KNOXVILLE — Nearly 72 hours since a moment most football players dread, Pig Howard was back on the field operating as if nothing had happened.
The Tennessee receiver appears to have moved past the one bad play he had in an otherwise excellent performance in the Volunteers’ overtime loss to Georgia last Saturday.
The sophomore tallied 116 yards of offense on 11 touches against the Bulldogs, but he was on the wrong end of the game’s key play when the football slipped out of his hand as he made a dive and reached for the end zone in Tennessee’s overtime possession.
“I haven’t really been thinking about it,” he said Tuesday evening after the Vols’ first practice of this week’s open date. “After the game, I kind of sat there and thought about it over and over, but I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I was just trying to make a play for my team.
“Things happen, and there’s nothing I can do about it now.”
First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Tuesday’s practice was “business as usual” for Howard, a 5-foot-8, 185-pounder who was the only player other than tailback Rajion Neal to register a carry against Georgia. He ran six times for 46 yards on reverses and jet sweeps and caught four passes for 70 yards, including a 33-yarder.
Howard, whom Jones called by his given name (Alton) instead of his nickname because of advice he once received from Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, called it “one of my best games,” as the Vols made him a bigger part of the offensive game plan.
“[The coaches] didn’t really tell me. Practice told me it all last week, just different schemes we did, different plays,” he said. “The [slot receiver], it makes this offense with all the motions and what you have to do to help the outside receivers to get open. Just the scheme of things, I kind of knew coming into that game I was going to touch the ball a lot.”
Howard said the feedback and reaction he’s gotten from fans on social media and on campus after his fumble has been “all positive,” and even Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told Howard he was proud of how he played Saturday.
“Everyone knew that I was trying to give it my all stretching out for that pylon,” Howard said. “I play for my team, my brotherhood. At the end of the day, that’s in the past, so I’m just moving forward and focusing on the big picture.”
Open, not off, week
Cornerback Justin Coleman hardly ever comes off the field when the Vols are on defense, so he probably needs the rest provided by an open date as much as any Vol, but Jones told his team before Tuesday’s practice, “This is a bye week, not an off week.”
“I don’t think I really needed a week off to rest and recover, but it’s a good thing for us,” Coleman said. “We need to get in the cold tub, recover and take this as an advantage over South Carolina.”
The 14th-ranked Gamecocks visit Arkansas on Saturday — they’ll travel round-trip more than 1,800 miles — before visiting Knoxville, and Coleman said the Vols began some early game prep “to get three steps ahead of them.”
“We’re not taking a week off, really,” said receiver Jason Croom. “Today, when we started practice our thing was ‘work.’ We’re still improving. We’re not done. It’s an extra week for us to prepare for another great team we’re going against.”
“The sense of urgency is heightened,” Jones said, “because we have to get better as a football team and a football program.”
Two days after four-star Saddleback (Calif.) College receiver Eric Lauderdale announced on Twitter he’d decided to “back away” from his commitment to Tennessee, the Vols landed another important junior college recruit.
Dontavius Blair, a 6-8, 308-pound offensive tackle from Garden City (Kan.) Community College, announced his commitment to Tennessee on Tuesday night. The Anniston, Ala., native’s list of scholarship offers included Texas A&M, Florida State, Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Southern California, Miami and others.
According to 247sports.com, Blair is the nation’s No. 9 junior college prospect, and he’s the fourth offensive lineman in Tennessee’s 25-player 2014 class, joining three-star prospects Orlando Brown, Coleman Thomas and Ray Raulerson
Left guard Alex Bullard, left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson and tailback Marlin Lane didn’t practice Tuesday. Bullard was on crutches with a boot on his left foot for precautionary reasons. Lane (toe) did some light jogging and exercise on the side with a trainer and is expected to return for the South Carolina game.
Jones said defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry (knee) and receiver Devrin Young (hand) are on track to return to practice next week after ongoing conditioning work this week.
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 ...