Suspended Tennessee running back Marlin Lane was absent for the third consecutive practice and fourth since players returned from spring break, but coach Butch Jones continued to leave the door open for his return.
Jones said Wednesday there were “criteria” that Lane needed to meet to be reinstated.
Fellow running back Rajion Neal said he speaks to Lane regularly. Lane was back in Knoxville but contending with a “sensitive situation,” Neal said.
Neal said he expected and “hoped and prayed” that Lane would eventually return to the team.
Jones said there are no immediate plans to move anyone else to running back, including Devrin Young, who was moved to receiver this spring.
“We’re going to go with the running backs we have,” Jones said.
For his part, Young said, “I’m comfortable at receiver, I’m comfortable in the backfield, so it’s whatever Coach Jones wants.”
Jones wasn’t entirely satisfied with what likely was the final practice at Haslam Field on Wednesday. After a sloppy team period, Jones yelled, “Let’s get better at this!” Then, dissatisfied with the way players ran to the next station, he called the entire team to the middle of the field for some choice words.
“I thought we were a little rusty,” Jones said afterward. “We need to finish (spring practice) with a mindset of physicality.”
Jones was asked who had impressed him this spring. Here’s his list: running backs Alden Hill and Rajion Neal; linebacker Dontavis Sapp; defensive back Justin Coleman; offensive linemen James Stone, Zach Fulton and Ja’Wuan James; and quarterbacks Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman.
“The Hole” — the roped-off area of the practice field for injured players — was especially crowded on Wednesday with the additions of cornerback Riyahd Jones and defensive lineman Daniel Hood. Receiver Vincent Dallas, who had missed the last week, was back in action.
A drone camera hovered over the sidelines during practice, apparently going through some testing with its operator nearby.
Jones said it was another “teaching tool” that would help with film study by getting a birds-eye view of the practice field.
The best catch of the day, perhaps surprisingly, was by big walk-on tight end Charles Folger, who made a leaping grab and held onto the ball despite taking a hard hit.
Former quarterback Tyler Bray’s session with Jon Gruden on ESPN’s “quarterback camp” feature will air Friday at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Gruden has hinted at some of his evaluation, saying in a conference call this week that Bray has natural physical gifts but needs “refinement.”
“I just think this kid has a rare ability to throw the football,” Gruden said. “A lot of what he did at Tennessee, I think, is overshadowed (by) their win-loss record. They scored 35 points in Columbia. They scored 44 points in Athens. They scored 48 points against Missouri. So moving the football was not a problem at Tennessee.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.