“He said he’s handing the team over to us,” said junior Justin Worley.
Worley and fellow quarterback Nathan Peterman have their work cut out for them.
Saturday’s spring exhibition — played in front of an announced crowd of 61,076 for the second highest spring game attendance in Vol history — offered some big plays on offense and some big stops on defense, but also plenty of mistakes that will need to be corrected by players on their own this summer.
The Orange team — made up of defensive players — beat the White squad 95-71, amassing points with sacks, pass breakups and third-down stops.
After a lopsided first half, the offense pulled close late in the fourth quarter. But walk-on quarterback Tyler Page was intercepted by walk-on defensive back Max Arnold, who was untouched on a 62-yard sprint to the end zone.
The entire defensive team ran to the end zone and officials, perhaps taking a cue from Jones, chose not to toss a flag.
Jones hovered behind the line of scrimmage for most of Saturday’s scrimmage, but NCAA rules will strictly limit how much instructional time he can spend with his team this summer.
That’s where Worley and Peterman come in. Without team leaders, the player-organized workouts that define the summer tend to be haphazard or disorganized, and Jones has said repeatedly that this team can’t afford to take a step back between now and the start of fall camp in August.
What can the Vols work on this summer? “Everything,” Jones said. “Everything needs to be worked on.”
Even so, the afternoon had enough highlights to sustain the team through the dog days of summer.
Redshirt freshman running back Alden Hill (18 carries, 101 yards) cemented his spot as the spring’s most surprising story. Worley and Peterman combined for 221 yards and threw only one interception in 41 attempts. Michael Palardy hit two long field goals, including a 52-yarder that hit the crossbar and bounced between the uprights.
On defense, the Vols were credited with nine sacks (although the quarterbacks were at a disadvantage because they could not be hit and were whistled down by contact). Freshman Corey Vereen had four of the big plays.
Brian Randolph made a leaping interception of Worley and returned it 37 yards before an offensive lineman wrestled him down.
“I was very encouraged by a lot of what I saw,” Jones said.
“But obviously there is a lot of work that needs to be done over the next couple of months.”
On offense, Jones said the quarterbacks can develop “trust and timing” with receivers and backs.
“My mind keeps going back to what Peyton Manning said (when he visited the team last week),” Peterman said.
Manning told players that summer was essential for perfecting precise route-running so that both quarterback and receiver know each other’s next step.
As leaders, Jones wants to see his quarterbacks develop into “alpha males.” Worley said Jones will sometimes pop into the quarterbacks meeting room and write “LEADERSHIP” on the dry-erase board.
“Last year we were really more of a coach-led team and we didn’t have any real leaders,” said defensive back Justin Coleman. “It’s hard to let your teammate down, so you have to give it your all.”
Jones wants to go even faster in August, which means both sides of the ball must be prepared to contend with the pace on hot summer afternoons.
“We have to be in game condition, and we aren’t in game condition in any form,” Jones said. “Our tempo has to increase — our physicality and our overall endurance.”
The good news? Jones thinks they can do it.
“I can feel this football team growing closer and closer together, but we have to get a lot better over the summer months,” he said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.