KNOXVILLE -- The stage at Neyland Stadium won't be the same tonight as it will be when Tennessee kicks off the season against Austin Peay two weeks from tonight, but Butch Jones hopes it's close.
The Volunteers' first-year coach wants tonight's open practice to serve as an important evaluation tool with time rapidly dwindling before the opener.
With what the Vols hope to be a big crowd on hand, Jones plans to blend a mix of individual drills and some scrimmage situations with some one-on-one between receivers and defensive backs to test how the team handles the atmosphere.
"They're going to have to step up in front of a great crowd and do one-on-ones," Jones said after Friday afternoon's practice. "[Fans] are going to see some different elements of practice that they don't normally see. We need everyone's support, and I know our players are looking forward to really competing in that venue."
The Vols have practiced in an empty Neyland twice this month, and Jones reminded them during those practices how important it is to defend their home turf. Tennessee last played in front of fans during the spring game, and that afternoon featured a sideline of former players, one reality television celebrity and a deejay booth in one corner of the stadium.
While that was more of a showcase, Jones likely will put more emphasis on tonight's open practice, though the market-savvy coach certainly could have a few surprises in store.
"A team that plays extremely hard that has taken great strides," Jones said when asked what he wanted Tennessee fans to see tonight. "This is another evaluation tool for us. I said it yesterday: We're going to play anywhere from 13 to 16 to 17 true freshmen, so this is an evaluation tool for me. They didn't have the spring game. They haven't played in that venue when there's people in the stands.
"I've got to see what guys are going to perform under those conditions, and that's why we want to put in as much as pressure situations as possible."
Tonight's practice is scheduled to start at 6:50 with gates 14, 20 and 21 opening at 6. Admission and parking, in lots G-3, G-4, G-5, G-10 and Staff Lot 9 around the stadium, are free of charge.
Freshman defensive end Jaylen Miller and sophomore receiver Johnathon Johnson, a transfer from Blinn College in Texas, had the black stripes removed from their helmets before Friday's practice. ... Jones said freshman Marquez North made some plays and beat cornerback Justin Coleman for a big gainer in Friday's practice. ... Though he continues to undergo examinations from doctors and trainers, cornerback Riyahd Jones (swollen calves) is expected to be out quite a while. "Unless something unforeseen changes in the next couple of days," Jones said Thursday, "it is going to be for a rather long length of time." ... Defensive end Jacques Smith from Ooltewah soon will have the pins taken out of his fractured thumb and is "right on schedule" in his recovery, Jones said, adding that freshman defensive Corey Vereen (knee) is "ahead of schedule" in his recovery. The Vols will know more about both players the week leading up to the season opener.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com