published Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Vols treat today like a real game


by Wes Rucker
Audio clip

Nick Stephens

KNOXVILLE -- With a new staff of coaches and several freshmen projected to play this season, Lane Kiffin wants the University of Tennessee football team's last full-contact scrimmage to simulate game conditions as much as possible.

The new head coach has taken unusual steps in trying to secure that goal.

The Volunteers, rather than practice, went through a game-like walk-through Friday afternoon. Today's scrimmage will kick off at 12:21 p.m., exactly the same time as the Sept. 5 opener against Western Kentucky.

UT's players will simulate the Vol Walk this morning. They'll enter the locker room the same time they would before an early-afternoon game. They will walk around the stadium, come out to warm up in position groups, regather in the locker room and re-enter the field just before kickoff, like they would before a normal game.

Plays will be called in from the sideline, and coaches designated for the press box during games will be in their cushy, panoramic-view seats.

"Everything will be the same, except for we'll be short about 100,000 and we won't have a band," Kiffin said.

He pushed for the band, too.

"We tried," he said. "They have weekends off right now, I guess."

Today's dress rehearsal -- "the biggest scrimmage we'll have this year," Kiffin said -- has been designed with a singular goal in mind.

"Having the day off today besides our walk-through, there will be no excuses for not having fresh legs," Kiffin said Friday. "We're not going to install something on them at the last minute, just like we wouldn't in a game. They will have no excuses not to perform to the best of their ability, so we'll figure out where we are as a team, where we are individually and where we are on all three phases."

Call is Separation Saturday, if you will. That's how the players view it.

"Everybody knows it's a big scrimmage, but also Coach Kiffin just keeps talking about how big of a scrimmage this is," junior quarterback Nick Stephens said. "This is the last situation to go out there and show the coaches what you can do."

If it's not the last chance, it's the last great chance, especially for players trying to crack the starting lineup or game rotations.

"Every day at this level is a big day, but yeah, the scrimmages are definitely even bigger," said defensive end Gerald Williams, who overtook fellow junior Ben Martin on the depth chart last week and hasn't slowed down since. "If you can do it in a full-speed scrimmage, then you should definitely be able to do it in a game."

Many eyes, as usual, will be fixed on Stephens and senior Jonathan Crompton, the other potential starting quarterback.

Kiffin said it wouldn't be fair for the team to enter game week without knowing its starting quarterback, so it stands to reason that a decision is looming in the coming days -- if not publicly, then at least in the locker room.

Crompton met with reporters Friday and shared remarks similar to Stephens from the previous day, that thinking too much about Kiffin's pending decision would adversely affect his performance. Crompton planned to watch more video than usual Friday night, but he claimed that was simply because he had "nothing else to do."

"You don't want to think about (the competition)," Crompton added. "That just puts more pressure on yourself. You've just got to go out there and play ball and compete your tail off.

"That's really all you can do. You go out there and make sure you take care of yourself and do what you can do, and then everything will take care of itself."

Senior center Josh McNeil, whose candor occasionally has gotten him in hot water with UT's coaches and sport information department, had a different take. He admitted he can't stop wondering whether he'll hold off senior walk-on Cody Sullins for the starting position.

"Obviously, tomorrow will be the biggest scrimmage in determining a lot of things," McNeil said. "I've just got to go out and play hard and just do what I've been doing, and hopefully that will be enough.

"I'm sure if you ask Sullins, he'd tell you the same thing. It's the first thing you think about when you get to the meeting room, and it's the last thing you think about going off the field. 'Did I outperform the other guy? Did he outperform me?' Things like that are just always in your head, especially this late into the preseason. It's on your mind constantly."

Those competing for starting positions aren't the only ones excited for today's final major preseason test.

Junior wide receiver Gerald Jones said Friday's and today's game-like scenarios were a "great, great idea."

"I love everything that these coaches do, honestly, and that's no lie," Jones said. "They treat it so professionally, like in the NFL. I'm all for it. This is a big (scrimmage). It's the biggest one until the season. I'm pumped up, and I'm ready to go, and I'm right behind the coaches, 100 percent."

about Wes Rucker...

Twitter - @wesrucker Facebook - /tfpvolsbeat

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