ATLANTA -- The University of Tennessee football team was, by all accounts, a tad rusty Saturday afternoon.
Of course, the Volunteers had their reasons. They hadn't practiced since Monday, and they'd spent the past several days at home with their families on a mini Christmas break. They also hadn't gone through the bowl routine last season, and obviously none of them had gone through any bowl preparations under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin tolerated one less than stellar day, but he'll demand better the rest of the week as UT (7-5) prepares for a Chick-fil-A Bowl clash with 12th-ranked Virginia Tech (9-3).
"I thought practice was OK," Kiffin said. "We were a little bit rusty, which was to be expected with the time off. It's good that we have the extra time to prepare, because we have a long way to go still."
The Vols, who are staying in the downtown Atlanta Hyatt, bussed nearly 10 miles to practice at suburban Decatur High School. They worked out for slightly more than two hours before enjoying a night at an area Dave and Buster's arcade.
"(Decatur High) is a great place," Kiffin said. "It's first class, and everyone's been great to us here. But it's all new to the us, with the hotel and everything, so today there were a lot of things that didn't go perfect. Hopefully we'll get those ironed out and have a better day tomorrow."
Several Vols said the team was energetic throughout and focused after a rocky start, but never as crisp as the weather.
"Coach Kiffin said he liked our energy, and everybody was ready to get back out there," senior defensive tackle Wes Brown said. "But as far as technique-wise, we had a couple of busts and were rusty on certain plays that we worked on the past couple of weeks. But the energy was there, and that's a good thing.
"When you have an energy problem, that's when you really need to worry."
Added freshman offensive tackle Aaron Douglas: "You kind of just shake a little bit of rust off sometimes, but whenever we hit the field, every guy's focused."
Most of the team was healthy and available Saturday, but Douglas (ankle) was limited and freshman tailback Bryce Brown missed another day following a recent concussion.
Brown and fellow senior defensive tackle Dan Williams also were concussed last weekend, but both returned to full speed work Saturday.
"Everybody was tested and able to go except Bryce, but hopefully we'll test him tomorrow and he'll be OK," Kiffin said.
The Vols also had several concussions in preseason camp, but Kiffin and Brown said they weren't aware of any major problems with UT's physical practice philosophy.
"You see people getting after it, and people having fun and eager to work," Brown said. "That's what's so exciting about this team -- guys coming to prepare, to work, and having fun and just really getting after each other and competing. That's what you've got to have in practice to be a good team, and we're showing that right now.
"They held me out a couple of days, but I feel great now. I was anxious. I missed a couple of days, and I didn't want to miss any, but getting back out here was great."
UT will have a similar schedule today, practicing at 11:15 a.m. at Decatur High before visiting the Georgia Aquarium.
"We're here to play football and focus on that, but all the other stuff that goes on with a bowl game can be fun, too," junior wide receiver Gerald Jones said.
Junior tight end Luke Stocker, like Kiffin, was optimistic that UT would have a smoother time today.
"It might have taken a few minutes in practice to get everybody kicked in gear," Stocker conceded. "But then, it was like, 'All right, we're on the practice field, it's time to go.' I think after the first few plays, everybody started speeding up and started knocking the rust off. We could have had a better practice than we did, but I think tomorrow we'll come out fired and ready to go.
"Every day in practice could be better. You'll never have a perfect practice. But that is what you strive for, so we'll come back out tomorrow, fix the mistakes that we made and be ready to go."
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