KNOXVILLE — Larry Scott is entering his first season as an offensive coordinator, but the Tennessee assistant been around college football long enough to know how preseason practice works for young players.
"We've got 26 of these (practices), and we're only through two of them," Scott said Sunday. "We've got 24 left, and some of these guys are going to be exposed, whether that's positive or negative."
Scott is doing what he can to "rev up" the competition to replace much of the production lost with the departures of quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara, receiver Josh Malone and tight end Jason Croom from last year's team.
Through skill drills completed during the portions of the first two practices open to media, it appears Tennessee has a few young running backs with the physical tools to emerge and complement starter John Kelly. Scott, though, is waiting before he assesses who is most likely to separate themselves from the others in a running back pack of sophomore Carlin Fils-aime and freshmen Ty Chandler, Trey Coleman and Tim Jordan.
"Right now we're in T-shirts and helmets," Scott said. "Basically, we're playing tag football. A sign of a really good running back in football is when he gets hit a few times. Does he have the ability to get back up, align correctly, have great vision, have great balance and expect to be hit again?
"That's going to take some time over camp and those type of things to see if a guy really steps forward in that direction when you really start to play some football."
Jordan drew cheers from teammates with a leaping catch on a go route down the sideline during a passing drill Sunday. But there were no defenders — just a practice assistant waiting to whack him with a large pad as he secured the football.
Bob Shoop doled out compliments to freshman linebacker Will Ignont and freshmen defensive tackles Kivon Bennett and Matthew Butler for their performances early in camp. Later, the second-year defensive coordinator threw in a caveat.
"This is good and all, but there's not a whole lot of banging," Shoop said. "It's just helmets."
Tennessee's first practice in pads is Saturday. For now, Scott said he is looking for "violent feet" and "violent hands" from players who want to show they might be ready for a game.
"Everything is done with intentions, and with purpose and with violence," he said. "In everything you do, whether it's your step, your hand placement or being 15 minutes early for a meeting or hydrating when you need to hydrate, being places when we need you to be there, all those things speak to having a hard edge and to having some toughness. Having the ability to focus at times when we need you to focus is a part of being physical. All those things go into play, from the field to the meeting room to their approach at home."
Scott, who coached tight ends last year, said it's the staff's job to apply as much pressure as possible to players in order to help them reach their full potential. Preseason camp, he said, is about players finding a way to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
"That's what it's about, and that's how we're going to develop our hard edge throughout this camp," Scott said. "It's going to come out, and we're going to find out who the guys are we can depend on to give some roles this season."
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.