It finally felt like it was football time in Tennessee.
After two no-contact practices over the weekend, the sound of players colliding returned to Haslam Field on Tuesday, as the Tennessee Volunteers broke out their pads for the first time this spring.
"It's always a good feeling to get the pads on and to get hitting – that's the big thing – instead of just running around in helmets," linebacker A.J. Johnson said.
The pads, however, didn't bring the results head coach Butch Jones wanted.
Following what the second-year head coach termed as a "good" weekend in terms of tempo, a key factor in Jones' offensive scheme, the extra weight seemed to slow the team down.
"I thought we had very good tempo in practice one and practice two and then when we got in the full pads, our tempo really slowed down," Jones said. "Throughout the whole practice, I thought our tempo on offense and defense really slowed down and I think that was a byproduct of the pads, but again we have to learn to work through those things."
Overall, tempo was just one of the many "things" that stood out to Jones, as he made it clear that this team is far from what it needs to be come Aug. 30 when they face Utah State.
"It was pretty evident that we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do," Jones said. "I thought we showed our youth today, being as youthful as we are. I didn't like our leadership from our older players, so we have a long, long way to go.
"The great thing is, it's practice three, so we have great teaching opportunities in terms of our film to go back and correct and teach them our style of play and that usually happens the first day of pads."
Reeves-Maybin 'stepping up'
He described it as the "most hype moment of his career."
When Jalen Reeves-Maybin came up the middle and blocked a punt off the foot of Georgia's Collin Barber, the freshman made his name known as a special teams standout.
"I didn't want people to forget about me," Reeves-Maybin said, "so special teams was my way of getting my name out there, and I guess it got out there a little bit."
When the Clarksville, Tenn., native wasn't lined up on special teams, he was in practice bouncing in between the safety and linebacker positions, as the team tried to find a role for him on the defensive side of the ball.
"Mentally it wasn't that hard, but physically I was putting on weight to be a linebacker and when they put me back (to safety) it was a little difficult," Reeves-Maybin said. "It wasn't anything I couldn't handle though."
Now entering his second year, Reeves-Maybin is looking to increase his role on the defensive end, as he is currently seeing consistent reps at the Will linebacker position.
"It's a lot more physical," said Reeves-Maybin when asked about what he likes about the position. "You're kind of in the middle of everything. You really feel like you're playing more football because you have to know what the D-line is doing, what the secondary is doing, so when you're in the middle of the field you feel like you are working the game a lot more."
And as Reeves-Maybin prepares for the 2014 season, his teammates have become aware of his hard work.
"He's stepping up," Johnson said. "He knows the calls and just getting on the field and repping is going to help him out as a player."
Johnson's unfinished business
With the NFL Draft a little more than a month away, one player who won't hear his name called this year is A.J. Johnson.
The senior linebacker decided to forgo the draft and return to Tennessee for his senior season because he felt he had some unfinished business to attend to in his final year of his career.
"It was better for me as a person to come back for another year," Johnson said. "I had goals set for when I came to Tennessee and I hadn't reach some of those goals, and you only get a certain amount of time to play in Tennessee and you can play forever in the league, so I really wanted to come back my senior year and have fun with it."
As for those goals?
"I always said I wanted to win the SEC, I wanted to go to the national championship and those goals I can reach," Johnson said. "I know those goals aren't impossible to reach."I want to be one of the best players coming out (of college) and I came back for that and just to build – I love Tennessee."