KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSports.com)-- Team 119 made its debut at Neyland Stadium with the sixth practice of spring on Saturday afternoon.
"I thought it was another great day of teaching and learning for this football team, said head coach Butch Jones following the nearly two-hour session. "Good quality reps of playing football, situational football. It is really the first real opportunity that our players have really been able to play football without coaches on the field, live game situations and conditions."
With two weeks of spring ball under their belts, Jones continues to preach education to his young Volunteers.
"I thought a lot of great teaching lessons today," he said. "Still consistency and style of play, we are not there. Consistency and execution, long ways to go. You have to keep things in perspective right now."
Saturday's practiced marked the first this spring in which the Vols had a full SEC officiating crew on hand to create a more game-like setting.
"I thought our players did a very good job from a discipline standpoint with a full officiating crew," said Jones. "Very few penalties. The other thing, when you have the opportunity to play 11-on-11, is really the in game mechanics that go. The ball rule, lining up, where to spot the ball, all those nuances of learning how to play in your style of play."
WOLF STRIVING TO BE DYNAMIC TE
After a strong freshman season in which he became the first true freshman in program history to start the season-opener at tight end, Ethan Wolf is aiming to become the X-factor in a passing attack that has the tools to be extremely dangerous come fall.
"The next step is just to take what I had last year and build on it, just becoming that much more of a dynamic player," he said. "Ensuring every ball that's thrown to me is caught and making every block. The biggest thing is, now that I'm familiar with the offense and not a whole lot of things are changing, I can mentally lock down and not have any mental errors. Every freshman has them. And now that I'm not a freshman anymore I feel like I definitely know the offense that much more, in and out, and won't have any mental mistakes that may have happened last year."
The progress made between freshman and sophomore year can be pivotal in the career arc of a young player, and Wolf has not wasted a minute in transforming himself physically in the hope of becoming even more effective on the field next season. He finished with 23 catches for 212 yards in 12 games during his rookie campaign.
"I've been more explosive, just trimming my body fat down and replacing with muscle. That's allowed me to come in and out of my breaks faster and just overall be faster in a straight line. So it's providing me a better chance to get open and make plays."
Those changes have been noticed by head coach Butch Jones, who had plenty of praise to offer his second-year tight end after his strong performance on Saturday.
"I thought Ethan had his best performance of spring today," Jones said. "He did some really productive good things in the run game, allowing some big runs to hit. But also, ball skills, there was a number of times where the ball was thrown behind him and he was able to make the catch. He is still a youngster. But he has added the strength, again, not a finished product but I like his mentality, I like his effort and I thought today he has his best performance."
MALONE USING SEC EXPERIENCE THIS SPRING
One year in the SEC has taught sophomore wide receiver Josh Malone a lot on many levels. This spring, he's focusing on reminding his team and coaching staff of what he was brought to Tennessee to do as a five-star prospect out of Station Camp.
"I feel like my routes are getting better, releases are starting to get smoother," Malone said on his spring improvement. "I feel like I'll be able to work the game better."
Having starting in six of the 13 games last season, Malone was up against some of the nation's best in the secondary. With that, there's not much much more that can hit him as a surprise.
"I feel a lot better," Malone said of his confidence this spring. "I have a lot more experience this year. Just that one year of SEC play going up against the best corners in the league, that's just valuable experience I can use going into this year."
With nine practices left, he's given the opportunity to work on his technique and skill set, but he continues to see his role as one that is ever changing. Like the rest of Team 119, his role is contributing to the team anyway he can.
I just want to prove that they brought me here for reason," Malone said. "I just want them to still believe in that reason, and that I can still go out there and make plays."
It doesn't matter where they put him on the field, he says. If it's a position, he'll play it.
Sophomore Jashon Robertson started in all 13 games at the right guard spot last season after switching from the defensive line. This spring, he has a new spot to learn: center.
"Since I've moved over to the offensive line, [Coach Mahoney] said you can't be a one trick pony," Robertson said. "You have guys like Kyler Kerbyson, Marcus Jackson and other guys that can play three, four, five positions. He's just increasing my knowledge of the game and volume in everything playing both guard and center."
With an open mind and more than willing attitude, Robertson has been taking reps at the center position alongside the likes of Mack Crowder.
"I played center when I was like seven years old," Robertson said. "I've enjoyed playing center very much. My reps are going to increase next week. I'm looking forward to it."
He shares the same unselfish attitude that his teammates hold, a mindset that says you do it all for the team.
"I want to do whatever the coaches want me to do," Robertson said. "If they told me 'Hey, we need you to work at right tackle this week' even though I'm 6'3'' on a good day, I'll still do my best. It's whatever they want. Whatever they want, I want."
RANDOLPH'S VETERAN PRESENCE
As a fifth-year senior, Brian Randolph is able to offer sage advice to the many young members of the Vols' secondary. Coach Jones calls Randolph a `coach on the field' and Randolph is happy with the role.
"Brian Randolph knows the entire defense, inside and out, can get players lined up and our players respect him," said Jones. "So having him on the football field really mentoring our young players has been invaluable for us."
Randolph can see the tremendous potential for many of the Vols' underclassmen and welcomed the opportunity to guide them with open arms.
"They have a lot of talent, give you a lot to work with. The more competition in our backfield will make me better," said Randolph. "It's good to sit back and watch them make plays and make the defense better."
Improving the defense takes some pressure off of Randolph, but also pushes him to get better.
"I know I don't have to play 80 snaps a game. It's great knowing we have great backups and if I get a little bit tired I can count on the next guy to come in and give me a break." Randolph added, "It does take a lot of pressure off. You don't have to do everything else yourself, got to rely on other people."
Jones knows the Vols' secondary is in safe hands with Randolph.
"I always say it, the younger players have to have somebody to look up to," said Jones. "They have to be able to say, `okay, I get it, that is how it is done.' You need to follow Brian Randolph around. ... When you have older players like that, that helps the development of the younger players in moving forward."