KNOXVILLE — After a two-day respite from Haslam Field, Tennessee's football team was back at practice on Tuesday afternoon.
And for the first time this spring, the pads were on.
After practicing on Friday and Saturday in just helmets, the Volunteers were in full gear on Tuesday, and head coach Butch Jones marked the occasion by calling for his favored circle drill right after the team's stretching period early in practice.
The circle drill challenges a player's toughness and competitive drive. Jones will call out one offensive player and one defensive player to face up in a three-point stance and try to drive the other back as the entire team forms a circle around the two combatants.
It was a staple of Jones' practice during last season, and it made its 2014 debut on Tuesday. Among the winners were guard Dylan Wiesman and two newcomers: tight end Daniel Helm and linebacker Jakob Johnson. Receiver Von Pearson did well in a matchup with cornerback Justin Coleman.
Here are some other notes and observations from Tennessee's third spring practice:
*As the team stretched, Jones reminded it that "Your win-loss record starts today." In a way, Tuesday's practice was really the first real one of spring. Football is a physical game, and it's hard to tell who's tough and who's not in helmets alone.
*Fourth-year junior Kyler Kerbyson continues to work with the first-team offensive line at right guard ahead of Wiesman, a rising sophomore the staff really likes. At this early stage, it appears Tennessee has its top six linemen: newcomers Dontavius Blair and Coleman Thomas at tackles, Mack Crowder at center, Marcus Jackson at left guard, Kerbyson and Wiesman. Kerbyson has the versatility to play guard or tackle, which makes him a valuable player.
*Freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is getting some work with the first-team defense during the Vols' walk-through period. Coleman continues to work at nickel, where the staff would like to keep him. Moseley is still pretty wiry, but he's fast. D'Andre Payne, the other freshman corner, is working some at nickel, and he was with the second group on Tuesday.
*At safety, LaDarrell McNeil, a two-year starter, is working alongside rising sophomore walk-on Devaun Swafford, who played primarily at nickel last season. Remember, sure-fire starter Brian Randolph is out this spring coming off shoulder surgery, and the Vols will add some nice safety prospects -- and perhaps a potential starter -- when some touted freshmen arrive this summer.
*The first-team defensive line was Corey Vereen and Jordan Williams at end and junior college transfer Owen Williams and Danny O'Brien at tackle. Ends LaTroy Lewis and Jaylen Miller also got some looks with the first group.
*Rising sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin joined A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt as the top linebackers, with Jakob Johnson and Kenny Bynum getting some second-team looks.
*Pearson, Marquez North and Jason Croom continue to be the three receivers with the first group on offense, along with freshman tight end Ethan Wolf. Justin Worley was the first-team quarterback during Tuesday's walk-through. Riley Ferguson looked sharp throwing the ball during the periods of practice open for media viewing.
*Linebacker Justin King, who missed Friday's and Saturday's practice while his mom underwent emergency surgery, was back at practice on Tuesday.
More practice coverage online and in Wednesday's Times Free Press.
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 ...