But much of the attention has gone to Marquez North, Von Pearson, Josh Malone, Josh Smith and even freshman Vic Wharton when discussing the wide receiver position. Howard, last year’s leading receiver in terms of catches, has simply gone to work every day, doing what he’s supposed to and carving out a role on this team.
So quiet might not be a bad thing at all for Howard, who grabbed plenty of headlines in the spring when he was away from the team for a period of time. It means he’s taking care of business, and, most importantly, he’s back.
“Alton Howard has been extremely consistent in his approach from the summer into training camp,” said Butch Jones. “He’s making plays for us, he’s in better condition, he’s changed his body and just his overall demeanor – his concentration, his focus – and he needs to continue now what has got him to this point: the effort, the focus, the change in lifestyle, being more disciplined, enjoying being around the team.
“I think our players have done a great job of holding him to a higher level of accountability, but it really comes down to him.”
Specifically, the player staff, a group of team leaders, worked with Howard over the offseason as he worked his way back on to the team. It put together a plan that Howard needed to follow to earn his way back after he was away in the spring. It started in the May mini-term and carried through the summer, leading up to Jones declaring Howard all the way back on the team at SEC Media Days for the first time publicly.
Howard, heading into his junior season, never doubted he’d be back with the team at some point.
“Not at all,” Howard said. “Regardless of whatever was being said, I kept my mind focused and you know I just worked hard to get back. … I just learned that at the end of the day, adversity makes you strong and regardless, get back up and keeping pushing.”
And though Tennessee looks deep and talented at receiver this year, Howard’s impact, especially if his work ethic remains high, can still be large. He has more career catches than anybody else on the team, he took several handoffs on jet sweeps or reverses last season and he’s even been used as a wildcat quarterback in the past – a formation we haven’t seen him work in yet under Butch Jones – but something Jones also confirmed that the team has worked on this camp.
Regardless of exactly how the Vols use him, it’s clear that he has the potential to help this team if he stays focused.
“Alton is a talented football player,” Jones said. “That’s not been the question. It’s getting the eight hours of sleep, getting the extra treatments, getting in the cold tubs, spending extra time with Coach Z (Azzanni), not just knowing the slot position, but knowing all the receiver positions on the field, being consistent in practice each and every day and that’s what we’ve seen so far from him. It’s a tribute to him and it’s a testament to him.
“Now the challenge for him is to keep it up for the length of the football season.”
So far, so good. And if he stays focused, he’s likely to make some noise this coming year.