KNOXVILLE - That five-week offseason suspension didn't do too much to slow Brent Brewer.
Tennessee's strong safety, still shaking off the rust of four years of playing minor league baseball instead of football, closed out a spring that had coaches and teammates raving about the rising sophomore's ability by making a game-high seven tackles Saturday.
"I feel like I can get a lot better at every phase of the game," the 6-foot-1, 213-pound Brewer said. "I'm going to have to work and coming in the fall be ready to work. Just working on my quickness or just my pass coverage or just running down and making tackles."
Brewer took his starting job in the middle of last season and finished out his year strong, showing the abilities and potential he possesses. That development hit a bump when he was suspended in February after an arrest on a charge of domestic assault. That charge was later reduced and the case is supposed to be dismissed in September.
While the Volunteers were pushing through offseason workouts, Brewer was forced to train at T-RECS, the student recreation facility on campus.
"I knew the team was doing a lot of running and things like that," he said, "so I just went and did my own little workouts with the trainers or by myself with some other guys that used to play. It was bad. I just learned a lot of life lessons. I just know to keep myself focused and don't let anything bring me down."
He was reinstated the day before spring practice started and resumed adding to his progression. At 23 years old, Brewer is much more mature physically than any normal sophomore, and had he continued playing football out of high school in 2006, his college career might have ended over two years ago.
"Active - he's been active," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "I think now his challenge is going to be, what's his stamina. Can he play like that for 12 games? He was extremely disruptive in our first scrimmage and disappeared in our second scrimmage."
Though Brewer has been through the grind of four pro baseball seasons, the physical toll of a 12- or 13-game football season is steeper.
"[It's] wearing down on your body every day, especially in the box going against the big linemen and hitting the running back," Brewer said. "Just being away from the game so much for so long, [last season] really did put a toll on my body and I needed a little break. It puts a toll on your body, but I'm just going to keep working hard and get to that point where I can go every day and be consistent."
The Vols didn't go full-speed with special teams, as teams weren't allowed to rush on field goals, extra points and punts, tackling wasn't allowed on kickoffs and all punts had to be fair-caught. But even with the limited looks, there was some good and bad Saturday.
The ongoing issues at punt returner continued with a caveat, as Eric Gordon muffed a kick that Anthony Anderson recovered for the day's lone turnover.
"In all fairness he has not been back there all spring," Dooley said. "The three guys that were working together on punt return were on the other team. It just so happened, so we had to throw the poor guy out there and say good luck with the wind and everything else. So I was happy there was only one muffed punt."
Punter Matt Darr showed he has plenty of leg strength and that he's a redshirt freshman, booming his first two punts 45 yards with good hang time before shanking a 34-yarder and ending with a 39-yard average. Michael Palardy ended his solid spring poorly by averaging 38 yards on five punts, struggling with depth on his kickoffs and hooking his lone field-goal try wide right to end
"You saw some talent," Dooley said. "They have good enough talent to be dependable players for us, and we just need to take that talent and develop them into guys we can count on."
Tailback Toney Williams had been missing in action for most of the spring, buried on the depth chart behind Tauren Poole, Rajion Neal and even walk-on Jaron Toney partly because of a hamstring injury.
"Well, he was the only one with fresh legs because he hadn't done anything all spring," Dooley said. "He's been out with a hamstring, so he came in there fresh-legged, ready to go and barreled his way for some yards."
Williams, a 6-foot, 220-pound rising third-year sophomore who's played in three career games, ran 10 times for 53 yards Saturday.