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Tennessee Athletics photo by Kate Luffman / Tennessee sixth-year senior receiver Velus Jones Jr. catches a pass during a drill in Thursday afternoon's practice.

It doesn't take long to detect that footballs have been flying around Knoxville practices recently as new Tennessee coach Josh Heupel and his staff implement a drastically different offensive system for the Volunteers.

A certain position group greatly approves of the change.

"This is an offense that is a receiver's dream," said sixth-year senior Velus Jones Jr., the graduate transfer from Southern California who joined the Vols last year. "It's just like a dream come true. They love to throw the ball a lot, and as a receiver, that's something you want."

The Vols have experienced five practices in their up-tempo attack headed by Heupel but also under the guidance of coordinator Alex Golesh, quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle, line coach Glen Elarbee and receivers coach Kodi Burns. Golesh, Halzle and Elarbee were with Heupel at the University of Central Florida last season, while Burns was hired by Heupel in December and again in February, when Heupel had relocated from Orlando to the Southeastern Conference.

UCF last season averaged 41.5 passes and 357.4 passing yards per game.

"If you look at what Coach Heupel and Coach Golesh have done at UCF and everywhere else they've been, it's been a receiver's dream," redshirt junior Cedric Tillman said. "The receivers and offenses have put up big numbers, so we've got expectations here at Tennessee. It's no shocker that our offense wasn't the best last year, and those guys have come in here trying to change it.

"I feel like we've got the guys and the determination to change it, and that's what we plan on doing."

The Vols averaged just 204.7 passing yards per game last season, with Josh Palmer's 475 yards representing the only Tennessee player who surpassed 300 in that category. Heupel's Knights in 2019 produced a whopping five receivers who amassed at least 500 yards for the season, and the 2017 Missouri offense he coordinated under former Tigers head coach Barry Odom had three receivers surpass 700 yards.

Heupel admits there is a lot for receivers to like when meeting his offense for the first time.

"The ability to play with tempo and for those guys to be put in a position where we're going to try and find ways to isolate them and put them in one-on-one positions and give them the tools to go win — as a wideout, that's what you're looking for," Heupel said. "The tempo with which we play and the number of snaps we get and the number of ball-in-hand opportunities that our skill players have plus the energy with which we play on game day and even on the practice field — I think it is a really unique offense for wide receivers.

"It's something that they love to play in and absolutely flourish in."

Jones, Tillman and sophomore Jimmy Calloway are the receivers who have impressed Tennessee's new staff so far, and it's a position that is certain to strengthen when Jalin Hyatt and Malachi Wideman are fully healthy.

Of course, Tennessee's offense is competing against a defense that doesn't have linebackers Henry To'o To'o and Quavaris Crouch, who are in the NCAA transfer portal, or cornerback Bryce Thompson, who bypassed his senior season and made himself eligible for the NFL draft. The defenses at Alabama and Georgia several months from now will serve as true measuring sticks for Tennessee's new look, but it's a lot of fun in the here and now for everyone involved.

"It's who we are, and it's what we do," Burns said. "To some people it may be difficult, but to us, it's the way of life."

Said Tillman: "I think you are going to see a big change this year."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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