In a rare occurrence, Tennessee coach Butch Jones decided against his usual coach speak after practice on Tuesday.
There was no “brick by brick” or “it’s a process” or anything of the sort. Jones was just unhappy with his team — plain and simple.
“I really have liked the approach all spring, but I didn’t like it today,” Jones said. “I thought we took a step back as a football team. We didn’t show much leadership. We weren’t very physical in practice today, even though it was practice seven. We have to understand that these 15 opportunities are very precious and we only get so many of them.”
Jones said his team was too casual in its approach on Tuesday and that the Vols didn’t live up to his demands.
“There’s a standard,” Jones said. “There’s an expectation. It was not up to our expectation and it was not up to our standard.”
For the second time in a week, there was more bad news on the injury front as redshirt freshman quarterback Sheriron Jones was ruled out for the remainder of spring practice. Butch Jones said Sheriron should be back by early June, but he’ll miss some important time as he tries to develop his game. Linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Dillon Bates were ruled out of spring practice last week.
Sheriron Jones already missed some offseason work when he transferred to Colorado in January, but returned to the Vols thanks to an obscure rule that allows players to return to their original school as long as they return within two weeks. Butch Jones seems to have no hard feelings about the temporary transfer.
“He embodies what this program stands for,” Jones said. “Here’s a young man that made that decision, then decided to come back to his family. He understands what it means to play here. He understands what’s expected in our football program and all he does is work. He’s a young man who after every practice comes up and says, ‘Thank you coach. Love you.’”
The Vols were also without their starting quarterback. Senior Joshua Dobbs was receiving a leadership award in Atlanta and missed practice on Tuesday.
However, it was the players on the field that Jones wasn’t happy with. He said his Vols have a chance to return with a better attitude on Thursday if they can learn from their lackluster performance on Tuesday.
“That’s where you rely on your maturity,” Jones said. “We can learn a lot from it.”
Jones said Tennessee’s offense won the scrimmage on Saturday, meaning the offensive players were allowed to wear smokey gray helmets and orange jerseys. That was a bit of a surprise as several Tennessee defensive players said they thought they won Saturday’s scrimmage. Senior cornerback Cameron Sutton intercepted a pass, but Jones said the offense fought back.
“It was very, very competitive,” Jones said. “It came down to the final plays.”
Despite being without a handful of projected starters throughout spring camp, Tennessee’s offensive line looks formidable. That wouldn’t have been the case just a couple of years ago. Junior Brett Kendrick has given the Vols more versatility than in recent memory.
“That’s the great thing about Brett, he can play a number of spots,” Jones said. “He can play both guard positions. He can play both tackle positions. We’re even trying to get him some reps at center. It really just comes down to finding the best five, the best six, the best seven.”
Redshirt freshman Drew Richmond has also helped fill out the offensive line. Now at left tackle, he has been surprisingly solid while transitioning from right tackle, where he has played most of his career.
“Drew has been very driven,” Jones said. “Drew continues to progress. I’ve been very pleased with him. I think it’s the maturity of him understanding ‘Snap and clear.’ If you make a mistake, make a mistake at a million miles an hour. Go to the next play and don’t let that one snap beat you. Drew has done a much better job with that.”
Jones said Richmond is stronger than when he arrived on campus, but still needs to add more strength.
“He has the athleticism and he definitely has the ability,” Jones said. “I’ve definitely been happy with his progress.”
While the offensive line looks more fortified, Jones is ready to address the defensive line.
“We need to get to a point in the defensive line like we are in the offensive line,” Jones said. “That’s recruiting over a long period of time.”
To a large extent, that relies on sophomore Kahlil McKenzie. Jones said McKenzie is growing mentally after he reminded reporters that McKenzie didn’t play his senior season in high school because of a transfer rule and was hurt for 10 to 15 days in training camp last season.
“Really, that mental endurance,” Jones said when asked how McKenzie needed to improve. “That’s probably the biggest thing with young players is that mental endurance.”
Jones was specifically talking about McKenzie. However, he easily could have been talking about most of the Vols after a lackluster practice on Tuesday.