunity to really be responsible for what you create on a daily basis. And it’s been great.”