As long as Tennessee's offense is a work in progress this football season, so is fifth-year senior receiver and Southern California transfer Velus Jones Jr.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt declared his desire for a more aggressive attack after the Volunteers' 24-13 loss at Arkansas on Nov. 7. Such a desire includes the 6-foot, 200-pounder from Saraland, Alabama, who has just 58 yards on nine catches through Tennessee's 2-4 start heading into Saturday night's game at No. 23 Auburn (4-2).
"He's a guy who we feel like has a lot of playmaking ability, and we've got to find ways to get him the ball and give him the opportunity to do that," Pruitt said Wednesday. "We didn't have spring ball, so he's never been in our system, but he's a guy who we want to get more involved over the next four weeks in the offense. He's a good leader on our team who works hard, and we need to find ways to take advantage of his ability."
Jones is certainly up for a better-late-than-never outburst of explosive plays, stating: "We just have to stick together and stick to it. The season is not over yet. We know the season hasn't gone the way we wanted, but we've got four more games and can turn that all around."
Though he hasn't made the initial impact he sought, Jones has no regrets in leaving USC for Knoxville and a Southeastern Conference that has met his expectations and then some.
"There is nothing like SEC football," he said. "This is something I've dreamed about ever since I was a kid coming up, and just making dreams realities has been a great experience. The SEC is like a junior varsity for the NFL. Players are a lot bigger, stronger and faster, and it's a lot more physical and stuff.
"We've been blessed to have fans at the stadiums, so I can't complain. I'm just blessed to be here."
At USC, Jones became one of the Pac-12's top kick returners, earning second-team all-conference honors last year and entering this season ranked third nationally with 2,180 career kickoff return yards. He has yet to get going in that aspect either, averaging 23.3 yards on only 10 returns as most opponents are kicking the ball well into the end zone.
Jones is also appreciative in being reunited with Tee Martin, the quarterback who guided the Vols to the 1998 national championship and was USC's receivers coach from 2012-18 before returning to his alma mater.
"Not many players have the connection with their coaches as far as him understanding me, understanding our background, our culture and where we come from," Jones said. "Tee knows the type of player I am and knows the type of young man I am, and he knows my potential and where I can be. He's going to push me.
"It's just a great feeling to know that two kids from Mobile, Alabama, are out here chasing their dreams."
Welcome to return
The NCAA has granted all student-athletes this year the ability to maintain their eligibility as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and Pruitt said Wednesday that there will be an open door to return in Knoxville.
"All of our guys have the opportunity, and we would love to have them all back," Pruitt said. "It's really a unique circumstance that you almost look at like a junior who's deciding whether or not he wants to declare for the draft, and with the circumstances available for them to come back, I think it's a great opportunity for not just our guys but for everybody in college sports.
"A lot of our guys have told me that they are coming back."
Wait and see
Though Jarrett Guarantano continues to be listed first on Tennessee's quarterback depth chart, Pruitt isn't planning on revealing this week whether or not he starts at Auburn.
"We're going to wait and let that show itself on Saturday," Pruitt said. "With Jarrett going down in the last game and being out, we worked a lot of guys, and I don't think it gives us an advantage to tell Auburn who we're going to play at quarterback."
The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Wednesday that Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer received a two-year contract extension in May that was never publicized by the university.
Fulmer, who coached Tennessee's football program to a 152-51-1 record from 1992 to 2008 and guided the Vols to the 1998 national title, now has a contract that runs through Dec. 31, 2023.