Tennessee players and coaches train with the KPD
Ja'Wuan James rattled off the priorities he had going into spring practice.
The right tackle wanted to bring more intensity on every single snap.
The sophomore was looking to polish up his technique. He was looking to build on a freshman campaign that allowed him to acclimate to the college level right away by starting every game while working with a unit that will return mostly intact this fall.
James also was intent on becoming even more familiar with Tennessee's offensive schemes - which might have been the only component that relied more on his mind than his body.
But when mononucleosis cut his spring camp short after just a couple workouts, James suddenly had to shift his focus from the physical aspect of practice to the mental side. In hindsight and with the benefit of a clean bill of health heading into the offseason, James admitted a different perspective might have been a blessing for him.
"I mean, at first it was frustrating, you know," James said Friday after UT's field trip to visit the Knoxville Police Department. "I took it kind of hard, but I had to make something good out of it and make it better. I sat down with (offensive line coach Harry) Hiestand and he gave me all the scripts for each practice and I would just hold onto that and watch each play from behind and get the mental reps. I feel like mentally I got better.
"Physically, I definitely missed out. But I feel like since I was there every day, I was watching extra film and getting those extra mental reps, that was helping me see it from an outside perspective instead of being in it. Being in the fire, sometimes you don't notice things."
The Vols surely would have preferred James feel a little heat as he prepares for a second season as a full-time starter up front, but the program also might have benefitted some from his absence as well.
With James out of the rotation, Alex Bullard was able to give the coaching staff a look at what they had in the Notre Dame transfer, and sophomore JerQuari Schofield also had a chance to branch out and take some reps at tackle. And while the Vols are dramatically more settled with their starters up front than they were at this time a year ago, they're still trying to add some depth - which Bullard and Schofield will be providing now that James is working out again without limitations
"We feel more comfortable than we were a year ago," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said near the end of camp. "A year ago we couldn't even put five guys out there, we weren't sure who it was going to be and even throughout the fall we struggled with that. I feel more comfortable as we walk into the two-a-day practices that we'll have enough guys in Harry's group that we'll have competition, which inevitably makes you better.
"I feel we've come a long way with regards to depth. We've still got a long way to go, but we're considerably better than we were a short term ago."
The return of a healthy James for offseason workouts obviously provides a boost for the line, as well, and he indicated there were no lingering concerns from the mono.
At least not after the first couple of workouts as he tried to get back in the flow.
"Probably around the second practice (of camp), I just noticed I couldn't breathe right," James said. "I was just like, 'Maybe I'm out of shape since it's the second day back or something.' I just kept going back and forth to the doctor and finally they did the test and said I had it.
"Now, I'm back in shape. At first I came back for the first two days of workouts and it was kind of rough. But now I'm doing some extra running and extra exercise, and it's got me back in shape."
The next phase is blending that with a mind that didn't take any plays off this spring.