The words "Competition Thursday" rang through the speakers of Haslam Field on multiple occasions during Thursday's spring practice.
The nickname for the Vols' seventh spring practice didn't disappoint either.
Thursday's practice saw plenty of "competition," particularly at the left tackle position.
Redshirt senior Jacob Gilliam saw first-team snaps at left tackle, as early enrollee Dontavius Blair has struggled all spring with conditioning and consistency, opening the door for Gilliam to work his way into the rotation.
"Jacob Gilliam has been very consistent. Dontavius Blair has not been as consistent as he needs to be, but we're working at it," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "(That's why) competition is a beautiful thing. Because Jacob is showing what he's been doing on film and because of that Dontavius' work habits have started to improve."
And while a walk-on starting left tackle may not sound as appealing as a top-10 JUCO transfer, Mahoney is more focused on an individual's play, not their title.
"I don't look at (the titles)," Mahoney said. "I look at the guys who are here right now and I mean that sincerely... (Gilliam) has been a little bit more consistent as of late. He's a guy that understand the system from last spring to the fall to now seven practices in, so he's performed a little bit better.
"I could really care less about stars. Some of the toughest guys we've coached have been a walk-on, a guy who had one-star that nobody really thought about and those are sometimes the guys who are the gritty ones... I respect Jacob's play and I don't look at him any different than the rest (of them)."
Competition in the trenches, however, didn't just occur on the offensive side of the ball.
Plenty of players have rotated in and out of the defensive line positions – including players like Jordan Williams and Curt Maggitt – as the Vols have had a culture change in their front four, going from a larger line to a quicker one this year, something that could make UT more dynamic defensively.
"I think I see a lot of ability to make more plays," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "We haven't moved as much as we are going to. We just want them to get comfortable right now. We've got to move those guys around, keeping people on their toes as far as them being a little bit lighter but able to move better."
The defensive line has also gotten a boost from two members of the 2014 class, who have been taking advantage of the reps they have been given.
"Every rep is valuable out there right now, especially with the newcomers," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. "Dimarya Mixon and Owen Williams – it's great to get them out there. They're getting lots of reps and I'm really excited about those two young men and I think the future's really bright for them."
Back in his Lane
Senior running back Marlin returned to practice this week after being limited prior to spring break due to an injured wrist.
And while that wrist is still wrapped up and being rehabbed, the Daytona Beach, Fla. native is still trying to prove himself as a capable replacement to Rajion Neal, who was Tennessee's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2010.
"He's a kid that understands that at the running back position, you have to play through pain and if you don't, somebody else is going to get your reps," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie.
Even while he was hampered by that injury, Lane proved to one of UT's senior leaders – and continues to – as he has mentored the young tailback stable that stands beside him.
"He's a veteran guy. He's played a lot of snaps in this offense," said Gillespie. "It's great to have a guy like that to be an extra set of eyes."