Once again the absence of a player was one of the more noteworthy items on the practice field Thursday as Tennessee worked through its 11th practice of spring camp under first-year coach Butch Jones.
Junior tailback Marlin Lane, late to return to the UT campus last week following the Vols' spring break, once again was absent from the practice field. Additionally, Tom Smith was banged up and did not fully participate in practice, leaving most reps to Rajion Neal and Alden Hill. Deanthione Summerhill also continued to be a guy who's impressed coaches and positioned himself for a potential role.
Lane missed a Monday conditioning drill and practice on April 2 to tend to "family health matters," according to Jones, but he returned full-go last Thursday and performed well in last Saturday's scrimmage. VolQuest.com will have more on Lane's absence from coaches following practice.
The Vols have another scrimmage this Saturday inside Neyland Stadium, and it's their last major intrasquad showcase of spring camp. The April 20 Orange & White game is typically not something coaches view as a key evaluative tool.
Tennessee assistant coaches are scheduled to meet reporters this morning after the conclusion of practice.
In terms of Thursday's on-field action, defensive backs coach Willie Martinez was as animated as ever and barking instructions relentlessly during the Vols' one-on-one receiver-versus-defensive back drills. Martinez particularly challenged junior college signee Riyahd Jones to step up and be a competitor.
Martinez and defensive coordinator John Jancek were very vocal and animated in an individual period where the defensive backs were working on fighting off a cut block and implored to go make a play. Jancek got worked up enough to sling his hat across the field.
The Vols also did extensive special teams punt work, and walk-on Winston Williams is in the mix for punt returner duties but had some struggles on this morning. Williams has repeatedly done little things well and gotten the coaches' attention this spring.
At quarterback, Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman continued to split reps. There's some belief that Peterman has narrowed the already tight quarterback battle even more in the past week. Peterman had a fumbled snap and Worley had a pick during the open portion of practice.
Among those who were held off to the side during practice were: Smith, Jacob Carter, Tino Thomas, Paul Harris, Justin Meredith and Antonio 'Tiny' Richardson, while Vincent Dallas also was in a yellow jersey and did not participate. Jones had said Tuesday that he had expected Dallas' return to the field for the 11th practice.
Jason Croom continued to emerge at wideout, but he was one of the few. The Vols' struggles there have been obvious and consistent; Alton 'Pig' Howard, Devrin Young and Drae Bowles all had drops.
There were a number of high school coaches present as the Vols prepare for their first coaching clinic under Jones. Peyton Manning is the featured speaker this weekend.