HOOVER, Ala. – All 14 teams at SEC Media Days either have or will claim that this past summer has been one of the hardest and most productive ones the program has ever seen.
Tennessee was no different on Tuesday morning.
The Vols’ contingent had its own ringing endorsement for the work they put in this offseason. It’s called the PR, or personal record, bell. It was chiming all summer long as UT’s young roster grinded in the weight room.
“The PR bell has been ringing like crazy this summer,” said defensive end Curt Maggitt, who is preparing to return to the field after a season and a half on the shelf. “It’s something [strength] Coach Lawson put in and whenever you set a personal record in squat or bench, you go over there and ring it and we’ve been setting PRs weekly.”
All three players representing Tennessee on Tuesday – Maggitt, center Mack Crowder and linebacker A.J. Johnson – got a workout in before boarding a flight to Birmingham. All three rang the bell. Butch Jones said, in total, nine players hit new PRs on the squat of 600-plus pounds. The Vols had zero hit that plateau last summer.
“That’s progress, but now we have to translate that to football strength on the field as well,” Jones said.
Perhaps nobody has seen the benefits of Lawson’s strength and conditioning program more than Crowder, who came to UT weighing just over 260 pounds and is now set to take over the starting center position just a touch under 300.
“You can definitely tell a big difference even in our bodies, just looking at them,” Crowder said. “Coach Lawson is doing something special. He’s definitely pushing us hard every single day.”
The work this summer wasn’t contained to the weight room – or even to regular business hours, so to speak. While they didn’t replicate last year’s feat of running 52 110-meter sprints in one workout, they still did plenty of running. That included several night running sessions at Neyland Stadium, including one that didn’t end until close to 1 a.m.
“Those are always great,” Crowder said. “Team bonding experience – just being in Neyland, that atmosphere, even with nobody in there is pretty special just because it’s so huge. It really kind of brings you back to reality and let’s you know this is definitely a privilege that I have to play there.”
• Jones said “there’s a great chance” that all 32 signees from the 2014 class will be fully qualified academically by the time camp starts. The only question remaining is junior college linebacker Chris Weatherd, who Jones said they should have an answer on within a couple of weeks. Weatherd recently told RTI that he expects to be cleared by early August.
• While Jones didn’t offer any substantial updates of note on the quarterback race, he did say Archie Manning texted him, praising the work that Justin Worley has done at the Manning Passing Academy. Jones reiterated that the Vols have to help the QBs more, saying that they forced them to be perfect last year.
• Receiver Pig Howard continues to take the needed steps to remain with the team. Jones indicated that he had a great summer of workouts. “Nothing has changed with Pig Howard’s situation,” Jones said. “He has done everything we have asked.” Update: Just a couple hours later, Jones, addressing the main ball room in Birmingham, clearly stated stated that he’s back on the team. Regardless, Howard needs to continue to walk the line to stay in good graces, but if he does, we fully expect him on the field this season for UT.