Tennessee premature synopsis: Exciting, very exciting

Marvin Westwestwords

Famous UT alum Paul Finebaum, No. 1 shooting star on the SEC Network, said Josh Heupel is generating a lot of excitement.

Hooray! This is great information – and news to me.

Josh Heupel

Receiver Velus Jones snagged a pass for 52 yards, another for 20 and a touchdown and said amen or something like that.

“Exciting” was part of his description of the Tennessee offense in the Orange and White game.

Maybe you saw it and believed. Saturday was a good show, surprisingly crisp, plenty of fireworks and bright spots created by quarterbacks. The two “teams” produced 79 points, 573 passing yards and 248 on the ground.

Alas, there is a sobering flip side: All that happened against Tennessee’s defense.

Heupel and genuine excitement are a new combination of words. The coach has worked very hard to maintain a positive attitude. There were no bad practices. Disappointments were kept under wraps. Josh remained very calm about transfers and suspensions. He never whined about lack of talent or depth.

Josh Heupel, so far, has been the opposite of Jeremy Pruitt. The next step is to somehow reverse the results without ever stepping out of bounds.

Heupel “excitement” has not been contagious. Hope is as close as most have come.

One previous yardstick was how few curious fans showed up for the open practice two weeks ago – free admission plus free parking. Another is the very slow liftoff in 2022 recruiting. There have been whispers about season-ticket sales lagging.

I’ve heard a few “Go Vols!” but the general mood has been wait and see.

Orange and White late afternoon was about 94,819 short of a full house at Neyland Stadium. But it was fun.

Harrison Bailey is my pick as most pleasant surprise. He was supposedly the No. 3 QB during much of spring drills. He went five for five on downfield passes. Overall, he was 12 of 15 for 260 yards with two touchdowns.

Play of the day? Hendon Hooker threw deep. Cedric Tillman was a step ahead of corner Alonte Taylor. The receiver went airborne to make the catch, 29 yards, happy landing in the end zone, end of game.

Hooker threw one earlier he’d like to retrieve. Cornerback Warren Burrell intercepted and returned 34 yards untouched. If the gate had been open, he might still be going.

Quarterback Brian Maurer completed nine of 15 for 171 yards. Michigan transfer quarterback Joe Milton was a spectator. Freshman Kaidon Salter remains suspended.

Heupel said what the script called for, the scramble for the starting QB job will continue all summer.

“Wide open,” said the coach.

There will be competition at several positions. Jabari Small was the best running back on display. Junior college star Tiyon Evans had one carry, one yard, touchdown. Dee Beckwith got some experience. Swift freshman Jaylen Wright had a six-point run.

A few words of caution: Spring is a blessed time of rebirth, redbuds and dogwoods, optimism flowing freely. Don’t let it go to your head.

Spring games are infamous for puffy accomplishments and misleading impressions. Quarterbacks often look better than they are – when there are no blitzing linebackers hitting them under the chin. Coaches often scheme pure vanilla to not alarm Alabama scouts.

Consider: Walk-on Jack Jancek was the statistical leader among receivers. He caught two for 137 yards and a touchdown. Just for perspective, I think he beat walk-on defensive backs.

Jancek, 6-5 and 220, is a former quarterback from Catholic High. He was on the UT team last season but did not play. I hope he does this fall. That would help heal a sore spot. His dad, John, was Tennessee’s defensive coordinator in 2013-15, until Butch Jones had to have someone to blame.

I don’t know what, if anything, young Jancek said about his spotlight opportunity but Velus Jones delivered an inspirational summation of his.

“Man, it was exciting. I know you all were excited to watch. It’s unbelievable. It’s a dream come true. It feels unreal, to be honest. We’re just out there flying around, having fun.”

Heupel was basic OK.

“A great day for Tennessee football … so appreciative of the fans … they brought a lot of energy to the stadium.”

He said he is proud of this team, the growth it has shown, accountability learned.

“Proud of where we are and where we have an opportunity to go.”

The coach made a point of involving former Vols with current Vols for the weekend. Alvin Kamara signed a lot of autographs.

Heupel spoke warmly of Al Wilson.

“Obviously he was one of the greats that ever played here and ever played this game.”

Interesting, and, I suppose, somewhat exciting that Josh Heupel realizes there is a past, present and future to Tennessee football.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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