KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- The Tennessee Volunteers hit the field Friday night for the opening practice of fall camp, a two-hour workout on Haslam Field.
Head Coach Butch Jones was pleased with the effort of his football team, but reminded everyone that the first one is easy, the story now is how the players come back to the field tomorrow and the other 20+ practices that remain on the pre-season schedule.
"It was good to get back out on the grass to go to work," Jones said. "There was a lot of thinking going on, a lot of great energy. Now the challenge for the football team comes. You've had one practice and you can never simulate being in football condition. You can have the greatest summer that you can possibly have, but it never simulates football conditioning. How do we bounce back tomorrow? What kind of mindset do we have at 7:30 in the morning walking into our team meeting? What's our mental approach?"
Jones spoke at length leading up to camp about becoming a player led team, a theme he continued to focus on after the opening practice.
"I thought our older players did a great job of coaching our younger players," said Jones. "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."
The Volunteers have stepped up the intensity level for this fall camp, turning up the dial in every area, starting with a team meeting Thursday night and extending to the dinner table, the meeting rooms and, finally, the practice field.
"We've challenged every player in our program from yesterday to today in our meetings in retention of information, even right away in the meetings," Jones said. "Even our meetings have been intense and that's what you've got to have to get a lot of players ready to play for the first time."
VETERAN RANDOLPH BREAKS DOWN NEWBIES
Brian Randolph has spent his time so far at Tennessee as young player flying around the field. Now, as a redshirt junior, Randolph finds himself in an unfamiliar role as the old man on the block.
With the addition of six new secondary players, the influx of new talent has definitely caught the eye of the veteran safety. Randolph says the newcomers have definitely made an impact in upgrading the team speed.
"They are definitely fast," he said. "They probably upgraded [the 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."
Not only are the freshmen talented, they have also shown a strong work ethic and desire to improve each day.
"They come in extra - they're very diligent," said Randolph. "They come in extra, they come in after hours, they come in before practice and meet up with the coaches to get some extra drills in."
Randolph broke down each of the newcomers:
On Emmanuel Moseley: "You can tell he's one of the veterans. You ain't gotta watch him as much as the other ones. He's always making calls out there. You can tell he's been here."
On Evan Berry: "He's definitely a dual threat. He can play any position in the secondary. He's fast and he's also got size to him."
On Elliot Berry: "He's a little bit bigger. Right now, they've got him rotating at nickel and at safety. He's definitely shown us some things out there."
On Rashaan Gaulden: "He's doing well, as well. Right now they've got him at nickel, so he's getting some reps out there. He's very fast and has good ball skills."
On Todd Kelly: "He's very driven. He's a driven individual. You can tell he wants to play and be the best he can be. He's always in here trying to watch film and do the extra things."
On Cortez McDowell: "That's one of my guys right there. He's pretty much the same as TK. He's always watching film, always asking coach questions, always trying to come in early and look at film and stuff like that."
IN THE RIGHT LANE TO LEAD
On the other side of the ball, another four-year veteran in the program is primed to take on the role of leader. Marlin Lane is preparing to guide a fresh group of newcomers.
"To me, it feels the same," Lane said. "Playing my freshmen and sophomore year and then my junior year, it made me feel like a senior because me and (Rajion Neal) were the older guys in the room and had the most experience. We coached the others. I feel like I'm in the same role. I just need to step it up more.
"We have a lot of freshmen and newcomers. We tried to go out there as veterans and help them through the plays as we go onward fast. "
With his leadership needed with a young team at hand, many see Lane in charge of the backfield. His goals as a leader?
"Leading the power of my position. When I'm out there, I'm representing my running back group, my coach, my head coach and my team, so I just want to go out there and give it everything I got."
Lane not only wants to lead through his experience as an upperclassmen but also his through his dedication to improve in his senior season. Having averaged 5.3 yards per carry in his junior season, Lane is striving for more.
"I worked on it in the offseason," Lane said. "I work on my legs, strength, keeping up with my weight and just knowing the plays more so I can understand it to get up to six yards ad work up to seven and eight (yards per carry)."
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