KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones will experience a first of sorts his second spring practice as Tennessee's football coach.
During his news conference early Thursday afternoon on the eve of the Volunteers' first practice, Jones noted that he's never been a part of a program where 'just about' 50 percent of the roster will be going through their first spring practice.
Tennessee has just 13 seniors, and newcomers or unproven players will be sliding into starting spots and backup roles across the field.
"We cannot assume anything," Jones said. "We have to teach them everything. It's not starting from ground zero because of the foundation that's been laid, but again, we cannot assume anything.
"I'm excited in terms of I think we have a group of young men that are hungry, they're eager, they're willing -- they just need to be taught."
That will began at Haslam Field on Friday afternoon, when Tennessee has the first of 15 practices over the course of the next month.
The Vols have to replace their entire offensive line and nearly all of the snaps and production on the defensive line. There's a question mark at the kicker and punter spots. Playmakers must be found on both sides of the ball, and many of them, at least offensively, likely will have to be January enrollees.
Spring ball will be the next chapter in the Vols' ongoing four-man quarterback competition, too.
Though Tennessee won't be in its first season under Jones and his staff -- which remained unchanged, a first for Tennessee since 2007 -- the youth of the roster will be a challenge the coaching staff has to balance.
"You've got to have a little bit of patience, which you all know I'm not real good at," Jones said. "You've got to have great patience. You can't assume anything. It's the small details. Our older players have done a great job of mentoring our [younger] players."
Tennessee will practice five times before the university's spring break starts next weekend, and Jones said he'll learn a lot about his team when it returns based on its retention from the opening practices.
While coaching a more veteran team would be "very different," Jones said the youth on the roster is "invigorating" for him and his staff.
"They're eager. They're willing," he explained. "They have no bad habits right now. They hang on every word that you say, so that's the exciting thing.
"You're not dealing with robots," he added. "They all develop differently. That's the exciting thing, is we get to develop a lot of these individuals for the first time but as we know, there will also be some growing pains ahead of us as well."
Jones said safety Brian Randolph (shoulder), tight ends Brendan Downs (knee) and A.J. Branisel (knee), receivers Drae Bowles (shoulder) and Ryan Jenkins (knee) and defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry (knee/shoulder) are out for spring practice.
Freshman athlete Neiko Creamer, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound son of a former Tennessee defensive back, will begin his career at linebacker.
Though he will not participate in spring practice due to personal reasons, receiver Pig Howard still is listed on the Vols' official spring roster.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...