KNOXVILLE – There’s no set depth chart. It’s unclear who the starting quarterback or the starting wide receivers will be. The defense is going through a comple system overhaul.
There will be a lot of “controlled chaos” going on though when the Vols begin their first spring practice of the Butch Jones era on Saturday morning at Haslam Field.
“Things flying everywhere, but we’re still in control,” is how Jones defined controlled chaos.
That’s what he wants his practices at Tennessee to be like.
So don’t be surprised if you’re in the area of the practice field and you hear some random noises. It might be some music blaring, a baby crying or a car honking. Jones sometimes pipes these noises in to practice to test the players’ concentration. The idea is to develop moment-by-moment concentration that translates on the field when stressful situations arise.
“Too many people want to focus on the end results,” Jones said at Friday’s pre-spring practice press conference. “We just need to focus on the process and that's winning tomorrow. Make no mistake, I'm a big believer in the Navy SEALs and their idea of setting short-term goals and hitting those goals every hour, on the hour. That's the approach that we're taking."
Jones talked a lot about speeding up the pace on Friday. That applies to how the offense is going to be operated and how he wants his players to move around on the practice field.
The Vols did a walk-through on Thursday simply to learn where various drills will take place during practice. If they’re not sure where to go when the horn blows, Jones instructed them to just run in place until they figure it out.
“It will be [faster than last year] from the talk of it,” offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said of the new system.
James is one of multiple offensive linemen who cut weight over the offseason to prepare for the faster pace. Jones indicated that he has no problem with 300-pound lineman, but prefers most of them to stay in the 305-310 pound range.
“It’s going to be fast tempo,” added junior quarterback Justin Worley. “Coach [Mike Bajakian] has been talking about fast and furious. He incorporates it in everything we do. [Strength coach Dave Lawson] did as well. It’s not going to be a sling-it-all-over-the-place offense. There’s a lot of pressure on our run game as well. It fits me. I ran a spread in high school, but this will be a different type of spread.”
Worley will compete with redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman this spring for the starting quarterback position. It’s the most open quarterback race for UT since 2010.
“Everyone will be charted and everything will be detail-oriented,” Jones said of the quarterback battle. “I know I talked about it before, but it's all about consistency. Your performance every day – especially in the quarterback position. The individual who manages the football the best and makes the least amount of mistakes, but really, it's the individual that gives us the best opportunity to win come Saturdays will be our starting quarterback."
Jones expects to have a full depth chart in place by the end of the spring at quarterback and every other position, but said that will be more of a loose guide than a locked-in decision.
“All that does is tell us who's first when fall camp arrives, because again, the most significant gains in the weight room will occur over the summer months,” he said.
• Devrin Young is moving from running back to slot receiver.
• Corey Vereen, who was originally recruited as a linebacker, will begin at defensive end.
• Brent Brewer is moving from safety to linebacker.
• LaTroy Lewis is moving from linebacker to defensive end.
• Justin King is moving from fullback to tight end.
• Jacques Smith is moving from linebacker to defensive end.
• Linebacker Curt Maggitt (ACL) and safety Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) will be the only two players held out of all physical work this spring.
• Left tackle Tiny Richardson (shoulder) and safety Brian Randolph (ACL) are among the players coming off of injury who will participate, but could possibly be limited in some situations.
Position preview links:
2. Running back
March practice days: 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21
April practice days: 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18
April 20: Orange and White Game, 2 p.m., Neyland Stadium
*All practices are closed to the general public. Media will be permitted to view the individual periods of practice. The first two practices will be helmets only with full pads going on the third day.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga