By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- Opening night for Team 118 was all about speed. The night session relied heavily on tempo as the Volunteers run toward opening night against Utah State.
As Butch Jones oversaw the start of his second fall camp at he University of Tennessee, he found a quicker football team going at a quicker pace, but the next step still awaits.
"I saw a much faster football team in all areas," Jones said. "Now it's being able get off of blocks and making plays."
Running back Marlin Lane, who is expected to carry the load at the position in his senior season, could feel the focus on speed on opening night.
"Everything was tempo, going out one play at a time and trying to execute," Lane said after the the initial session. "We had a lot of young guys out there, so we had to go out as veterans and help them through the plays as we go on to work faster."
And it was all part of the plan going into the night. Watching the pace at which the Vols worked on Friday, an observer could wonder if they were trying to get through the session as fast as possible. The answer? Yes, indeed.
"This is up-tempo. Fast and furious is what we call it," redshirt junior Marcus Jackson said of the offensive pace. "We're always up-tempo and trying to snap the ball fast, fast, fast."
"I think we met their expectations," Lane said of how the Tennessee coaching staff evaluated the opening practice. "But we have to step it up and play faster. We take it one play at a time and just try to execute it."
Defensively, the speed infusion brought on by the newcomers experiencing their first fall practice has made an impact right away.
"They definitely bring juice to the secondary," Brian Randolph said of his new teammates in the defensive backfield. "They're very fast and explosive, we just have to get them caught up on the playbook."
Sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin saw the newcomers in the linebacking corps bring the flash of speed, not slowed down by the newness of it all.
"They caught on fast," Reeves-Maybin said of the newest Volunteers. "They looked pretty good out there. They just have to get used to some of the practice habits. They're catching on.
Randolph acknowledged that the speed the defense brings in 2014 comes at a bit of a trade-off with size up front. Curt Maggitt slid down from linebacker to the defensive line and Reeves-Maybin, a safety previously, is developing ion his role as a linebacker. He's confident that the bumps that come early with those transitions will have a long-term payoff.
"We may be a tad smaller than last year, but the quickness is there, Randolph said. "It definitely helps. Speed kills, so that's going to give opposing offenses a lot of stress this year."
Whatever lessons can be learned from one practice, one thing is for sure. Football is back on Rocky Top and everyone is glad to hear the sounds of the game on Haslam Field.
"I've been itching to get back to it since spring ball," Reeves-Maybin said. "It definitely feels good to be back out there with the guys."