KNOXVILLE — The talking starts this morning at 11:30.
The walking officially starts Saturday morning.
New Tennessee football coach Butch Jones will talk about his team during a news conference today as the Volunteers kick off spring practice, but the first practice Saturday likely will unveil more of the mystery of a new coaching staff and a team starting a new season.
For a Vols program that's struggled for the past several seasons, figuring out who can lead and help the team turn things around will be crucial to Jones' first season.
Today, we conclude a weeklong preview of the UT spring season with a look at what questions are most pressing for the Vols this spring.
1. How will practice actually look?
What's the tempo? How is Jones, who's shown he's a confident and energetic speaker during his first three months at Tennessee, on the practice field? How do each of the Vols' new assistants differ in style as they coach their new team?
For an offense that's built on a fast pace and a defense that emphasizes top-shelf conditioning, practice should move pretty quickly, as it did last season. Saturday will provide the first glimpse into how the blue-collar Jones coaches one of his teams. What's his intensity level, and how does he spend his time in practice among the various position groups?
Football practice is football practice, but with a new cast of coaches organizing and conducting it, the ins, outs and minor details deserve attention.
2. How quickly can a new coaching staff and the team adapt to each other?
It's probably the biggest underlying theme of the spring: A new coaching staff must learn their personnel and earn the trust of their players, who have to learn a new set of systems and build a rapport with a new set of coaches.
For the coaches, spring will be important to identify the players' strengths and weaknesses while searching for the most effective way to coach each individual. Offensively, the Vols have to find playmakers at the skill positions and begin to evaluate the quarterback competition. Defensively, the coaches must help their players rediscover their confidence after last season's debacle and build a scheme around the players' capabilities.
The task might be tougher for the players, who should be familiar with transition given the ongoing coaching turnover in recent years. For example, Steve Stripling is the fifth defensive line coach fifth-year senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood has played for in his Tennessee career. In addition to learning new schemes, the players must learn a new set of personalities amid the program's new atmosphere -- and for many, the fresh air probably is a good thing.
3. Where does Tennessee find leadership?
It's an annual question, and the answer becomes more important with a new coach running things.
Unlike Derek Dooley's first season as coach in 2010, Jones inherits a senior class that's healthy in numbers (21) and features many starters and key contributors, including 10 offensive and defensive linemen. The junior class includes linebacker A.J. Johnson and left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, two players with talent and on-field production in addition to leadership intangibles. Those two and junior quarterback Justin Worley are the players available for today's interviews.
Jones began the process of trying to find leadership during his offseason with the "Volympics," and he's used a similar format of competition at his previous coaching stops. Ten pairs of players were picked as captains for a small group of teammates with the hope that commanding a smaller group would translate to a larger scale. The process will continue when the Vols begin practicing.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...