KNOXVILLE -- Jack Jones knew what was coming.
Having committed to Tennessee 18 months before enrolling in January, the offensive tackle knew his right of passage as a freshman football player was waiting for him when the Volunteers practiced in full pads for the first time this spring.
He was summoned for what Tennessee head coach Butch Jones calls the "circle of life," a one-on-one showdown between two players who try to push the other out of the circle formed by their teammates.
His first opponent was freshman defensive end Andrew Butcher, who's also his roommate.
"I knew it was coming," Jack Jones said after Saturday's scrimmage. "I knew I was going to get in there. I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. I had an idea who they were going to put me in there with, and they put me in there, and I did really well, put him out of the circle."
The moment is the one he remembers most from his first practices with the Vols, who have put the long-haired 6-foot-5, 300-pounder at right tackle this spring.
The former standout at Oakland High School in Murfreesboro is working with Tennessee's second-team offensive line as he adjusts to college football.
"He's got good effort," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "A lot of times freshmen come in and they're used to high school ball and they don't try very hard on every play. At practice, they got treated like gods their senior year and didn't have to do much. But he comes out here and works.
"He might not have the best footwork or technique or anything, but he's getting after it. He's trying. He's trying to block the defensive end as hard as he can; he's trying to get knockdowns. That's all I can ask from him right now."
Jack Jones, who won the state's Mr. Football award his last two seasons at Oakland and played in the Under Armour All-American game before arriving at Tennessee, said the biggest adjustment to college football has been the speed of the game, particularly with the tempo the Vols use.
"You're having to think of all your assignments and making calls in a shorter time than I did in high school, so that's probably the biggest thing," he said. "For me, coming up early, another thing was getting a lot stronger, and I can definitely tell that already. Especially after summer I think I'll see big improvements in the weight room like I already have.
"The tempo of everything, it's a faster game, which I expected and I was ready for. It's still every week I'm getting better and better and getting all my assignments down and I'm just able to just go out there and play. That's my main thing, I just want to be able to go out there and just play."
The Vols like his combination of athletic ability, technical abilities and toughness and believe he has the kind of demeanor they prefer in their offensive linemen, but Coach Jones conceded Saturday that Jack Jones and fellow freshman Chance Hall are both "swimming" mentally just nine practices into their careers.
Jack Jones still can recall how difficult mentally his first practice in full pads was.
"I was thinking, I was panicking, asking the guards like, 'What do we got?'" he said. "Then they moved Chance in to right guard, so I was like, 'We've got to learn this,' because I can't ask you anything and you can't ask me, because we barely know our own stuff. We learned it, and Chance is still a great help, though. He's really smart, too.
"I feel like I'm just going out there and playing now, and at first it was kind of like I would hesitate, think I was doing the wrong thing and trying to be perfect in everything. I think I just go out there and play my game, and I play my best ball."
In an ideal world, Tennessee probably would like to redshirt Jones his freshman year and allow him to develop, but with a limited number of options at tackle, the Vols may not be able to do that this season. He envisions his first year at Tennessee going a bit differently, and he believes he's advanced enough in some respects to get on the field this fall.
"I've always got to work on pad level and getting lower and always work on technique, because to play early in the SEC, you're not going to be as strong as those (older) guys," he said. "You've got to be a technician. That's one of the things I pride myself on is my technique.
"In high school I was always working on my technique, and I was able to progress my game in high school as well, so that's always been an important factor for me. I've never been somebody that just tries to sit there and muscle you. I'm trying to get my feet down and get good leverage on you."
Contact Patrick Brown at [email protected]