KNOXVILLE — It was Tennessee's final full-pads practice before Saturday's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium on Thursday, and Butch Jones made sure the sense of urgency was there with his Volunteers.
As his team prepared for its stretching period, the second-year coach gathered the Vols around him and challenged them, specifically their "individual determination."
Jones remained energetic throughout the open period of practice.
As the Vols went into their first team period, he warned them they had 40 seconds to get the first play off, or gasser sprints awaited the entire team. If too much time passed before a kickoff rep, that rep would be lost, the coach barked. He wanted "perfection" -- no football on the ground -- as the team did the basketball-style three-man weave after stretching.
After Ethan Wolf just missed making a big catch down the seam during one period, Jones hollered at the freshman tight end to use both hands to make the catch and "be a playmaker."
He got onto to freshman tailback Jalen Hurd for "being the last in line" as the running backs went from one drill to another.
Even cornerback Malik Foreman, while in a drill on the defensive field across the way from Jones, couldn't escape the coach's watchful eyes as Jones urged him to watch his technique in a block-shedding drill.
Here are some notes and observations from Thursday's practice.
*Defensive end LaTroy Lewis worked with the tight ends for at least a portion of practice. We will get more on if that is an experimental move or something the coaches are looking at more permanently when Jones talks after practice. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound redshirt sophomore from Akron, Ohio, played in just six games at end last season. He redshirted following an ACL injury in 2012.
The Vols are down Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel, who are both coming off knee injuries, and freshmen Ethan Wolf and Daniel Helm have gotten most of the heavy lifting.
*A.J. Johnson, Tennessee's All-SEC linebacker, was in on the tackle on a live kickoff rep during the open period. It'll be interesting to see how special teams work Johnson gets given his importance to the Vols' defense. Tennessee certainly could use him on coverage units, though, too.
*Matt Darr unleashed an outstanding punt on the punt return rep during the open period. The kick traveled probably a solid 55 yards at least, and it caused returner Devrin Young to muff it, though he did recover. Because it was a live drill, Young probably hustled to catch it when he likely would have let it go in a game.
*Nickelback Justin Coleman wore a thick chain with a lock on it around his neck during parts of practice. There's likely one of Jones's program mottos involved there, so we'll see what was up with that after practice.
*Tennessee did a drill I haven't seen it do before. The Vols lined up like it was a 7-on-7 drill, but only one half of the offense and defense participated in each rep. With a couple of receivers lined up wide against a couple of corners and a safety and a linebacker, the drill was designed to get the ball on the perimeter either on the wide side of the field or along the boundary, whether via a bubble screen or a handoff to a tailback. The goal was to get the defense to work on shedding perimeter blocks and pursuit angles on the edge.
That of course was an area where the Vols struggled mightily last season.
*The open period concluded with a man-to-man pass skeleton drill in which two receivers and two tight ends faced off against two corners and two safeties with all four quarterbacks throwing passes on a single rep. This made seeing everything that happened on a singular rep difficult.
Some things that jumped out: quarterback Riley Ferguson narrowly missed hitting tight end Woody Quinn for a completion down the seam; Nathan Peterman badly underthrew a deep route intended for freshman Josh Malone; and Marquez North and Von Pearson each made catches on the edge and out of the slot, respectively.
More practice coverage online and in Friday's Times Free Press.
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 ...