Vols practice on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013
After four consecutive days of practice, Tennessee players might be exhausted, but they certainly aren’t bored.
First-year UT coach Butch Jones has ensured that lethargy won’t set in.
On Monday, he scrapped what players thought were the normal practice plans and called for 11-on-11 team drills. In essence, it was an impromptu scrimmage at the start of practice.
“I don’t believe in being a creature of habit,” Jones said afterward. “You have to change things up. It’s our job as coaches to stimulate our players.”
Consider the players stimulated.
Because the scrimmage work came during the portion of practice open to the media, it also offered a glimpse of the Vols’ depth chart a few days into camp.
The biggest surprise? Not only had freshman receiver Marquez North pushed his way onto the first team, but fellow true freshman and CAK graduate Josh Smith joined him there as well.
The depth chart is fluid and could change again today, but the moves indicate that coaches weren’t kidding when they said that new receivers who made an impact in camp could push for jobs immediately.
I’m extremely encouraged, I’m not surprised,” Jones said. “When we recruited them, we thought they all had great ability.”
But Jones said the Vols are still in the easy part of camp, and he’ll be watching to see how they respond to more surprises like Monday.
“Now the volume increases, the mental grind. Everything goes up each day,” Jones said. “It’s a cumulative effect ... Some individuals will continue to improve and improve, and others will taper off.”
There was no change in the quarterback pecking order, as junior Justin Worley worked with the ones, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman worked with the twos and freshmen Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs split time with the third team.
Unlike the receivers, the freshmen quarterbacks looked much more like ... freshmen. They were burdened by playing with the third-team offense, instead of the first-team unit, but Ferguson threw a gift-wrapped interception to Tino Thomas, and Dobbs muffed a shotgun snap during their brief appearances in the media viewing window.
“We’ve tried to throw a lot at them to see how they will handle the pressure,” Jones said. “They both have great command presence. The game’s moving fast for them, but I’ve been encouraged by both quarterbacks. But they have to minimize the mental mistakes. It’s taking the classroom to the field and making quick snap decisions while taking care of the football.”
Despite the two prominent freshman miscues, Peterman said there were actually a lot fewer balls on the ground — from drops, fumbles or assorted mistakes — than there were earlier in camp.
“A competition like this is bringing out the best in everybody,” he said.
Jones said that’s the idea. Now he’s watching to see who will thrive and who will wither.
“These are the days you get better as a team when you push through and keep grinding,” he said. “Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not. Are we better than we were in the spring? Absolutely. Are we better after Practice 4 than we were after Practice 1? Yes.”
And if all the depth-chart shuffling seems rash or premature, Jones has a reminder that the first game is just around the corner.
We don’t have time,” Jones said. “Time is critical. The hourglass is turned over. That’s the sense of urgency that our players need to have.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Tennesseebeat.