The cruises and beach trips are finished. Campus is open and classes are back in session.
Tennessee football players who enjoyed too much fun and sun over the last week could face a difficult test on their first day back.
The Vols return to the practice fields this morning after a 10-day spring break that came in the middle of Butch Jones’ first spring practice with UT.
“It’s going to be a test of the maturity of our football team,” said defensive coordinator John Jancek before the players left. “If they go on spring break and they continue to work out and train and make that a priority for them, then we know we’ve got something to be excited about. If not, then we’ve got to continue to educate them.”
Tennessee has six practices in the books. Nine sessions, including the Orange and White Game on April 20.
Jones has put an emphasis on the back end of the spring practice schedule. The first two practices weren’t in full pads, and much of the first week was an acclimation process for new players.
In the second part of Jones’ first spring in Knoxville, there will be plenty of time for hitting, scrimmaging and evaluating players.
“For us to take strides this year with this football team we have to be a much more physical football team, both mentally and physically, and you have to live that way every day,” Jones said. “We aren’t anywhere we need to be to compete in the SEC, but we’re making strides.”
What will coaches be watching for in the next three weeks?
The quarterback race will attract the most attention, but there are position battles going on at just about every spot except perhaps offensive line — where there is an experienced group of returning starters — and
running back — where there appear to be few options beyond Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane.
Beyond that, when coaches say no one’s job is safe, that’s not just lip service.
Alarmed by a lack of speed, poor fundamentals and overall confusion in last year’s defense, Jancek and Jones have started building the new defense block by block. Moving veteran safety Brent Brewer to linebacker helped a bit in the speed, but the back seven is still much slower than the new staff would prefer.
On offense, the conventional wisdom is that junior Justin Worley may have a slight edge on redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman early in their competition, if only because Worley has done a better job of limiting turnovers. But it would be surprising if coaches name a final No. 1 before August.
The receivers race will benefit from an influx of bodies this summer, but until then, coaches are pushing the young group of challengers hard. We’ll find out today if freshman Paul Harris has earned back the No. 1 jersey that was stripped from him before the break.
Tennessee’s practices go at a breakneck pace, and the receivers might do more running than any other unit.
“If you don’t (work),” receivers coach Zach Azzanni said last week, “we’ll be able to tell.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.