A pair of sophomores vying for playing time at key positions have earned the most improved player awards for Tennessee's 2004 spring practice.
Turk McBride, a 6-4, 260-pound defensive end from Camden, N.J., was named winner of the Andy Spiva Award as most improved defensive performer. Rob Smith, a 6-4, 308-pound offensive guard from Fort Thomas, Ky., earned the Harvey Robinson Award for most improved offensive player.
Smith sat out last season as a redshirt but played in nine games during his true freshman campaign of 2002. McBride played in eight games during 2003 as a true freshman for the Vols.
"Turk has been really, really productive and we like the attitude he's taken to practice this spring," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "The hard work's paid off for him and I think a lot of it has to do with him feeling comfortable in the position. Steve Caldwell's done a great job with all those kids at defensive end but Turk seems to have grown a lot more than most of our guys on defense."
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders feels the gamble to redshirt Smith last year may be paying dividends.
"Rob obviously has had a good spring," Sanders said. "We were hoping he would come around and he's really exceeded what we expected. We thought he would be competing for a position and maybe end up being a backup. But with the spring he's had, somebody's going to have a hard time beating him out."
Both coaches added that the spring's most improved players usually make a noticeable impact come fall.
"That's pretty much the case except for 1986 when I won it," Sanders added with a smile. "But typically, it's somebody who is now performing at a level where you can count on them in the fall."
The award winners, selected annually by the coaching staff, have been chosen at the conclusion of spring practice since 1979. They are named for Robinson, a former UT player (1929-32), assistant coach (1946-52, 1960-63) and head coach (1953-54), and for Spiva, UT's outstanding linebacker from 1973-76.