KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football coach Butch Jones was taking notes on the first day of spring practice — quite literally, pad and paper, watching over the shoulders of his assistant coaches.
“I’m not only coaching the players, I am coaching the coaching staff and our expectations on the grass and in the meeting rooms,” Jones said after the Vols’ opening spring practice on Tuesday. “What I’ve seen is they have built great relationships with our players, from a trust factor and communications standpoint.”
Fact is, Jones probably doesn’t need to be on the bullhorn as much as in past seasons, a byproduct of him having hiring one of the best staffs in the SEC.
Here are five observations from the first practice
1. Tennessee football QB Battle Royal
Jarrett Guarantano and Quinten Dormady are both strong-armed gifted quarterbacks, but they are very different, and it’s clear the competition between them is intense.
Jones has to determine the direction of his offense before he can start to scheme around either, and he’ll also be taking notes on which quarterback the team responds to the best.
As expected, it was a media swarm with most of the focus going to the quarterback battle, even though Jones has made it clear he’s in no rush to pick a starter.
It will be interesting to see who can handle the moment best. Jones is likely aware that the media attention will serve a purpose of testing the poise and leadership abilities of both quarterbacks.
2. Tennessee football skill positions lacking
Tennessee just doesn’t have the numbers at tailback or receiver, and the tight ends look solid but no better than average from an SEC perspective.
John Kelly is a good tailback, Jauan Jennings is as strong as ever at receiver.
But after that, there are a lot of question marks, and no obvious playmakers.
No amount of strength and conditioning or practice will account for the star power the Vols lost when juniors Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone declared themselves eligible for the upcoming NFL Draft.
Tennessee could really use some help in this area.
3. Tennessee football, different cut
The power lifting techniques new strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson brought with him from the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams are working.
It was obvious looking at Jashon Robertson, whose upper body was more of a triangle than it was last season when he and the other offensive linemen looked out of shape.
The players moved better, quicker and simply looked more like big-time football players. It was that evident.
4. Tennessee football veteran coaching evolution for Jones
Jones could have interjected more at any time during practice , but because he didn’t, players got the benefit of Brady Hoke’s motivational skills, Kevin Beard’s energizing ways and Mike Canales’ firm direction.
There are times that every head coach gets involved, but many of the hall of famers delegate after providing instruction at the meetings and save their voice and energy — so when they do speak, the effect carries more weight.
Jones is a veteran coach with 10 years of FBS experience, and now that he has an all-star staff, he can focus in on the details and not worry about yelling instructions and motivation at every turn.
5. Tennessee football disciplined drills
The music was playing, but the players were warming up — not dancing. Whereas last year’s team had many established veterans and stars, the current Tennessee team has more players looking to prove themselves. Jones and his staff have tightened the screws. There was nothing relaxed or comfortable about the first practice, it was all business.