When the sixth day of practice ended and 10 days off arrived, Tennessee’s new band of football coaches levied a heavy warning on March 21.
Defensive coordinator John Jancek said the time away would serve as a litmus test for the Vols’ maturity.
“On (April 2), we’ll be able to tell, who was on spring break, and who was on a spring break,” added wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
Tuesday was April 2. Following a week and half breather for spring break, the Vols returned to football duties with a little rust, but no marked signs of a team lugging holiday after-effects.
“I really wanted to see how our players would respond and we had a focused group of young men (Monday) in our meetings,” coach Butch Jones said following Tuesday’s practice, held outdoors on Haslam Field, thanks to a brisk, sun-drenched morning in Knoxville. “Today I liked our mental focus, I liked our mental effort.”
Quarterback Nathan Peterman said the Vols returned to spring action with a “renewed sense of optimism.” That doesn’t mean there weren’t some lapses, but with only a degree of offensive and defensive packages installed, UT returned to the foundation built over its initial six practices.
“I thought our retention overall was pretty good,” Jones said.
Now comes the time to add to it, on both sides of the ball. Coaches included new shifts and motions, while switching personnel groupings, on Tuesday. According to Jones, there is more coming for Thursday’s practice.
“I like the way our players have approached coming back,” Jones said. “I like their willingness, but now we have to execute.”
Missing in Action: Running back Marlin Lane missed practice due to “some health issues within his family,” according to Jones. Lane, a Daytona Beach, Fla., native, was expected to return to UT by Tuesday night.
Quarterback Shuffle: Though Peterman and fellow quarterback Justin Worley have split time with the first-team offense through the spring, Worley took the snaps during team drills.
Complimenting Croom: Though Jones repeatedly said he needs to see improved play from his wide receiving corps, the first-year UT coach did laud wideout Jason Croom for his approach and elevated play.
Of the redshirt freshman’s return from spring break, Jones said, “I could tell he got into his play book, he ran over break and I really liked the way he approached practice today. He is a big 6-foot-4, 225-pound individual and he needs to play like that.”
The Good Life: A handful of Vols, about 12 to 15 players including A.J. Johnson, Christian Harris, Curt Maggitt and Dontavis Sapp, managed some fun in the sun on spring break. The group embarked on a cruise from Port Canaveral, Fla., to the Bahamas.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.