A pivotal third year for head coach Butch Jones' Tennessee football team kicked off with spring practice this week. A commanding presence behind center, some first-year eye-openers and visible excitement from the coaching staff about the program's direction all characterized the first few days of drills.
Though the Vols have only practiced one day in pads thus far, there haven't been any signs that the optimism surrounding the 2015 season needs to be muted.
As a matter of fact, Jones even noted to the media after the first day (video below) that UT is finally beginning to look bigger, stronger and faster:
The thing I thought about was just our body composition, the body makeup of our entire football team walking out there today. We're slowly starting to look like an SEC football team in terms of our bodies, and you could see individuals making monumental strides with their bodies. And we always talk about, 'Your body is your weapon.' And, you know, 'Are you a Saturday body, or are you a Sunday body?' We’re really taking pride in that.
On top of all the injuries the Vols are dealing with this spring, however, there have been a couple more losses this week that further depleted the product UT will be able to put on the field this session.
All in all, it was a very eventful first week on Rocky Top—and that's completely independent of the drama surrounding ousted basketball coach Donnie Tyndall. Strictly speaking football, a lot of ground was covered this week.
Let's get right to the news.
Joshua Dobbs' Forward Strides
Despite the obvious spark quarterback Joshua Dobbs provided the Vols last year as he entered for the injured Justin Worley and led UT to its first bowl game since 2009, he was by no means a finished product.
This spring, it's been all business for the rising junior.
Jones noted this week that he's seen more consistency in doing the little things correctly and that the signal-caller is making the routine throws and managing the offense. Based on the coach's comments, it also appears Dobbs is throwing the ball more efficiently than a season ago.
"[T]he thing I liked about Josh today is that I thought he made the routine plays," Jones told the VolQuest.com crew after UT's first day in pads Saturday. "He made the routine throws."
When asked if that's the No. 1 thing coaches have challenged Dobbs with, Jones said: "Yes, consistency. Consistency in the routine plays. I saw that."
Dobbs' grasp of the offense, accuracy and practice habits hampered his bid to seriously contend with Worley at the beginning of last season. Once he got on the field, he flashed elite skills and displayed improvisational ability but was raw.
Jones used a specific term with the media this week in explaining what he wants from Dobbs.
Early returns are good. Dobbs and new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord need to hit it off and produce an offense that's not only fast but is clicking on all cylinders and picking up yards. DeBord is already harping on that "CEO" mentality with all his quarterbacks.
Even though DeBord has been a couple of years removed from football, there doesn't seem to be any visible rust with the man Jones handpicked to guide his offense after the departure of former coordinator Mike Bajakian.
UT needs Dobbs commanding the offense and the young guys getting ready for a positive spring.
Alvin Kamara "Can Do it All"
With starting running back Jalen Hurd sporting a no-contact green jersey thus far this spring, it's Alvin Kamara's show.
The former JUCO runner and former star recruit at Alabama has been as good as advertised.
Early in the week, UT running backs coach Robert Gillespie told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan that Kamara "can do it all," while Jones told the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown that his new offensive toy was "explosive."
From the moment he signed with UT, there's never been much doubt that Kamara is exactly the sort of weapon the Vols' speed-based, zone-read offense needs. He was a high priority for Jones' first full recruiting class despite ultimately choosing the Crimson Tide over Georgia.
So when the Vols got the opportunity to re-recruit him and won the Kamara sweepstakes, it was clear that he was going to be a big part of their immediate plans. Now he's proving it on the field.
There was one play Saturday where Kamara zipped past returning 100-tackle linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, impressing everybody who witnessed it.
"I got past (Reeves-Maybin) today, and he was like, 'Man, I didn't know you was that fast,'" Kamara told Rucker. "I was like, 'Yeah, when the pads come on, I ain't trying to get hit.'"
Thomas in Trouble
A week ago, sophomore offensive tackle/center Coleman Thomas was firmly in the mix for several starting spots along the offensive front. He'd shown signs of being stronger and had progress since his baptism-by-fire freshman year.
Now he's dealing with some legal issues.
Thomas was suspended indefinitely from all team activities following his arrest and charge for felony theft of items ranging from $500-$1,000, according to Rucker:
According to a Thursday story from GoVols247 partner WBIR-TV in Knoxville, a UT student named James Shelton reported on March 13—just before spring break—that an XBox video game system and three games were stolen from his dorm room in Reese Hall.
'Records allege Thomas sold the Xbox and games to Game Stop on Clinton Highway on the same day at around 6:15 p.m.' the report continued.
The investigation is ongoing. However, this cryptic tweet by Rucker suggests that perhaps this isn't the whole story:
Just a couple days earlier, Thomas stood in front of the media and discussed the differences on the field this year as opposed to last.
"Really, I try to be a positive guy in everything I do," he told Rucker in another story. "Every day I come in here with a good attitude, and I’m willing to work. I never got down or put my head between my legs. I just realize that this is my calling here, and this is what I need to do."
He remains absent from team activities until the issue is resolved.
Rocky Top Roundup
Here's a rundown of several other hot topics from Week 1 of spring practice.
One of the biggest stories of the week is the emergence of 6'3", 315-pound freshman defensive tackle Shy Tuttle. There will be more on his resurgence in a feature story later this week, but he has been singled out by Jones and some teammates as being an early force.
Starting cornerback Emmanuel Moseley isn't currently going through spring drills because of an illness. Jones told the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Dustin Dopirak that Moseley "may have mono."
It has been a rough few weeks for Moseley, who walked away without serious injury from a serious car accident he was involved in with family. This is a pivotal spring for Moseley to solidify his starting job with JUCO star Justin Martin and other defensive backs arriving in the summer.
Speaking of cornerbacks, spring is the time to give players looks at other positions, and none was more noteworthy this week than star corner Cameron Sutton's time at nickelback.
The position is extremely vital to the success of UT's defense and is a major hole to fill with Justin Coleman out of eligibility. Already a technical pupil at the boundary corner, Sutton is diversifying in case he's needed at the nickel.
While Dillon Bates has gotten most of the early press in the middle-linebacker battle, redshirt freshman Gavin Bryant drew praise for, among other things, a huge hit on Saturday.
"Gavin stood out a little bit today," Jones told the VolQuest crew. "When Gavin knows his assignments and knows what he's doing and when he plays with confidence, he attacks things downhill. Gavin's an explosive football player."
Kyler Kerbyson is getting most of the reps at left tackle as UT looks to solidify that spot as well. Brett Kendrick and Dontavius Blair have had good things said about them as well throughout the first week.
Finally, here's a cool video from Tennessee's "Circle of Life" drills from the first day in pads.
All statistics gathered from UTSports.com unless otherwise noted. Quotes and observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.