Tennessee coach Butch Jones likened his team’s new faces heading into the Vols’ first fall practice Friday to an expansion team thanks to an influx of potential, yet unproven, talent.
Facing four consecutive losing seasons in Knoxville, Jones is hoping his staff can development Tennessee’s nationally-ranked 32-man recruiting class quickly enough that inexperience won’t lead to failure.
“We have to get a lot of players ready to play for the first time,” Jones said. “We have a lot of questions. We have a lot of untested positions and individuals in our football program. We have to test them each and every day both mentally and physically.”
The Vols appear to have gotten substantially better at the skill positions with the addition of heralded running back Jalen Hurd and instant-impact wide receiver Josh Malone. Hurd enrolled in January and practiced with the Vols during the spring, but Friday’s first practice was the coaching staff’s initial glimpse of other first-year ballcarriers Derrell Scott and Treyvon Paulk.
Hurd’s at almost 230 pounds and will likely split carries in the opener — if he continues to progress over the next few weeks — with senior Marlin Lane.
“I saw a much faster football team in all areas in moving around,” Jones said in reference to Tennessee’s newcomers. “Now it’s about being able to get off blocks and make plays. Just our overall team, I could see much improvement.”
Tennessee’s quarterback controversy, likely the program’s most crucial position, will be solved shortly and will play a key role in whether or not the Vols’ rookie weapons are a factor from a production standpoint.
Incumbent Justin Worley and sophomores Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman are all vying for the starting spot. Worley has the edge as the most experienced passer, but Jones has said there’s no-clear cut favorite and that whoever takes control of the offense and command of the program will be chosen.
Tennessee’s passing trio along with 14 others players trained with quarterback guru George Whitfield this summer in California. Dobbs started the Vols’ final four games last season with less than stellar results.
Other tidbits from Tennessee’s first fall practice at Haslam Field
- Veteran defensive back Brian Randolph on Tennessee’s six new players in the secondary: “They are definitely fast. They probably upgraded (our team speed) a good amount. They’re swarming around out there. You can tell they’re quick on their feet. They definitely bring juice to the secondary.
- Butch Jones on the necessity of leadership, practicing good habits: “I thought our older players did a great job of coaching our younger players. Everything is about habits. We’re forming habits, we’re forming our identity, we’re forming our style of play, so every rep is critical.”