ATLANTA --- For Tennessee coach Butch Jones, the remainder of the Volunteers' 2014 signing class cannot soon enough arrive on Rocky Top.
The Vols could welcome as many as 18 additional players later this month to campus in addition to their 14 mid-term enrollees, many of whom exited spring camp firmly entrenched in Tennessee's starting lineup or two-deep.
[rl]"Very excited. I wish they were here tomorrow," Jones said. "We have a lot of work to do. It's going to be critical that we get acclimated; that they get acclimated to being a college student-athlete. Taking the six credit hours in the summer, but also the strength and conditioning. Like we've talked about for the last couple of months; it's going to be a balancing act between the film study and getting them bigger, faster, stronger to compete at this level.
"This is a critical summer for us, but I know everyone is looking forward to it."
Preparing to launch UT athletics' annual spring caravan at the Park Tavern in Atlanta, Jones addressed reporters from just two outlets in discussing his team's offseason preparations and growth in leadership.
"The other thing is the amount of players that have elected to not even go home for the summer and stay here for mini-term," Jones explained. "I think that shows you the leadership, I think it shows what we're building here. It's the most we'e had at mini-term, and I think that's a direct correlation to our leadership but also the excitement."
Jones did not rule out the potential return of wideout Alton 'Pig' Howard, who has met with the Vols' player-staff in addition to speaking with coaches.
"For (Pig Howard), if he is back, all roads kind of lead to that right now but we'll see how it materializes, we would like to get him back here for summer. But there would be some requirements that will be led by our player-staff in order for him to move forward," Jones said. "Alton knows that; he's aware of that. He's done everything that we've asked of him up to this point in time."
While Jones said Howard had thus far completed requirements to potentially return to the Vols --- and that can occur if and only if the Vols' players' staff votes to allow Howard's return --- the Orlando, Fla., native also must join the ranks of those players who eschewed going home for mini-term. Sources have told VolQuest.com that Howard absolutely must remain in Knoxville for mini-term as part of the requirements for his reinstatement to the team. Howard had initially balked at remaining in Knoxville for the May semester, but sources indicated Howard had changed his mind to remain in Knoxville this month in an attempt to earn his way back onto the Vols' squad.
Jones once again touted the energy and enthusiasm he has cited around the Vols' program but also again acknowledged his team's overall youthfulness. Tennessee is replacing virtually its entire starting offensive and defensive lines in addition to 1,000-yard rusher Rajion Neal and some other members of its two-deep rotation, as well as do-everything specialist Michael Palardy.
"Just the overall excitement right now that's behind our football program. And I think the overall athletic department in general; just the positive energy that we have going forth in moving forward right now," Jones said. "Everyone understands that we're going to be an exceptionally young football team, but that's also exciting. Being able to raise them basically from a football standpoint is exciting. I think that's added to it. And the recruiting; they can feel that energy, they can see that discipline, they can see the positive changes that are occurring every day."
Jones did reveal he shared some Tennessee insight with new basketball coach Donnie Tyndall on the plane ride to initiate the caravan; Jones joking that he told Tyndall "Vols rhymes with dolls."
"Enjoy every minute of it. It's part of his whirlwind tour that he's going on," Jones said. "Every day you can't fit the amount of hours that you need into it, but enjoy this journey because it goes by fast."