Tennessee coach Butch Jones was critical of the Vols’ intensity in Friday’s opening practice of training camp, and he depleted his vocal chords trying to exhort his team.
On Saturday, Jones’ voice still wasn’t back — and it may have been even more hoarse — but the second practice did make him more upbeat.
“Today was extremely productive,” he said. “I was kind of disappointed yesterday with our mental effort, our mental focus, our intensity throughout the entire length of practice. But today I thought we maintained it and we built upon it.”
Why did the team bounce back?
“This group is very prideful,” said Jones, using one of his favorite words.
Jones singled out the freshmen wide receivers for praise, saying the group had “improved our football team” from the spring.
“They’ve really added a competitive component to the offense, which is greatly needed,” he said.
Receivers coach Zach Azzanni said some of his new freshmen receivers, most notably 6-foot-4, 215-pound MarQuez North, passed the “look test” from the start.
“You can tell who has got some natural ability from the freshmen, you know who’s got a chance to play early a little bit,” Azzanni said. “You’ve got an opportunity to really see who’s been cranking up this summer and maybe who hasn’t. So you can see those things and what they’ve retained from the spring time.”
Azzanni said he thinks most of the returning receivers have taken advantage of the summer and made strides from the lackluster spring.
“I definitely saw some progress,” he said. “The great thing about our guys is they’re willing. They want to. There is no resistance. They want to get better, they want to work. We’re just still teaching them how, that’s just how it is. And now, with a bunch of new freshmen, we’re teaching them from ground zero.”
Jones said former fullback/tight end Justin King was now at linebacker — or would be when he returns from a hamstring injury.
A sophomore from Dunwoody, Ga., King played in eight games last year, including a stint as a wildcat quarterback.
Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez said he didn’t see senior safety Byron Moore as a second-team player, even though that’s where he’s listed on the depth chart, bracketed behind sophomore LaDarrell McNeil.
Martinez said he doesn’t have a leader. In fact, he’d like to feel comfortable playing four or five safeties.
“I see (Moore) as a senior, someone with a lot of experience, who’s done a good job,” Martinez said.
Receiver Cody Blanc “won” the first challenge of practice on Saturday, beating cornerback Malik Foreman on a short pass play in the end zone. Why did Jones choose Foreman, a true freshman, to be on center stage at the start of practice?
“It’s a lesson that every time you step on the football field, you’ve got to be ready to play,” he said.
Foreman and fellow corner Cameron Sutton are two of the three freshmen listed on UT’s pre-camp depth chart.
“They look like freshmen, but they run around, they’ve got good attitudes and they’re good kids,” Martinez said. “They want to do well — and may not know everything — but we like them. The athleticism and physical ability is there.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.