KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A large chunk of Tennessee’s identity was back in place Monday when Evan Barry, the nation’s most dangerous kick return man, returned to the field.
The boost was evident in the second period of practice when the electrical player took his first return in several days back past the scout team kick team, speeding toward the end zone before the whistle sounded early and coach Butch Jones’ voice boomed on the field mic.
Jones’ message is not reportable by UT practice rules for the media, but suffice it to say the head coach was pleased.
After all, elite special teams play is what Jones said is part of his coaching formula.
“You’re always looking for your edge when you become a head coach, it’s your formula for winning football games,” Jones said earlier this fall.
“Special teams is a third of the game, and I’ve had a number of people tell me if it’s a third of the game, why don’t you practice a third of the time, and I think it defines your football program.”
Jones took it another step and said that he expects several freshmen to contribute on special teams this season, and that playing on those units is key to individual development and team chemistry.
“We talk about I.R.U. — Indisputable Role Understanding — everyone owning their role no matter what it is, and to me special teams defines the makeup, the chemistry,” Jones said. “It’s people understanding their roles in your football program, and I think they are game changers.
“They could impact the game at any point and time.”
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee football for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.