If there are moments Saturday when Tennessee officially opens the Butch Jones Era with its first spring practice on Haslam Field where the Vols are running in place, do not fret.
It simply is part of where Jones is trying to get the Vols to go, and remaining in constant motion will be a constant theme of what certainly should be a constantly entertaining camp. It won't be wasted effort.
It will be adapting to a tempo that Jones has touted since he was hired Dec. 7, 2012, to replace the fired Derek Dooley.
Yet Jones set the foundation for this mindset throughout his spring camp. He got players to embrace his "Team 117" moniker. He divided the team with the Volympics in order to get them to conquer one another and unite in the process.
Jones has, without fail, stressed competition in everything. Junior quarterback Justin Worley, whose position battle throughout the next six weeks with redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman will dominate storylines, nonetheless didn't hesitate to forecast the benefits of Jones' approach.
The Vols cannot win in late-August, September or even October for the first time in SEC play since 2009 without first "winning the day," as Jones has implored of his charges in spring.
"He's really talked about short-term goals, and winning day-to-day really touches on that," Worley said. "If you can compound winning a day one time, two times, three times in a row, it starts building and you start learning from that. Hopefully that learning from winning one day will turn into winning games and winning weeks and rivalries and different things like that."
Known for barking into his microphone, Jones also amplifies the practice-field intensity to extreme levels as well. Sure, Jones admits he must balance pushing his team with managing his squad, both mentally and physically, but he also is placing a scoreboard on the practice field.
Everything is graded. Everything is a competition. And, as Worley noted, no one is safe.
Which the players seem to understand, if not downright appreciate. The offensive line that boasts so much talent and so many returning starters? They were charged with losing weight, learning to play faster and not relying on their previous experiences.
Players, Jones said, turned out in record fashion for offseason workouts and meetings, none of them showing up late according to UT's fifth head coach since '08.
"When we play football, there should be a passion about it and an energy there that you can feel on the practice field. But I think our goal and our challenge is that everyone is going to be excited for (Saturday), but where are we at in our leadership that at practice number nine, 10, 11 and the other thing is our overall depth. Everyone wants to crown our offensive line, but they haven't done anything yet in my opinion," Jones said matter-of-factly during his 30-minute session Friday with reporters. "All we've seen is them running around in shorts. We've had a lot of individuals lose weight and they've done that. They're extremely prideful and competitive, but I want to know who our number six is, who our number seven is. That's more of the storyline than anything --- that we have to identify as coaches, is our overall depth in all three phases."
The offseason phase, Jones said, has been a rousing success.
"Our players have been outstanding," he gushed. "They have done anything and everything that we have asked them. We've challenged them in the classroom, the weight room, in skill development and they've done a great job. Now, this is the next phase in spring football and it's going to be challenging. We have to get tougher as a football team. There are a lot of things that have to happen to make great strides and it starts at practice one. There's not a lot we can do now without pads. Football was meant to be played in pads, but I met with our seniors yesterday and they've been outstanding. We haven't had anyone late to meetings or workouts and to me, that's commitment. And it's also just keeping each other accountable, which is what we've done with the Vol Olympics."
That competition, along with the way Jones has promoted team unity, perhaps is best exemplified by senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who has started every game of his collegiate career and could have justifiably opted to test his wares for the NFL rather than transition to a new coach and system for one season.
Instead, James lost weight. Bought in. Embraced the process of being a true shareholder in Team 117, something about which Jones reminded his seniors during a Thursday meeting.
"(Jones) definitely encouraged us to lead, and he was just letting us know that we were important," James said. "The seniors are important for getting Tennessee back to the standard it's supposed to be. We just need to grab the young guys and pull them along. If we see something that's not right, we've just got to correct it and really take ownership of it.
"It helped a lot. It made it fun, in a way. And as captains, he wants us to be leaders. He's saying you can't lead a whole team if you can't lead a group of 10 guys. I feel like he's doing a good job of getting us prepared to be some of the leaders on the team who can really step up."
Jones may be directing his efforts with the season's chances in mind, but he's first forming judgments on this team through its 15 spring practices.
"I think that we're a hungry football team. At the end of the day, it comes down to leadership and your senior class. I've never been a part of a successful football team that didn't have a strong senior class," Jones said. "The hourglass is turned over for them. They have 12 opportunities left and we're working for 13 and then 14. So every opportunity is critical. I think it's a byproduct of leadership and expectations. What I've seen from this football team is that we want to win, but we have to learn how to win."
Sometimes, that even means running in place.
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