With the second day of spring practice already in the books for the Tennessee Volunteers, the highly-touted newcomers are continuing their processing and understanding of the college game, learning quickly with each practice.
A lot of buzz around the football program revolves around the significant additions made to the defensive side of the ball. Athletic playmakers with versatility was a focus for the Big Orange as the attention shifts towards the 2023 season, now it is about developing those guys who fit just that mold.
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks, along with a handful of early enrollees took to the podium Tuesday morning and afternoon to speak with members of the media.
"A lot of times, when freshmen come in, one of the hardest things for those guys to make in terms of adjustments is just the mental capacity and what it takes," Banks said, speaking with the media for the second time since the Orange Bowl.
"Those guys' ability to grasp what we're trying to get accomplished from an X's and O's perspective, and then just their sheer tenacity. A lot of those guys come from high-level programs, and you can tell by the way they carry themselves and how hard they're working to this point. We're extremely pleased with them. We think most of those guys have a chance to be special as they continue to grow within the program."
Many of the new faces on Tennessee's roster had a chance to experience what college ball was like at the end of the season, participating in bowl practices and making the trip to Miami, Florida, for the Capital One Orange Bowl. Those weeks leading up to the game were full of lessons and growth, just a taste of what spring practices would be for the next generation of Volunteers.
"Coming from bowl practice, it definitely prepared me for this and showed me the speed of the game," defensive back Jordan Matthews said. "It showed me what to look for, what coverages are going to be expected from me. Bowl practice prepared me in a way that, mentality, I needed to be ready to get out there and play."
Being a part of that generation means something to in-state players like Caleb Herring. He and his brother, Elijah Herring, prepped at Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro and seeing the flagship university of the state back in the national spotlight has extra value to them. Under the direction of head coach Josh Heupel, he feels the momentum beginning to build.
"When I saw that Coach Heup came, I knew that this program was going to get turned around," Caleb Herring said. "Seeing all the success that he had at UCF, I knew he was going to bring it over to the SEC with better talent—just seeing what he's done in a short amount of time. I committed because I saw the direction that this program was going in."
Leading up to the start of spring practices, the newcomers have been able to adjust to the culture of the team, to get to know their teammates and build connections with them off the field that translate into trust and togetherness on the turf.
"I understood the assignment when I first got here," defensive back John Slaughter said. "Even as a recruit, (I knew) everything is going to be faster, bigger, stronger and more competitive in comparison to high school. Here, stars don't matter, rankings don't matter, everyone's a dog."
The Volunteers had an off day before returning to Haslam Field for the third practice of spring ball on Thursday morning.