There apparently is little time for frivolity in Corey Vereen’s mission to play college football.
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling called Vereen, a first-year player from Florida, one of the most serious and hardworking young players he’s ever encountered.
“I love him,” Stripling said. “I promise you, at nine o’clock at night you’ll find him in here doing something. He is the most motivated freshman I’ve ever seen in my career. He is unbelievable.”
There’s another way Stripling can tell Vereen apart from the crowd.
“He never smiles, which is a little scary,” Stripling said. “He’s a very pleasant kid, but he just never smiles.”
UT assistant coaches went through their weekly interview session Thursday. In addition to Vereen, coaches singled out several other players for praise, including defensive end Jacques Smith, linebacker Dontavis Sapp, defensive back Brian Randolph and reserve offensive linemen Mack Crowder and Kyler Kerbyson.
Stripling said his team still lacked a “pass-rush mentality,” but that Smith was one of the few who seemed to “get it.”
“We talk about third down being the money down because that’s where you make all the money in the NFL,” he said. “You have to have that mentality, and (Smith) is the closest we have right now.”
While Crowder has been working almost exclusively as a reserve center, Kerbyson has been getting work at both guard and tackle to fill a utility role off the bench.
Offensive line coach Don Mahoney said Crowder may be a step ahead because he’s only working at one position, but that Kerbyson also had come on strong during spring camp.
Both players are third-year sophomores who are unlikely to start in 2013 unless the Vols sustain injuries, but are positioning themselves for winning jobs in 2014. Mahoney said he needs to see more from reserves Alan Posey and Marques Pair.
Running back Marlin Lane returned to practice Thursday after missing Tuesday’s session due to a family illness. Receiver Jacob Carter and defensive back LaDarrell McNeil were out or limited due to injuries.
Freshman receiver Paul Harris is back to No. 91.
He started spring camp at No. 1, was stripped of the jersey as a motivational technique, earned it back on Tuesday and then apparently lost it again sometime this week.
It’s not personal, said receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who has repeatedly stressed how much he likes Harris and how a difficult spring will pay off for him in the fall.
Speaking of motivational techniques, coach Butch Jones introduced one of the pre-practice one-on-one battles involving Harris as being a competition for “soft-batch cookies.”
He wasn’t being literal.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie, a star running back at Florida not long ago, said he constantly tries to impress upon his backs the importance of blocking.
“Anybody can run through a hole,” he said. “I could still run through a hole.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.