To a street-clothes, sideline observer, the subtleties of a football practice are hard to fathom.
You don’t know enough to read between the lines. You won’t be around later when the coaches grade the videotape.
That’s not so much a problem at a Butch Jones practice.
As the team spread around Tennessee’s indoor practice field Tuesday morning for Period 11, the receivers and defensive backs lined up for a one-on-one drill.
There was nothing subtle about it.
“Orta versus Howard,’’ blared the microphone.
The ringmaster? Jones himself. Everyone in the building now knew that defensive back Gerald Orta was matched against receiver Alton “Pig” Howard.
The quarterback threw, Howard juked and caught the pass.
“Point offense, A. Howard,’’ blared the ringmaster.
Drae Bowles caught a deep ball. “Point offense.’’
Cornerback Justin Coleman won a battle. “Point Coleman.’’
“He’s just promoting competition,’’ said safety Byron Moore. “Every rep counts. That’s what he preaches to us.’’
Literally, every rep counts. Somebody’s keeping score. At the end of the day, either the offense or the defense will be a winner. Their prize is the right to wear orange jerseys at the next practice.
“You want to give the utmost every play,’’ said center James Stone, clad in white. “That’s what this football team needs.’’
Tuesday was the fifth of 15 spring practices to launch the Jones era. The defense wore orange, taking the prize away from the offense based on a narrow victory over the offense in Saturday’s situational scrimmage.
To say the 45-year-old Jones is a dynamo is an understatement. Assistant equipment manager Allen Sitzler kept the microphone handy so the new boss could amplify his message.
“It’s a mindset,’’ Jones said afterward. “You have to condition the mind to play the way we want to play and it all starts in practice.’’
When Bowles caught a pass he was electronically admonished for not running his route all the way to the end zone:
“In the end zone, thank you. Habits. Good habits, bad habits. Winning football.’’
When the defense swarmed to a tackle, Jones broke in:
“When you run to the ball the defense gets rewarded,’’ he announced. “The quarterback is live for the next three plays.’’
Later, senior defensive lineman Marlon Walls said that was unprecedented during his practice career.
“I think the quarterbacks got a little shocked,’’ said Walls, “(but) it energized practice a little bit.’’
Jones spreads the shock treatment equitably.
“He was sticking his finger in my ear hole today,’’ said kicker Michael
“He’s trying to distract me. He’ll slap my helmet, call me different names. It’s funny but it’s good. ’’
Someone asked Moore if he had ever experienced practices like this before. He had, in fact, at Southern Cal in 2009 when he was a freshman for then-coach Pete Carroll.
“That’s what we were used to,’’ Moore said. “Sidelines packed, lots of energy. ... It promotes competition because nobody wants to get embarrassed with people out there.’’
Competition on every rep.
“I told the offense to get their picture taken in the orange jersey Saturday,’’ Moore said with a laugh, “because it’s gonna be the last time they wear’ em for the spring.’’
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.