KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football enters the final week of its spring drills looking to polish and put the finishing touch on what has been a productive session.
The Vols, like most other teams, have plenty of room for improvement — so now it soon will be a matter of which teams are more productive and diligent in their voluntary workouts in June and July.
Tennessee will need to do a better job with that, as well as in the weight room, than it did in the summer months a year ago to maintain its momentum.
For all the moaning and groaning in the fan base, the Vols are second only to Alabama in the SEC when it comes to most wins over the past 19 games (15).
Here are 5 observations from spring drills leading up to the annual Orange and White game this Saturday at Neyland Stadium:
1. New-look offense
Coach Butch Jones has said the base of his modified spread attack will remain the same, but we’ve seen more quarterbacks going under center taking snaps in drills, and more vertical routes than a season ago.
Of course, some of that may be experimentation with new offensive coordinator Larry Scott and quarterbacks coach Mike Canales now the brain center of the operation.
2. Injuries add up
The Vols opened spring drills missing 6-8 projected starters, either because of injuries suffered last season, or offseason surgeries.
A handful more of projected starters have been sidelined this spring, but none with injuries that are expected to prevent them from being ready for the Sept. 4 opener vs. Georgia Tech at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium: SS Todd Kelly Jr. (ankle), RB John Kelly (ankle), CB Emmanuel Moseley (shoulder), DE Jonathan Kongbo (knee).
3. No green jerseys
Jones has applauded how the injured players have attended meetings and gone through the parts of practice they are capable of doing.
Several of the players out had offseason shoulder surgeries, but you still see them on the practice field running sprints or doing non-contact drills.
And you see them all wearing orange and white jerseys — the green jersey that was often abused last season, appears to be a thing of the past for some players, at least.
Shy Tuttle, John Kelly, Kahlil McKenzie and Darrin Kirkland Jr. were all spied without shoulder pads and skipping contact drills — but wearing the same orange or white colored jerseys worn by teammates.
4. QB control
The addition of Canales as QB coach has made a difference, as his instructions are loud and authoritative, and the QB group as a whole moves faster and with more purpose from one drill to the next.
Quinten Dormady goes through the drills first, followed by Jarrett Guarantano. Both quarterbacks have shown good footwork and accurate arms, but the portions of practice where there is live scrimmaging and on-the-fly adjustments have been closed.
Dormady, many insiders suggest, has managed the offense better and been more efficient in the scrimmage situations — as one would expect from a junior when compared to a redshirt freshman at this stage.
It’s almost cliche, but the fact is this Tennessee football team appears more united than a season ago. That’s likely a carryover from great improvement in the weight room under Rock Gullicksen’s direction.
The Vols don’t have the same margin for error they enjoyed a year ago — Josh Dobbs isn’t going to be there to bail out the team, nor will playmakers Alvin Kamara or Josh Malone.
New names and faces must emerge, and the team must be stronger and better drilled as a whole to compete for the SEC East Division title against what’s arguably the most difficult schedule in the league.