March 9, 2013
Vols see past but race forward on Day 1
Tempo might have been the day's overriding buzz-word Saturday when Tennessee left Haslam Field following its inaugural practice of the Butch Jones Era, but it hardly could be considered the only relevant term.
Yes, the Vols moved at a persistent pace, charged with sprinting from drill to drill. But they did so with more than 30 former players crowding the sidelines, music oftentimes blaring through the speakers when instructions weren't being boomed across the field via portable microphones.
They did so as part of Day 1 for Team 117.
"I think it was a typical first day of practice. I thought our players were eager," Jones said before in throng of reporters and just before meeting with some 60 prospects inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. "I thought you could feel the energy. But we have a lot of work to do. It's been 105 days since Tennessee has played football and I think it showed a little bit. On top of it, and I didn't mention this in my press conference before, we're taking the approach of this football team is down 15 practices because eight of our 12 opponents that we play next year had those extra 15 practices with bowl practices. Every single rep counts, every single practice counts but I liked our energy. But again now we have to come back and we have to improve on today and we have to have an even better practice on Tuesday."
Senior tailback Rajion Neal could feel more than energy. Consistently among the Vols' fastest and strongest players, Neal felt
"Honestly, I wasn't surprised because we actually went through a walk-through of the practice and they gave us fair warning," Neal explained. "It wasn't like I was going to die, but I was like 'You know what? We need to get right.'"
Senior defensive lineman Daniel Hood pointed to the way that Jones has embraced the Vols' heritage and to the former players on the sideline, as well as the focus of looking forward and not in the rearview mirror, as to what helped designate this first day as different from any of his previous experiences.
"I'm not going to lie, my favorite thing is (Jones) is making everyone understand the magnitude of Tennessee football. I feel like that's been kind of lost," Hood said. "Today at practice, we had 30-some former Vols come up. I can't remember that many in my previous three years. It's pretty cool getting to see Jamal Lewis, Leonard Little, coach Majors out there.
"It's good, because we left the season with kind of a bitter taste in our mouth. But that was Team 116 last year, and this is Team 117 this year. To develop that brand and achieve something different, it was nice today. "
Like Neal, Hood also pointed to the tempo at all times and not simply while Tennessee ran its offensive and defensive sets.
"It's not really as much during the drills. It's in-between," Hood said. "Last year you could kind of get a half-jog between drills. This year, if you don't sprint then you know your coach is going to call you out. It's little things like that, but it's the little things that help you win."
Jones pointed to the little things --- he said he tested his assistant coaches to know the names of all players in order to not require helmet labels --- as helping promote a family buying in together for one goal.
"It's done on purpose. We're a family, and we expect them to know everyone's names and us as coaches need to know their names," Jones said. "You know we came out here and a lot of times in coaching changes you see the names on the front and back of the helmets. We know our players. And that's been a standard and expectation in our program.
"We do, we take name tests just like our players take name tests. And that's big and that's part of really getting to know our players."
Jones also shared that he has implored each player to know the previous Vols "greats" who have donned their jersey numbers in the past. While Neal said he hasn't specifically brushed up on his number 20, he did point to the Vols' tradition of tailbacks.
"We've done it by our Olympic teams. I'm pretty familiar with some of the guys. It's an honor man, from Travis Stephens to Jamal Lewis. A bunch of great backs here," Neal said. "I wouldn't even consider just the guys wearing my number. It's kind of a position and pride thing.
"(Lewis) came and spoke to all of the guys (Saturday morning). Gave us a little word of encouragement and gave us some ins and outs of what he went through at this level and the next level. When you can get like little snippets and cheat codes like that, why not take it all in?"
Now, there is actual practice film with actual footballs for the Vols to take in for improvements. Jones insisted that's the key moving forward.
"I thought our players really tried. They looked like they had (a) practice before, (they knew) where to go. I thought the practice was efficient that way," Jones said. "I think our assistant coaches have done a great job of preparing our players.
"We have to be able to throw the ball better, obviously. Pitch and catch, the small details. You can only do so much in helmets. And we do, we have a lot of work to do. I like the way the players have embraced our coaching, the way they've embraced our expectations for practice and taking the field."
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