KNOXVILLE - Jim Chaney prefers when things are quieter.
Fortunately for the University of Tennessee's offensive coordinator, it's been that way recently with his young offense.
"They're quiet, which is always a good sign to me," Chaney said Thursday afternoon after the Volunteers finished their first practice with shoulder pads. "It appears to be a tad bit more mature to me when I'm around our offensive kids, which I enjoy. They're older and they're little more mature right now and they have a little more knowledge, but they're still sophomores, a lot of those kids. There's still a curve there, so we'll wait and see how it plays out."
For an offense that's projected to start just two juniors (tackle Dallas Thomas and tight end Mychal Rivera) and one senior (tailback Tauren Poole), the maturation progress could be a sign the Vols are more comfortable with the playbook, the system and their individual roles.
"We're communicating a lot faster in the same things that have been slow-and-not-sure things," quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. "We're a little sharper now on everything that's moving forward with this offense. We've still got a long way to go, but we're getting better.
"They've worked hard, they've put in time, and it's repetition of the same things over and over and over and over. We've been repping over and over and over, and through time you get to where it starts to be second nature to you."
The Vols played as many as six freshmen at once at times last season, and now that those players are sophomores, Chaney said he doesn't expect to be limited in his play-calling because of personnel or inexperience.
"It's like my own children: When they're 2 and 3, you hear them all the time because they're little kids," Chaney said. "Now they're a little more quiet and don't want me to bother them. It appears that way as I listen to our own team. Singling out anybody, I wouldn't want to do that. It appears in the totality of the offense we're a little more grown-up."
The positive reviews of Tyler Bray's summer continued Thursday when Chaney, who coached NFL quarterbacks Drew Brees and Kyle Orton at Purdue, weighed in on his sophomore quarterback's development since April.
"He's asking a lot better questions," Chaney said. "I think he's had a good summer in throwing the football and trying to learn as a quarterback. I'm impressed with that part of it, where he's at. We'll see his development as the games go in, but right now I'm happy with his development."
When Derek Dooley met Chaney after becoming head coach in January 2010, it didn't take long for him to decide to keep Chaney on staff.
"He and I hit it off from the beginning," Dooley said. "It's one of the reasons I wanted him to stay. I'm glad he did. We just share so much philosophically on offense, on terminology, what it takes to win. If you believe in each other philosophically and you like the way you work together as people, usually it's a pretty good arrangement.
Linebacker Austin Johnson had his charges dropped following his July 24 arrest for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
"It's good for him. It doesn't change the headline that we all had," Dooley said. "If we could go back three days and just erase everything y'all wrote, it'd be great news, but we can't do that."
Jones joins practice
Antonio Jones, a 6-4, 215-pound walk-on receiver who played with UT defensive tackle Maurice Couch at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, practiced for the first time Thursday night.