KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Running back Marlin Lane, suspended for “disciplinary reasons,” was absent for the third consecutive practice and fourth since players returned from spring break.
But there was good news on that front. Coach Butch Jones continued to leave open the door for Lane’s return, saying there were “criteria” that Lane needed to meet in order to be reinstated.
Teammate and friend Rajion Neal said Lane was back in Knoxville, and thus presumably going to class. Neal said Lane was contending with a “sensitive situation” but that he hoped and expected him to eventually return to the team.
Dark skies and a quick rain marked the opening of what might be Tennessee’s final spring practice at Haslam Field Wednesday morning.
Then the sun came out, the rain departed and it got really hot in a hurry.
Coach Butch Jones wasn’t entirely satisfied with the start of practice. After a sloppy team period, Jones yelled, “Let’s get better at this!” Then, dissatisfied with the way players ran to the next station, he called the entire team to the middle of the field for some choice words (without using the microphone to amplify his voice).
“I thought we were a little rusty,” Jones said afterwards. ‘We need to finish (spring practice) with a mindset of physicality.”
* Tennessee is tentatively scheduled to practice at Neyland Stadium on Thursday. The Orange & White game on Saturday is the final session of the spring.
* Jones said he would like to draft teams and have a traditional “game” on Saturday, but the team’s depth won’t allow it. Instead, it will be offense vs. defense with a scoring system to reward the defense for big stops.
* “The Hole” — Tennessee’s on-field prison for injured players — was especially crowded today, although I believe the only new additions were cornerback Riyahd Jones and defensive lineman Daniel Hood. (Although Hood was only wearing green, which is not as serious as the yellow jerseys).
Receiver Vincent Dallas, who had missed the last week, was back in action.
* A helicopter camera/unmanned drone was hovering over the sidelines Wednesday, apparently going through some testing with its operator nearby.
Jones said it was another “teaching tool” that would help with film study.
* Receiver Alton “Pig” Howard had another drop in the team period. Devrin Young was destroyed in the backfield for a large loss, although there was little he could do to avoid it.
The best catch of the day, perhaps surprisingly, was by big tight end Charles Folger, who made a leaping grab and held on despite a big hit.
* Running back Alden Hill was working with the first group in the team period, although I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into that. It’s quite possible that they put Rajion Neal in bubble wrap until August given the lack of running back depth.
* Jones said there are no immediate plans to move anyone else to running back, including Young, who was moved to receiver this spring. “We’re going to go with the running backs we have,” Jones said.
For his part, Young said, “I’m comfortable at receiver, I’m comfortable in the backfield, so it’s whatever coach Jones wants.”
* Freshman defensive lineman Corey Vereen was flagged for an offsides penalty in team session. “That’s lack of discipline. That’s losing football.”
* On punt returns, Devrin Young and walk-on Winston Williams looked sharpest, while Pig Howard had one hiccup but held onto the ball.
* Jones was asked who had impressed him this spring. Here’s his list: RBs Alden Hill and Rajion Neal; LB Dontavis Sapp; DB Justin Coleman; OLs James Stone, Zach Fulton and Ja’Wuan James; and QBs Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman.
We’ll have more video, photos and more later this afternoon.