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March 19, 2013Riyahd Jones doesn't hesitate to admit jitters got the best of him during his first practice in a Tennessee jersey.
But between then, Tennessee's first practice on March 9, and now, after the Vols wrapped up their fifth of 15 spring workouts on Tuesday morning, Jones has shaken off the newcomer nerves and started climbing the depth chart.
Jones, the 6-foot, 186-pound junior college transfer from Garden City Community College (Garden City, Kan.) has spent the majority of Tennessee's first-team defensive snaps at right cornerback.
But he's not ready to call the job his.
"Everyone is getting in the rotation," Jones said Tuesday morning. "It's just competition, you just have to keep doing what you're doing."
Jones was rated by Rivals as a 3-star corner coming out of Carver High School (Columbus, Ga.) in 2011, before going the junior college route.
In December, Jones picked Tennessee over other Southeastern Conference offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Kentucky.
What he's done since getting to Knoxville - and since putting the pads on this spring - has apparently gotten the attention of defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who have him opposite of Justin Coleman at the other corner and Byron Moore and LaDarrell McNeil at the safety spots with the first-team defensive backs.
But what Jones says he's shown the coaches the most is that, despite the wiry frame, he packs a punch.
"That I can be physical," Jones said of what he's tried to prove. "When we first came in we didn't have any pads on, so just being physical and working on my technique.
"I was always a good technique guy, (but) it seems like when spring actually started and I got pads on and everything, my technique went away. So I have to work on maintaining that and getting it back."
Saturday's scrimmage -- which included a 60-yard fumble returned for a touchdown for Jones -- didn't just show him the work he needs to put in, but how opposing offenses will try to go to work on him, too.
"I learned more about offenses," Jones said, "what they're trying to do to me, what they're trying to do to the defense.
"It helps me become a better game type of player, because we don't do a lot of scrimmages, but when we do it helps the defenses get better as a unit."
Jones' situation -- as a new face on the Tennessee roster as a junior transfer -- has left him adapting like other early enrollees, but still trying to take on an upperclassman's leadership role.
"They tell me every single day you have to step up and be a leader, you're not a freshman," Jones said of his coaches. "You're a junior. They drill that into me every single day.
" ... I have to make sure I'm doing everything right, I'm running to the ball, I'm being a leader by example first then step up and be a vocal leader."
All the while, like the rest of the Vols' roster, Jones is still trying to get used to the break-neck pace of a Butch Jones practice.
"It's a lot more intense, a lot faster," Jones said. " It's jut a lot more live. Coach Jones got the offense running the fast-pace offense and the defense gotta be moving like that just to get back to the ball, run to the ball."
The constant competition aspect of the new Tennessee coaching staff's practices include one-one-one defensive back versus wide receiver work, where, like every other drill, there's a winner and a loser.
That's where Jones said he's working the most to get back what he lost when the pads came on.
"I go in everyday and I watch my technique and watch what I'm doing," Jones said. "That's the thing I've got to work on the most, my press technique. It's getting better each and everyday."
As is Jones, making strides from a jittery newcomer to an emerging leader in line for a starting job in a little over a week's worth of spring camp.
"I adjusted pretty well," Jones said. "The first day was just kind of jitters, I mean, I knew what to do. It was just jittery.
"But now, fifth practice in, everything is going good. I just got to work on my technique and I'll be pretty good."