KNOXVILLE - With a week off from school and football during Tennessee's spring break last week, Jason Croom joined fellow receiver Josh Smith and his family for a trip to Florida that included his first deep-sea fishing venture.
The trek was fruitful, and Croom said after the Volunteers returned to practice Tuesday that the biggest fish he landed was an amberjack, and he has the picture to prove it.
There was just one problem, though.
"I don't eat fish," Croom said. "I'm allergic."
The fun in the sun and family time are now over for the Vols, who have a three-week run of practices leading up to the Orange and White Game in Neyland Stadium on April 12, and second-year coach Butch Jones was clear in wanting more from his young team than it showed in the five pre-break practices.
Jones said following Tuesday's indoor practice that he was "not pleased" in the team's deficiencies at his desired style of play in the initial spring practices and noted that Monday's team meeting was "very long" as the Vols went over their first scrimmage and set the tone for the rest of spring.
"That's going to happen with a young football team," he said. "Everyone has to understand, I mean, you're replacing your interiors, both in the offensive line and defensive line. You're basically brand new at wide receiver, a couple of new running backs. We don't know who our quarterback's going to be right now. Some new faces in the back end.
"We're a new football team. It's our style of play. It's our daily approach. It's our mentality. It's our toughness. We're not going to win games on talent alone. We're not there yet. We're not just going to show up and win football games. We're going to win on our style of play, and our players understand that, but we have to live it every day."
Jones called Tuesday's session the "most physical" of spring, and defensive end Jordan Williams backed up those words.
"He was hard on us, especially after the last scrimmage," the senior said. "I feel like the biggest thing we needed to work on was our effort and our outward focus. I feel like today, that's what I was focused on the most, and I feel like we definitely improved on that."
Like many of his teammates, Williams returned to his hometown -- Gainesville, Fla., in his case -- to spend some time with family while also mixing in some workouts to maintain their conditioning, knowing to what they were returning.
Croom, Williams and linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt all said they welcomed the week off from practices.
"I think it's good," Maggitt said. "You get to go hard for five or six practices; then you get to give your body a break. Then you get to come back and go hard again, so it's not so much banging on your body. You can relax mentally and physically a little bit but still stay in it."
Maggitt took Vols' All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson with him to West Palm Beach in Florida, where they mixed home-cooked meals by Maggitt's father with time on the beach and workouts at Dwyer High School, Maggitt's alma mater.
"It's just being mature as a football player and knowing the expectation and knowing what you're getting back into when you get back to school," Maggitt said. "We know we can go to the beach and hang out a little bit, but we know at the end of the day we have to be back up here ready to go as leaders of the team."
Jones himself got away for a little while by spending some time with his wife, Barb, and three sons in Florida. The Joneses went to Universal Studios and watched some of the NCAA basketball tournament. After returning to Knoxville later in the week, Jones was in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday night to watch the hoop Vols beat Mercer to clinch a Sweet 16 trip.
On Monday, though, it was back to business, including a hefty review of "the good, the bad and the indifferent" of the pre-break scrimmage.
"Everyone was back on time on Sunday," Jones said. "That was great to see. I liked our approach on Monday, but Tuesday, we had to get back into the rhythm, and the big I wanted to see was retention. How did we retain the information we had in the first five? I thought for the most part, our players did a very good job of the retention.
"Now, again, it's the small details that it takes and being in football shape."
And the demands of the coaching staff only will increase as the Vols settle back into a practice groove.
"I'd like to stay in the whole time, but it is good to get your mind off it a little bit," Williams said. "It's a lot of stuff flying around and a lot of stuff on your mind and why kids get stressed. I feel like it's definitely good for the newcomers to have that week off, but we definitely can't let that affect us going into these next seven practices.
"We've just got to build on each practice."
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