Tennessee's Jashon Robertson lines up against Alabama.

KNOXVILLE -- Kendal Vickers probably threw logic and reason to the side earlier this offseason when the Tennessee defensive tackle stepped under a squat bar bearing 710 pounds of weight.

Other than that, though, what was going through his mind was pretty clear.

"Don't collapse," he joked after the Volunteers wrapped up Tuesday evening's practice.

"The weight looks intimidating, but I just get under it and attack it."

The 288-pound Vickers, who's taken advantage of his increased opportunity with Tennessee depleted on the defensive line, set a team high during the winter workout program by lifting those 710 pounds.

That lower-body strength has helped when he has faced off against another one of the Vols' strongest players throughout Tennessee's first 10 spring practices.

Jashon Robertson, a rising sophomore guard who was Freshman All-SEC last season, posted a team-leading 33 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press this offseason. That would have been the fourth-highest number among the offensive linemen who participated in the NFL combine in February.

"I think I did surprise myself," Robertson said. "I had never broken 30 before. I got into the high 20s coming out of high school. It was kind of a little bit of shock to me, and I attribute that to the strength coaches, my high school strength coaches and my teammates bringing the energy on that day to help me drive the bar up."

There was more astonishment in Robertson's voice when he recalled watching Vickers, who said he could squat 460 pounds coming out of Havelock High School in North Carolina, pull off his amazing lift.


"It was freakish," he said. "I've never seen somebody in real life squat that much weight. It was a tremendous effort by him, and a great accomplishment.

"Vick, his squat, it's serious. I've got some work to do to catch up with him. But I've got him on the bench."

Vickers' performances in practice drew positive reviews from head coach Butch Jones on multiple occasions last week, as he appears to be standing out on a defensive line missing what likely will be its top five players for the upcoming season -- or top six, with incoming five-star freshman defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie included.

Vickers has put on nearly 30 pounds in the past eight months or so to prepare for his move from end to tackle, where he feels more comfortable and more natural. It all seems to be paying off as Vickers looks to stake his claim to more playing time when the season arrives.

"It's just me getting acclimated to the playbook and just me making sure I'm locked in," he said. "Maybe before I wasn't as locked in as I am now, but now I've got everything. I have no excuse, so I'm just going 110 miles an hour.

"It's just me not thinking so much and just reacting. I can react to blocks; I can react to a lot of things. I'm a lot smarter than I was before. I can see the backfield and know what's coming, know if a double-team's coming."

Jones has said the Vols hand out leverage grades for their offensive and defensive linemen for every practice, and that's an area where Vickers has thrived this spring.

"He's becoming more and more comfortable in that role in that position, and you can see the speed of the game slowing down for him," the coach said. "You can start to see him now use his technique. You can see the improvements are marked and very visible each and every practice. I've been very pleased with him. He's done a great job."

Vickers acknowledged that his battles with Robertson, a 13-game starter as a true freshman in 2014, can be "rough" sometimes. Both players, though, see the benefits of the competition the Vols foster in the weight room and on the practice field.

"There's competition all over the place in this building," Robertson said. "We compete in any and every way that we can. There's competition in the weight room, there's competition on the field and we enjoy that process, the process of competing.

"You're never content and complacent. You're always driving to be better and improve on things. We have a goal every week, and we sit down with our coaches, make that goal and you talk about whether you achieved your goal from the week before. If you didn't, you keep the same goal. Through competition, you see your mishaps and you improve on them."

Said Vickers: "When we compete every day, we're making each other better."

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