- Butch Jones on the Vols first spring practice
- Jacob Carter on the Vols first spring practice
- Devrin Young on the Vols first spring practice
- Nathan Peterman on the Vols first day of spring practice
- HIghlights from the Vols' first spring practice
- Brent Brewer on the Vols first spring practice
- Daniel McCullers on the Vols first spring practice
- Daniel Hood on the Vols first spring practice
- Jacques Smith on the Vols first day of spring practice
- James Stone on the Vols first day of spring practice
On Saturday, about halfway through the Vols’ first practice of the spring season, Jones took the mic and shouted over the loudspeaker: “COME ON, Coach Martinez! We’re waiting for you!”
As you might expect, secondary coach Willie Martinez and his players came charging across the practice field to report for receiver-defensive back drills.
That’s the Butch Jones practice atmosphere in a nutshell: A bit of levity mixed with a lot of intensity. In one moment, receivers coach Zach Azzanni might be chewing out a player for poor technique. In the next moment, as players run to a new station, the loudspeakers
might be blaring out 1976 soul/disco hit “Car Wash.”
“I think it was a typical first day of practice,” Jones said.
For Jones and his staff, perhaps it was. But for Tennessee’s current players — and the several dozen former Vols who watched from the sidelines — the first day was a time to adjust to new expectations and a new style.
“In our workouts in the winter, this staff always emphasized energy and always being up from start to finish,” said redshirt freshman defensive end LaTroy Lewis. “You could see that from when we first got out there that everybody was up and it was high-energy.”
Jones told players that there was little time to waste. It had been 105 days since the Vols last played football — the season-ending win against Kentucky on Nov. 24, 2012 — and UT was already behind other teams that had been able to conduct postseason bowl practices.
“Every single rep counts; every single practice counts,” Jones said.
Dozens of former players were on the sidelines, including Erik Ainge, Leonard Little, Xavier Mitchell, Jamal Lewis and Johnny Majors.
Vol For Life coordinator Antone Davis ran the show, getting credentials to visitors and introducing players.
Jones said Davis prepares a packet — “Who’s in town next” — for players and staff members that lists the accomplishments of visiting alumni. Jones also said he also requires his players to learn the history of their number and the players before them who wore it.
“(Former players) are the program,” Jones said. “I tell them, ‘That logo never comes off.’ ”
Media access also was unusually generous. Reporters were able to watch roughly 90 minutes of practice, far more than at any time last year.
Rosters were essential for those watching from the sidelines, as none of UT’s players had their names written on their jerseys or helmets. Jones said that’s to challenge teammates — and coaches — to learn each player’s name without using the helmet to cheat.
Jones said he gives his assistants “name tests” just like he does his players.
“There’s something about knowing an individual’s name and showing you care,” Jones said. “If we’re going to be a family, if we are going to be a team that is bonded by chemistry, that’s important.”
Since his hiring, Jones has used weather metaphor to describe the turbulent last few years of Tennessee football.
“It’s like a storm,” he said not longer after being hired, “and the storm has passed.”
The metaphor worked well this week, which began with ice and snow which gave way to sunny skies and mild temperatures for the first practice on Saturday. Most assistant coaches were in shorts.
Jones roamed the field, observing and occasionally offering suggestions at each position. A former receivers coach, he looked most at home working with the young group of receivers, although he even made time for the punters and specialists.
“I like the way our players have embraced our coaching,” Jones said “I like the way they have embraced the expectations for practice. Teams that have great leadership, they coach each other. I saw that.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.