As they finish up this week's practice, the Tennessee Volunteers are not only preparing for their annual spring game but ultimately the upcoming season.
The team has had a solid spring with players stepping up to new roles and team chemistry coming into play. As the players suit up for the upcoming Orange and White game, coach Derek Dooley is impressed with their team spirit and drive.
"I was really pleased with their step the last two days," Dooley said. "They've had good energy. We got a lot of work done these last two days. I'm always concerned going into that last week, what the mood is of the team and they really came ready to improve as a team, and we did it."
Defensive line coach Lance Thompson said though the spring semester works as preparation for the season in the fall, improvement can always be made. He said the team has had a really good spring, but it still has a lot of work to do to be ready for the fall.
"We have a long way to go, and the kids have some experience and situations they need to get better for next fall," Thompson said. "The obvious is the obvious in this game: bigger, faster, stronger."
Players are expected to continue their training in the summer, and this is something that Thompson said will be important in the long run. As the players evaluate themselves and review tape, it's important that they see their mistakes and grow from there.
"I think it's always important for the guys to evaluate themselves in terms of going in and watching tapes in the spring and learning the things they did well and making them better and learning the things they didn't do so well and correcting that," Thompson said. "I think this summer's going to be huge for us in terms of what we do in the weight room and the condition part but also on those guys working on their own and watching film."
Sophomore strong safety Brent Brewer has been an example of this throughout spring practice and has continued to improve as a player. Junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said Brewer's performance this spring has had a major impact on the team.
"I think he's the most improved player this spring," Waggner said. "Every day he brings it to practice, he's positive in the film room — we always looking at film — just out there on the practice field, he's become fearless out there. Nobody wants a piece of Brent out there. He's been a big plus this spring."
Brewer is just one example of a key player with a work mentality. Thompson said senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson, as well as every member of team, has also had an outstanding spring.
"Everybody's improved and gotten better," Thompson said. "They've had good attitudes and good work ethic."
Thompson said the important thing for the team to remember is that age and experience aren't as important as talent. The players have to be prepared to work hard and give their all regardless of their experience on the team.
"With me, it doesn't matter if you're a junior, senior, freshman," Thompson said. "The best players are going to play and I think they understand that.
"This isn't a YMCA camp. You're here for a reason and it's not academics. You're here to play football and get your degree."
The players' work through spring practice will be on display on Saturday during the annual Orange and White game. But Dooley is more focused on the games ahead. Spring practice isn't the end of football, but the beginning, and Dooley said the team is going to have to keep working hard to achieve their goals.
"We're going to try to make and effort to keep working," Dooley said. "There's a lot of work to be done in the weight room and our strength levels, and I think our team will put a good investment in."