Some hit the beach. Others went home for Mama's cooking. Still, a few Tennessee Volunteers hung around Knoxville to study film and get a week up on teammates who took time away from the football field to be college kids.
Head coach Butch Jones welcomed back his team after a weeklong spring break, and it was a big test for Tennessee to see whether a young team could come back and play like he hadn't missed a beat.
In many ways, the coaching staff reportedly ramped up the intensity to make sure that happened. After all, a team with so many new faces can't afford much slack on the practice field.
While there were the predictable grumblings from the staff upon the team's return, the rebuilding Vols passed the physical hurdles after time away.
Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown:
I liked our approach on Monday, but Tuesday, we had to get back into the rhythm, and the big I wanted to see was retention. How did we retain the information we had in the first five? I thought for the most part, our players did a very good job of the retention. Now, again, it's the small details that it takes and being in football shape.
Mother Nature did her best to let the Vols know they weren't on the beach anymore.
Snow on March 25! pic.twitter.com/AidngdSNTS— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) March 25, 2014
So, even though it has been three weeks since UT began spring drills, this was just Week 2 of actual practice. Let's take a look at the highlights in B/R's spring stock report.
Two In-State Stars Coming Alive
Without question, the two most highly coveted players in UT's vaunted recruiting class were Nashville-area standouts Josh Malone and Jalen Hurd.
Hurd—a 6'3", 221-pound running back from Beech High in Hendersonville—already began wowing folks around the UT program with his eye-opening performance in the team's first live scrimmage a couple weeks ago.
But with senior Marlin Lane limited the rest of spring practice with a broken bone in his hand, Hurd has taken the increased workload and run with the opportunity. He is looking every bit the star UT thought it secured when he committed.
At this rate, it'll be impossible to keep Hurd off the field.
UT defensive coordinator John Jancek gushed about Hurd to Volquest's John Brice (subscription required) on Thursday.
He's done some really good things. He's a big back, that's the first thing. And he has the ability to stop and start very quickly, which is a unique skill-set for a player of his size. Shoot, I'm glad he's on our team. Keep the chains moving Jalen.
The light didn't come on quite as quickly for Malone, the electrifying wide receiver who was rated a high 4-star prospect by 247Sports. But Jones said he has come back from spring practice playing at a higher level.
Butch: Josh Malone looked like a different player today, and in a good way. He played much faster.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) March 25, 2014
With Malone locked in a battle with Jason Croom to start in the other outside receiver spot opposite Marquez North, the elevated play can only help him win that spot.
Quarterbacks Lacking "Consistency"
Seven practices into spring, and UT coaches aren't budging on who has a leg-up in the battle to be the Vols' starting quarterback.
While most around the program continue to hint on social media and in reports that senior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson are the two front-runners, UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian isn't relinquishing anything.
He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) that the group is still making too many critical mistakes, but he's looking for some movement in the race before the spring concludes.
When asked if it was possible there could be "zero separation" in the competition by spring's end, Bajakian responded:
Well, I hope not zero. Everyone has flashed. The word we keep emphasizing is consistency. We don't have the consistency we want, frankly, at any position, but particularly at the quarterback position. We'll get there. Those guys, I like their approach. They work hard. But we just have to have a consistency in performance that's acceptable when it comes to the position that's managing the offense.
Moseley Still Starting (Other Position Battle Updates)
The Vols have a scrimmage and seven sessions in the books already, yet even after coaches had a week to pore over film from the first week of drills, true freshman Emmanuel Moseley trotted out there with the 1s again this week.
Right now, he holds a slight edge over sophomore Malik Foreman for the starting cornerback spot opposite Cameron Sutton. But coaches seem to be rotating defensive backs to see where guys best fit.
- They're going through predictable growing pains, but Coleman Thomas (RT) and Dontavius Blair (LT) are still getting the first-team reps on the offensive line along with Mack Crowder (C), Kyler Kerbyson (RG) and Marcus Jackson (LG).
- Junior college defensive tackle Owen Williams is still starting despite (like Thomas and Blair) having only been on campus mere months. While he isn't perfect, defensive line coach Steve Stripling has strong words about his and Dimarya Mixon's future:
- Jalen Reeves-Maybin is still starting at one outside linebacker spot, and Curt Maggitt is getting most of his reps at defensive end in nickel packages.
- George Bullock is trying to hammer down the job to be UT's kickoffs man and working on consistency in field-goal kicking, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.
Top-Tier Quarterback Prospects Visit
There is no more important piece of UT's future than getting a star quarterback committed in the 2015 recruiting class.
This week, perhaps the two top targets on the Vols' board either will be in Knoxville or already has been.
Fort Lauderdale quarterback Torrance Gibson—the nation's top-ranked dual-threat signal-caller according to the 247Sports Composite—visited UT during the week and by all accounts had a great time.
Tennessee fans painted "The Rock" for him.
"The visit went great," Gibson told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required). "Tennessee was high (on my list) already, and now they’re even higher."
Gibson is reportedly high on several teams like Miami, Ohio State and Auburn, so pulling him would be a major coup, but he isn't the only star prep QB on Rocky Top this week. New Mexico high school quarterback Zach Gentry plans on traveling to UT this weekend.
The 6'6" signal-caller appears to be one of Tennessee's top two choices along with Gibson, and he has mutual interest in UT. He also likes Oklahoma State and Alabama.
Finally, everybody around UT is excited about the Vols basketball team and Coach Cuonzo Martin playing in the Sweet 16 this weekend in Indianapolis.
Jones even traveled to Raleigh to watch UT dispatch Mercer last weekend to make it deeper into the Dance. The No. 11-seed Vols will play No. 2 Michigan on Friday, and if they win, they'll face the winner of Kentucky-Louisville.