When Jim Chaney first walked through the doors of the Anderson Training Center on Jan. 9, Josh Palmer had no idea what to make of his new coach.
He’d witnessed him lead one of the nation’s most prolific offenses at Georgia a year ago when the Bulldogs were just mistakes away from claiming the SEC Championship over then top-ranked Alabama.
With Chaney back in Knoxville and Palmer coming off of the best season of his young career, Tennessee now has the pieces in place to effectively move the ball through the air. Games, however, are not won on paper and the Vols have come to realize that as fall camp nears its close.
For Palmer, it’s meant an opportunity to improve in every practice, a reality that the redshirt junior has come to embrace.
“We’re coming together...I feel we’ve come a long way since Coach Chaney first came in,” Palmer said. “I feel like we’re all coming together as one and we’re working hard.”
Appearing in all 12 games a year ago, Palmer tallied 23 receptions for 484 yards and two touchdowns and led the Vols in 20-yard plays with 10.
Despite learning a new system for the third time in as many seasons, Palmer and the offense have bought into the system that Chaney and receivers coach Tee Martin are implementing. Not only has it helped them improve physically but psychologically as well.
“Mentally, we’re a lot more bought in and we learn the game a lot better,” Palmer said. “We’re more physical and just excited about the season.”
Don’t bring up last season to Palmer, either. He doesn’t want to trip over what is now behind him.
“It is more so that after last season we realized that we wanted a lot more,” Palmer said. “And we are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.”
If Chaney is the entree, Martin is the primary side dish.
Returning to his alma mater as a Tennessee employee for the first time since 1999, the Mobile, Alabama has a chance to do something that he didn’t get to experience during his collegiate playing career - leading a team and specifically a passing game, back from the abyss.
When it pertains to Martin’s no-nonsense approach, it isn’t just Palmer who is wreaking the benefits. Instead, the former national championship quarterback is spreading the wealth and leaving no stone unturned.
“(He’s) to the point, there are no grey spots,” Palmer said. “He knows the ins and outs of the position and he tries to put us in the best situation all the time.”
There is certainly no shortage of confidence amongst the receivers either.
A self-described “alpha male,” Jennings is healthy and returning with the same fire and tenacity that caused Tennessee fans to fall in love with him so many years ago. One of the most physically gifted receivers in the SEC, Callaway will have plenty of chances to go one-on-one on the outside.
Lining up alongside the likes of those two and Dominick Wood-Anderson, Palmer will likely find himself with a favorable matchup often. Even if he doesn’t, the third-year receiver feels ready for the challenge.
“I’m confident, camp was great and we all worked hard,” Palmer said. “As a receiving core we all pushed each other and as a team we all pushed each other to get to where we are now.”
Where they are now is in a position that last year’s team was not granted the luxury of: heading into the regular season with a glimmer of hope and optimism. If fall camp has been any indication, UT’s offense has clearly moved beyond the porous results it put out a year ago and is ready to inch in the right direction.
“Confidence is very high amongst the team.”