published Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

A long first day

Kiffin's Vols get to work


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE -- The first August preseason practice of the Lane Kiffin era went virtually dawn to dusk.

The University of Tennessee football team congregated at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, commencing Kiffin's first preseason camp as head coach. Meetings, practice and video sessions didn't conclude until more than 12 hours later, and coaches were still in the office dissecting tape.

Even a torrential downpour couldn't dampen spirits Tuesday night. The Volunteers finished practice in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center to the sounds of thunder, lightning and running water -- courtesy of flash floods rushing through Knoxville.

"I thought today was really good as far as getting a lot of work," Kiffin said. "The quality of work, I don't know. We'll have to watch the film to figure that out exactly.

"We really did put a lot on these guys. This is not a normal day one. We're kind of almost putting a full weekend into one day. We went through a bunch of different looks. That was really good for our offense and defense to see."

The day featured at least one break -- "they had to go to class," Kiffin said -- but practice lasted a little longer than three hours.

"Obviously, the lightning forced us inside, but it wasn't a big deal," Kiffin said. "It was only one period for a team period."

Junior wide receiver Gerald Jones said it was "a beautiful day, as far as I'm concerned. Obviously it doesn't really start today, because we've been working hard for months. But, yeah, this is a pretty special day. The first practice is always exciting."

Most of the Vols took part in Tuesday's practice. Defensive tackle Marlon Walls and wide receiver James Green were the only freshmen not in attendance. Academic issues have prevented either signee from enrolling in school yet, but the staff is still hopeful Walls will report soon. Green isn't expected to qualify.

"It's out of our hands," Kiffin said.

What the Vols do control, he added, is what they do with the healthy, eligible players they have on the field. That includes numerous newcomers in some spots, particularly on offense.

"There's so much going on," Kiffin said. "You can tell a little bit while you're here, but that's why we come in and we'll be in there all night. There's so much film to watch and so much to learn about these guys. There's so many new guys that you don't know that much about. It's exciting to have them out here.

"Everybody's going to have high expectations the first day for young guys to do stuff. But you have to remember, their hearts are beating so fast they can barely line up sometimes. We'll continue to push them and challenge them. I thought we did a really good job of putting a ton on them for day one."

Freshmen weren't allowed to address the media, but the veterans who spoke were unanimously positive. Not that anyone expected otherwise. August football is typically similar to baseball's spring training. Optimism reigns.

"The first thing coaches always say is, 'We've got to get that tempo; we've got to get that tempo,'" sophomore fullback Austin Johnson said. "The defense always brings the tempo, and that gets the offense to bring the tempo. I think it kind of works well between us.

"I think everybody was real psyched to get back out here. We're all glad to be back together as a team."

As expected, senior Jonathan Crompton and junior Nick Stephens shared first-team quarterback snaps, with several freshman skill position players getting No. 1 looks.

The Vols sneaked in plenty of contact despite practicing without full pads. Offensive guard Vladimir Richard and a few others were bothered by the heat toward the end of a long day.

Kiffin didn't shy from stating his desire for physical practices, despite the Vols having depth issues at several spots.

"I just don't know another way to do it," he said. "I guess, if you go back, we got in trouble at Oakland for doing that and actually lost some offseason time because we were having too much contact. I just think that's how you build a team if it's going to be physical, if it's going to be able to run the ball and going to be able to play such a tough schedule.

"We're very physical in the way that we practice. We have relentless pursuit after the ball because the number-one thing is turnover margin. That's how you win and lose games faster than anything else, is turning the ball over and getting it back on defense."

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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