KNOXVILLE — After one practice in the jersey bearing his regular number, Tennessee receiver Paul Harris again donned the number more befitting of a defensive lineman Thursday morning.
It's not a work ethic issue for the early enrollee, but rather an ongoing motivational ploy from head coach Butch Jones that has Harris wearing No. 91 instead of No. 1, according to receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
"It's Coach Jones trying to motivate him with some tough love," Azzanni said after the Volunteers wrapped up their indoor workout. "When he doesn't play fast or play physical, he puts him in that big ol' jersey that makes him look slow and all that stuff. If he wants No. 1, he better play faster, and he better play harder."
At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds with a high school highlight clip that conjures up comparisons to former Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, Harris adds some nice potential to the Vols' young receiving corps.
As is the case with newcomers who take on the rigors of a big-time college football program when they should be finishing high school, there's been growing pains for Harris this spring as the four-star prospect from Maryland adapts and adjusts to an elevated level of talent and expectations.
Yet Azzanni likes how Harris has responded to Jones' challenge of earning his jersey number.
"He doesn't say boo; he [nods] his head and goes, 'I got you,'" Azzanni said. "Again, I will say this -- and this is no lie -- the last two nights he has shut my door and turned my lights off because I've already went home at 10:30 at night. He's in the script, going over the plays, watching one-on-ones -- the last two nights in a row.
"He should be going to the prom in a month. Instead he's got Coach Z absolutely up his rear end every snap. He'll be fine."
Take a lap, fumbler
Tailback Rajion Neal coughed up the football during one live period with the offensive and defensive line and linebackers Thursday morning.
Such a crime has resulted in pushups in the past, but new running backs coach Robert Gillespie prefers a different form of punishment: one lap around the field.
"At that moment, I don't want you around the football team," the former Florida tailback said, "because you put us in a bad situation, so the best thing for you to do is go jog, think about your mistakes and when I get tired, you can come back.
"We don't put the ball on the ground. He made the mistake today, but I'd rather him make it out here in front of 40 or 50 people than in front of 100,000 people. Those are things we're constantly talk about, we'll watch it on film and we'll get better from it."
Jonesing for more
Though he's taken first-team reps at cornerback essentially since spring practice, Riyahd Jones, who played at Georgia Southern in 2011, continues to make the typical adjustment from junior college.
"It's a different level; it's a different pace; it's a different way of doing things," secondary coach Willie Martinez said. "But he is more mature, or he understands it a little bit better than a true freshman. He's still behind some of the other guys that have been in the program for three years here or four years, but he's working at it."
The 6-foot, 186-pound Jones tweaked his hamstring during one special teams drill Thursday but continued to practice.
As expected, tailback Marlin Lane returned to practice Thursday after missing Tuesday's session while he tended to a family health issue. ... Receiver Jacob Carter, tailback Tom Smith and defensive tackle Allan Carson did not practice Thursday, instead joining a few teammates out for spring in working out on the side. ... Safety LaDarrell McNeil and defensive tackle Maurice Couch were in green noncontact jerseys. Martinez said it's not a serious issue with McNeil, whose first-team spot was filled Thursday by Brian Randolph. Cornerback Daniel Gray is back practicing after missing some time earlier this spring. ... The Vols used some three-linebacker sets for the first time during the open portion of practice this spring. A.J. Johnson, Brent Brewer and Dontavis Sapp were the first-teamers. Kenny Bynum, Channing Fugate and Greg King ran with the second-team defense.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...