KNOXVILLE — It’s early fall camp, the pads don’t go on until Saturday and the season-opening game is still four weeks away.
But when a team is aiming for a championship like Tennessee is, the focus is in the details, and Coach Butch Jones has said as much.
Jones said Monday night that Tuesday would be an important practice, as the Vols looked to shake the rust and make corrections.
The defense appeared on point, but the offense appears to lack symmetry.
A sluggish offensive line on Monday gave way to inconsistency between the quarterbacks and receivers through the first five periods on Tuesday.
Here are 5 “way-too-early” observations from Tennessee’s first two practices:
1. Jonathan Kongbo
OK, so maybe it’s not too early to state the obvious with this 6-toot-6, 270-pound junior college defensive line transfer. Kongbo looks the part, so far earning praise from defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and cornerstone end Derek Barnett. Even Jones will give up on tempering expectations before too much longer.
2. Enigmatic receivers
There’s probably a simple solution for Tennessee to improve the consistency of play from the receivers — shrink the rotation. Instead of playing eight or nine in a game, make it six, and then watch how much more the players are concentrating on their catches and routes. The talent is there, it’s a long, fleet group to be sure. There’s no excuse for drops. It’s a sign of a lack of concentration and focus.
3. Coaching intensity
The coaches sound pretty aggressive on the field, though media rules prohibit media from reporting exactly what’s being said. It’s safe to say Jones’ staff is setting high expectations and making their demands known. Again, the best way to send that message will be playing time.
4. Special teams emphasis
There’s a reason Tennessee had the No. 1 overall special teams units in the nation last season, and the reason is preparation and priority. Jones deserves credit for making that happen, as other programs don’t put the time or effort into special teams preparations that the Vols’ staff clearly does.
5. Smooth operations
The Tennessee players fly around the drills, quickly transitioning from one period to another. It’s clear that Jones, entering his fourth season as the Vols head coach, has his program in order. It appears the team’s level of success will be determined by how well the players hold one another accountable for performance, improvement and focus moving forward.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee football for SEC Country and is based in Knoxville.