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August 19, 2014
Taking no days for granted
It's not game day that Pig Howard will have a greater appreciation for come Aug. 31 and the season-opener against Utah State. That's too far ahead, taking too much before then for granted.
Instead, after being away from the program for the entirety of spring camp and having to earn his way back onto the roster over the summer, Howard has appreciated the grueling minutiae of training camp - everything from meetings to workouts to two-a-days.
"I appreciate being here as far as camp and during offseason workouts," Howard said Monday. "But most importantly, looking forward to the season. Any player would.
"I'm kind of not really too focused on the past. I'm just looking forward to taking it one day at a time and taking care of Utah (State)."
Howard earned his way back onto the team by meeting a set of standards set by the Vols' player-staff, a group of veterans that self-govern the roster.
"Some of those player-staff meetings were very, very intense," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said last week. "They laid out a structure. They laid out a plan that he had to adhere to and we held him accountable."
Having gone through that, and survived to see another football season in orange, Howard talks like a player who's a year older, a year wiser and a year more confident.
"At the end of the day, we're a young team," he said. "But we've got veterans as well. We're a player-coached team, being that we've been in this offense for a year.
"We're just looking forward to going out there, making plays and putting our resume on film."
In Year 1 under receivers coach Zach Azzanni, Howard led the Vols with 44 receptions in 11 games and was second on the team in receiving yards with 388, behind on Marquez North, who had 496.
After the more appreciative August he's had, Howard talked Monday like those numbers will go up in 2014.
"Camp has been great," he said. "I feel like I improved greatly as a leader, picking up on defense and making plays, learning the inside and outside position. Overall, I think it went well."
Howard said his biggest improvements through camp have been "attacking the deep balls, learning all the positions ... just the main things."
"His work ethic has been unbelievable," Azzanni said of Howard early in camp. "His mentality has been unbelievable. His play has been unbelievable.
"He's like a different player from last year just as far as now he knows what I expect."
According to the head coach, Howard's transformation has been a product of his own work.
"It's starts with yourself," Jones said. "Football is a lifestyle. It's a dedication game. How much are you going to dedicate yourself to being the best football player you can be. There are no off-days.
"You have to think it. You have to live it. You have to be a part of it everyday."
Having worked his way back into that lifestyle, Howard is back in an offense that he's not afraid to admit is ready to take off.
"Our center is the gas pedal in our offense," Howard said. "When he lines up, he sets the tempo for us all - calling out reads, the hot routes. In general, I think all around, all of us have a better sense of urgency of what's going on."
Including the revamped wide receiver group.
"We have more depth, more playmakers, you can move players around," said Howard, adding that he can play any receiver position on the field. "I think we have more talent all around."
When game day finally gets here, Howard was asked Monday, which corner does he look forward to going against the most?
"All of them," he said. "I mean, I'm a competitor and I'm looking forward to going to war with all of them."