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Tennessee football spring practice #3 thoughts and notes

Tennessee Volunteers junior S LaDarrell McNeil (33) at practice Tuesday
Tennessee Volunteers junior S LaDarrell McNeil (33) at practice Tuesday
UT Athletics Department

Here are some news and notes from Tennessee football spring practice #3 (Tuesday, March 11, 2014).

I’ll be posting post-practice blogs and interviews on this page throughout spring practice, so please share and tell your friends and co-workers.

Practice 3
This was the first full pads workout for the football team. OC Mike Bajakian said practices in helmets and jerseys are like “gym class.” He says the practices start with full-pad workouts.

Evan Woodbery of the Knoxville News Sentinel (and co-host on our show, News Sentinel Sports Page) and I talked about some of the happenings at practice #3 on Tuesday.

Bugs were everywhere annoying players, coaches and media. That was one very noticeable thing.

The "circle of life" drill, where players compete in full-pads man-on-man blocking drills with the rest of the team circled around the two players cheering, was a big part of the start of practice. Evan pointed out that this is a way Butch Jones likes to set-the-tone for the physical practices he demands.

Bugs aside, Butch Jones wasn’t very satisfied with the first full-pads workout. "First day of pads," said Jones, "(it was) pretty evident that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. Overall, just our style of play, what it means to play winning football, the consistency we are looking for, the mental toughness, the mental conditioning that we talk about each and every day. A lot of work to do.”

Butch Jones complimented just one player from the first practice in pads, and that was true freshman tight end Daniel Helm. "The one individual that I thought really did some good things today was Daniel Helm," said Jones. "He made some big plays, in a scrimmage situation, in some team settings; I thought he took great strides in moving forward."

Both Helm and fellow-true freshman tight end Ethan Wolf look the part at TE. Both have seen work with the first team, sometimes together on that unit.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson continues to impress on-lookers. Evan and I talked about an instinctual play by Ferguson where he made a deep back-shoulder throw to new JUCO wide receiver Von Pearson for a touchdown that was off script and impressive. Both Evan and I saw that play on coaches film and it was impressive, both the throw and the catch.

It is significant, in my opinion, that Butch Jones points that skill out. I think that kind of play is what may separate Ferguson (other than arm strength) from the other QBs. I’m not saying it means Butch Jones will make him the starters because of that, but I am saying that from of play-making and decision-making is what Jones wants from his QBs.

As Evan points out, if Ferguson can do those things without the negatives of bad decisions or gunslinger chances or just too many freshman mistakes, then he’ll have a great chance to win the 4-QB battle for the starting job at Tennessee.

All the quarterbacks were off-the-mark on a lot of throws that were open to the media in Tuesday’s practice. That clearly continued through the rest of practice.

Also, many of the players that we’ve seen on first units in the first two practices were in those same spots in the drills during the media viewing period at spring practice #3.

We’ll have more on my radio show, the News Sentinel Sports Page, weekdays 10am - Noon on The Sports Animal! Listen at, on the WNML app or on the iHeart radio app.

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