KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Stumble onto a Tennessee Volunteers football practice, and oftentimes immediately you’ll notice a number of notable veterans are missing.
Fear not Rocky Top, it’s all part of Butch Jones’ plan.
Jones finally has an experienced roster, so he’s treating Team120 much differently than his teams in years past. As star defensive end Derek Barnett said earlier this month, “He just lets us run the team now. He trusts us because we’re older.”
Throughout the preseason, Jones has emphasized rest and recovery, and considering UT’s newfound depth in 2016, he’s managed many of his most indispensable players’ workload.
Expectations may be the big buzzword in Knoxville, but “maintenance days” suddenly are quite popular, too.
“He has a lot more trust in us,” said senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who has practiced in a green, non-contact jersey all camp as he continues to recover from a torn labrum sustained in the spring.
“It’s camp, so it’s still a grind. Guys are always going to be sore, but I think we’ve done a great job taking care of ourselves. Recovery after practice, even in the weight room, through all of camp, it’s kept guys fresh.”
Star tailback Jalen Hurd, who mostly has practiced in a green jersey, has received several days off. Barnett, standout sophomore linebacker Darrin Kirkland, end Cory Vereen and others have, too.
It’s all part of Jones’ effort to keep his team healthy and fresh heading into a pivotal 2016 season. Tennessee has practiced a bunch in just shells — shorts, shoulder pads and helmets — with Maybin saying, “He trusts us to get our work done. We don’t have to be in full pads everyday to keep our mental focus up. We still get quality practices in, no matter what we’re in: vests, pads, shells. I think that’s trust.”
Last training camp, Tennessee was decimated by preseason injuries, but right tackle Chance Hall has been the Vols lone loss in 2016.
Jones has praised his veteran team’s practice etiquette, while players have talked about an open line of communication eliciting such trust.
“We’ve been here with him long enough and he knows how our bodies feel,” redshirt junior right tackle Brett Kendrick said.
“He trusts us to let him know how our bodies are feeling, so if we’re a little banged up, we might go shells instead of full pads. But he also trusts us that when we put on full pads, that we’re ready to go. Ready to bang.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com