Tennessee fans still can't be sure who their starting quarterback is, the team's depth chart is a work in progress, and an all-new coaching staff hasn't turned a troubled offense into an over-spring success story.
But for all the uncertainty, UT is about to complete one of the most eventful spring sessions in school history. Saturday's spring game will punctuate a season of change.
Lane Kiffin is only UT's third head coach since the end of the 1976 season, but the last transition was hardly extreme. You had one former UT player (Johnny Majors) being replaced as coach by another former UT player (Phillip Fulmer).
The coaches changed. The system didn't.
More than the coaches and system are different now. So is the atmosphere. The volume and intensity have been turned up. Even if you didn't make it through the practice gate, you could hear the difference from across the street.
This hasn't just been a case of players trying to impress a new coaching staff. There has been a heightened sense of opportunity - an awareness that playing time and starting positions are there for the taking.
You can expect more of the same in August when the complete freshman class joins the competition. Kiffin made it clear in his first press conference that freshmen would be a priority in August.
Freshman defensive tackle, Montori Hughes, already has taken advantage of Kiffin's non-seniority system. After converted defensive end Wes Brown was injured last week, Hughes moved into the starting lineup. Do you really think that would have happened under the previous regime?
Hughes' emergence signifies more than a change in coaching philosophies. It also speaks to a program whose talent level has declined in recent years. The drop-off is evident at almost every position, but it's most flagrant at quarterback.
In the best of times, former coach Phillip Fulmer didn't have to rely on freshmen, because his depth chart was well fortified with proven players. Eventually, Kiffin and his staff should refortify the depth chart through the kind of salesmanship they demonstrated in the final few weeks leading up to signing day. It was the recruiting equivalent of Oklahoma's hurry-up offense.
Don't expect Oklahoma results just yet. It will take years, not weeks, of recruiting to transform UT into a championship program. In the meantime, UT fans can celebrate progress, if not championships.
The Vols should leave this spring a more disciplined, tougher and confident team. For the most part, they've got their health, too. Given the heavy hitting in scrimmages and skeleton drills, the lack of injuries is both surprising and significant.
The gains of the spring won't be lost in the fall. UT will be a better team, and a more troublesome adversary for the best teams in the SEC.
Too many opponents looked too comfortable in UT's 5-7 season of 2008. Florida basically toyed with the Vols; even when the score was close, Alabama played as though the outcome was predetermined; South Carolina's offense snoozed through the second half after taking a 21-0 lead through two quarters.
At least, with a new offensive and defensive system, UT should be more difficult for which to prepare. But UT's preparation should be a bigger plus.
The preparation began this spring when a new coaching staff changed the mind-set as well as the schemes.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.