UT football scrimmage on Saturday at Neyland Stadium
The commentator had an advantage. He had a microphone.
First-year UT coach Butch Jones already has proven in practice that he wields a mean mike. But in the context of a full-scale scrimmage, the amplified messages between plays had more bite.
“Jacob Gilliam, illegal procedure,” Jones told about 150 of the program’s closest friends as well as whoever was within a block of the stadium.
“Come on Marlin, you looked gassed,” the coach said as running back Marlin Lane took his stance in the goal-line offense.
“Justin, they’re probably coming after you again,” he warned cornerback Justin Coleman, who had just been flagged for pass interference in the end zone.
“107,000 people just groaned,” Jones lamented into the mike after receiver Pig Howard fumbled on contact.
Newcomers didn’t get any special treatment. Corey Vereen realized that after retaliating to a post-play push with a more flagrant push of his own.
“No. 50 is out of the game,” Jones declared. “Take his helmet. Take his pads off.”
Vereen later returned to the scrimmage, and managed to dodge the microphone for the rest of the afternoon.
The critiques weren’t all negative. Jones singled out good plays, too, and sometimes softened his tone off-mike.
“I called (Vereen) over,” Jones said. “I wanted to get his take. He said, ‘Coach, I know I was wrong.’
“With the (new) fighting rule and the one-game suspension, that was an opportunity to make a point to him and the entire football team.”
Jones made another point along the way — he’s in charge.
But he wasn’t just a big voice. He didn’t seem to miss a thing as the team moved from one phase of the scrimmage to another.
“He’s got good eyes,” senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood said with a smile. “And he knows what to look for.”
Nothing that happened on the field was too small for Jones to ignore.
“Our margin for error with this football team is very slim,” he said. “You all see it. We all know.”
And we’ve known for awhile. Fumbles, penalties, flubbed field goals and botched punts have been magnified during three consecutive losing seasons by UT teams incapable of overcoming such mistakes through sheer talent.
Jones’ first UT team will face a similar challenge in that regard. You could see as much during the scrimmage.
An offense seemingly bereft of playmakers struggled. While the defense looked both faster and more physical than last season’s bunch, that’s not necessarily a glowing recommendation in that the 2012 defense was the worst in school history.
But Saturday’s heavy hits shouldn’t be diminished. At least a couple of them were so loud they could have had a mike attached.
Asked to compare, Hood could think of only one hit all of last spring that was comparable.
Misses were noticeable, too. Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, who are vying to be the next UT starting quarterback, didn’t turn heads with their accuracy or arm strength. And the receivers didn’t remind anyone of NFL-bound UT pass-catchers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Jones had a catchphrase for misplays.
“Snap and clear,” he said into the microphone more than once.
I’m not quite sure what he meant by “snap.” Everything else came across loud and clear.