KNOXVILLE – It’s never easy to come back to work after a long break.
And that’s even more true on the football field, where spring break might’ve meant no official practice for Tennessee’s players for the last week, but the expectations for their physical and mental conditioning didn’t change.
“In terms of practice today, we spoke prior to leaving for spring break that I thought the maturity of our football team would show coming back,” Jones said after UT’s practice on Tuesday afternoon. “Overall, I did like our mental approach.
“But also, it was very glaring, some individuals are more mature than others. Some individuals prepared more than some individuals coming back. But I thought it was very, very productive practice. Probably our most physical practice of spring so far since we’ve been back, but long, long way to go.”
The players reconvened on Sunday, had some meetings on Monday and hit the field in full pads on Tuesday. Jones was active on the microphone during the open portion of practice, calling out players who were loafing and telling the defense that it looked like it was going through a walk-through at times.
"He was hard on us, especially after the last scrimmage,” said defensive end Jordan Williams. “I feel like the biggest thing we needed to work on was our effort and our focus and I feel like today, that's what I was focused on the most and I feel like we definitely improved on it."
Retention was key as well. With 14 newcomers and many other veterans stepping into expanded roles, the coaching staff threw a lot of information at the team in the first five practices.
“Big thing I wanted to see was retention.” Jones added. “How did we retain the information we had in the first five (practices), and I thought for the most part our players did a very good job of the retention. Now, again, it’s the small details that it takes.”
Malone steps up: A lot of the early practice buzz has been about receiver Von Pearson, but incoming freshman Josh Malone, a five-star prospect himself, earned Jones’ praise on Tuesday.
“One individual I thought today really looked fast, and is really starting to play with a lot of confidence right now is Josh Malone,” Jones said. “He’s coming off the football, he’s playing with a lot of confidence and you can see the speed, burst and acceleration that we saw on film when we were recruiting him. We’re starting to see that now on the practice field.”
• Out: WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, TE Brendan Downs, TE A.J. Branisel, S Brian Randolph, WR Drae Bowles, DT Jason Carr
• Limited: RB Marlin Lane
• After sustaining a wrist injury right before spring break, running back Marlin Lane was back on the field, albeit with a soft cast on his left wrist area. He wasn’t in a non-contact jersey, but he was clearly somewhat limited. He didn’t catch any passes or take any significant contact during the open portion of practice and it’s doubtful that he’ll do either of those things too soon. "He’ll be limited, we have to be smart, but to have him back was a bonus," Jones said.
• Quarterback Riley Ferguson continues to show really good zip on his passes. From a pure arm-strength perspective, he’s standing out from the other QBs at this point.
• Curt Maggitt, normally a linebacker, has been getting some work as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations.
• With unusually wintery conditions in Knoxville on Tuesday afternoon and snow falling outside, the Vols practiced in their indoor facility.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga