Marques Pair will be entering his fourth season at Tennessee next season, but the offensive lineman has played in only briefly in one game since arriving from Sumter, S.C.
Such are the grim prospects for an offensive lineman buried on the depth chart.
So it was a mild surprise to see Pair working with the first-team line in Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
Pair was subbing for the injured Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, whose contact work is being limited this spring. Even so, Pair’s move to the front five indicates his work during the last three months hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“I said, ‘Show your sign of commitment by how much weight you’re losing and by doing what you’re instructed to do with (strength coach Dave) Lawson,’ ” said Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney. “He’s done that. He’s all-in. He’s having a heck of a semester academically. I said, ‘We’re a new staff. You’re starting from ground zero. I don’t care what’s happened in the past. I just want to coach you and get the best of out of you.”
Pair said he’s dropped about 15 pounds, to 329, and would like to lose about 15 more. He said he feels quicker on his feet and feels less pressure on his joints.
“All the conditioning we’ve been doing in the offseason has helped so much,” Pair said.
But he’s also embraced the chance for another new start with a new coaching staff.
“(This spring) is important to me,” Pair said. “I just have take it step by step, be coachable and watch film as much as possible.”
Aside from Pair, there were few other notable depth chart details gleaned from Saturday. With only a few days of practice under the new staff, the depth chart — to the extent it even exists — is likely to change frequently.
In what is expected to be the only competitive offensive line battle of camp, Alex Bullard got the nod at first-team guard while Marcus Jackson worked with the second group.
Mack Crowder, Kyler Kerbyson, Alan Posey and walk-on Jacob Gilliam joined Jackson on the second-team unit.
The defense shuffled players in frequently, but it appeared defensive backs Riyahd Jones, Byron Moore, Justin Coleman, LaDarrell McNeil and Jaron Toney got most of the first-team reps, along with linebackers A.J. Johnson and Brent Brewer.
Senior nickelback Eric Gordon has been limited by injuries this spring, but he wasn’t even in the stadium Saturday. GoVols247, a News Sentinel partner, reported that Gordon was attending to personal family issues in Nashville.
Butch Jones invited family members of current players to campus to watch the scrimmage and enjoy a post-practice barbecue lunch at the football complex.
After practice, family members took photos on the field with their sons and talked to position coaches.
The weather was picture-perfect at Neyland — a balmy 65 degrees and warm sunshine. But wind gusts of perhaps 30 mph or more played havoc with both the passing and kicking games.
Kicking and punting into the wind was all but impossible, and Michael Palardy and George Bullock both were well short on field-goal attempts.
With the wind at their backs, kickers fared much better. Palardy, Bullock and Ryan Ault all hit from about 42 yards while Derrick Brodus missed from that distance. Then, Palardy nailed a high-pressure 47-yarder that briefly tied the game for the offense.
“That’s why we did the kicking at the end of the scrimmage,” Jones said. “I have to find out who our field-goal kicker is, who’s going to be able to get points for us under pressure.”
Quarterback Tyler Bray, tight end Mychal Rivera and other members of UT’s 2012 team watched the scrimmage from the sidelines. UT’s pro day is Wednesday and all of UT’s outgoing seniors pursuing pro football, as well as all the early entrants, are expected to attend.
Defensive lineman Maurice Couch, tight end Justin Meredith and defensive back Tino Thomas were in non-contact jerseys.