Throughout spring practice, a goal of the Tennessee football team has been to develop consistency and fight through adversity on both sides of the ball. At Thursday morning's practice, the offense took a step toward that objective.
"What I liked about today was the different situations we put the guys in," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said.
"Just as it would be in the course of a game, there were ups and downs, there were emotional peaks and valleys, and we didn't let momentum shift one way or the other. We stayed consistent, and when momentum seemed to be going the other way we bounced back and made some plays."
While the offense's effort as a whole was better, Bajakian is still waiting for players to establish themselves as reliable options.
"It's still a question," he said. "We made some plays today. We made some plays in the scrimmage (on Saturday). We need go-to playmakers — guys that we can dial up when the game is on the line and critical situations ... more than one guy. And right now we're not doing a good job of consistently playing pitch and catch and consistently executing our offense."
A position on offense where the Vols' coaches would like to see players establish themselves is at the wide receiver position. However, the Vols are hurting at that sport due to inexperience and injury. Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is still waiting for one of his players to separate himself from the group.
"It's really tough," Azzanni said. "I don't have a leader right now. I'm the leader. I just don't have a guy that has a lot of experience stepping up, and the guys that do have a little experience aren't playing because they're hurt."
The lack of consistent playmakers is not just limited to the wide receiver position though, as the Vols have yet to establish a consistent option at running back despite returning two players who started for the Vols last year in junior Marlin Lane and senior Rajion Neal. Running back coach Robert Gillespie has a list of objectives that he wants for Neal and Lane to accomplish.
"Just continue to watch film, get in the weight room, become students of this offense, become better leaders. They understand that it's my job to keep finding things for them to get better at," Gillespie said.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vols return with a wealth of experience on the defensive line, including six seniors.
"I talk to them every day, (with) six seniors we should be the strongest positions on the field," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. "A day like today when you're coming in, a little bit in the grind, we should be the group that's motivating the other group, that's showing energy, that's leading the way."