KNOXVILLE — Tennessee opened fall practice in appropriate fashion Monday afternoon, sweating it out.
The heat index approached 100 degrees on Haslam Field turf as Coach Butch Jones put Team 120 through fast-paced drills in preparation for what many expect to be a championship season.
Jones addressed the media earlier in the day, talking about how there had been an offseason emphasis placed on conditioning, likely mindful of the Vols being outscored 73-72 in the fourth quarter of games last season.
UT fans cringe when recalling how Tennessee failed in the final stanza in gut-wrenching losses to Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama and Arkansas.
• Jones said defensive lineman Shy Tuttle and receiver Jauan Jennings would not be 100 percent, and they appeared limited while wearing green no-contact jerseys.
• Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who told SEC Country last month that he did not know his timetable for return from his shoulder injury, also was wearing a green no-contact jersey.
• Sophomore defensive lineman Austin Smith also was wearing a green no-contact jersey. Jones did not say anything about his injury at Monday’s preseason press conference.
What we know
• Junior college transfer Jonathan Kongbo looked every bit the part of the No. 1 jersey he was wearing. Kongbo looks cut at 6-foot-6 and 282 pounds, and at the very least moves in athletic fashion. Kongbo’s relative lack of experience — he didn’t play football until his senior season of high school — appears to be the only concern.
• Jones said he likes the depth and competition on his offensive line, but of the position units, this appeared the most sluggish and least athletic. Several players appeared powerful and on-point with their steps, but there’s room left for this unit to improve.
• Tennessee’s running backs group could rival the 1998 squad’s — Jamal Lewis, Travis Henry, Travis Stephens — before this season is over with, particularly if Jalen Hurd stays healthy. Hurd, at 6-4, 240, looks every bit as light on his feet as speedy Alvin Kamara (5-10, 215). Newcomer Carlin Fils-Aime is another impressive tailback candidate. Jones said John Kelly will get more work this fall, too.
• For all the talk about Josh Dobbs’ struggles throwing the deep ball, the senior quarterback looked particularly sharp in his throwing drills through the first six periods.
— Jesse Re Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) August 1, 2016
Dobbs also connected with Preston Williams on one of his impressive long throws. Brandon Johnson learned to be ready coming out of the break, as Dobbs delivered a dart on target before Johnson had even turned on his out route.
Quote of the day
“We need to be a much more explosive explosive football team.” — Butch Jones, addressing the media at Monday’s preseason press conference.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for SEC Country and is based in Knoxville.