Tennessee tries to stick to routine as bowl prep resumes in Tampa

Tennessee tries to stick to routine as bowl prep resumes in Tampa

December 27th, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

The Tennessee Volunteers practice at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015.

Photo by Patrick Brown /Times Free Press.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The locale is different.

The venue is more picturesque.

And the temperatures sure are higher.

With downtown and palm trees as the backdrop, Tennessee on Sunday held its first practice at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium for Friday's Outback Bowl matchup with Northwestern.

Despite the location the goal for the Volunteers is to make the week as routine as usual.

"You try to keep everything routine-oriented," head coach Butch Jones said after practice. "Today is a Monday in the world of football. We maybe did a little more than we normally do, but we have to have a fresh football team mentally and physically.

"It is a balancing act, and you have to balance it on what that particular team needs."

Tennessee players stretch before the Vols' first Outback Bowl practice in Tampa on Dec. 27, 2015.

Tennessee players stretch before the Vols' first Outback...

Photo by Patrick Brown /Times Free Press.

Tennessee traded in practicing inside for preparing in 85-degree weather on Sunday, which will require an adjustment for the players.

Cornerback Cameron Sutton dripped with sweat, his long-sleeved shirt stained a darker shade of gray, as he spoke after practice, and multiple players referenced the heat in speaking with the media.

"Right now we're trying to get our conditioning in and get used to the weather," safety Brian Randolph said. "It's a little bit more uptempo right now. We're trying to get to the ball, get everybody moving, get everybody sweating (and) get acclimated to the weather."

The Vols also are fine-tuning their plan for the game against No. 13 Northwestern.

The Wildcats should be fired up to be in Tampa as they chase their program's first 11-win season and a potential top-10 finish. Motivation should be easy for Northwestern. Despite being ranked 11 spots higher than Tennessee, the Wildcats are 8.5-point underdogs.

Jones and his players insist they are as focused as they were for last year's bowl game, but the proof won't come until Friday.

"Once the ball is kicked off, it's being able to manage the clock, being able to tackle, the fundamentals," Jones said. "If you look at the theme every year -- it's a constant theme with the bowl season -- it's all about tackling, playing in space, taking care of the football and special teams.

"You always know that as much video as you study on your opponent, they have time to create an inventory of plays you haven't seen, from trick plays to different formations, something to gain a tactical advantage.

"You have to have a first-game mentality of starting the season, but this football team has been focused so much. I've challenged their maturity. We've challenged their leadership, and so far they've responded."

Practicing on Christmas

Prior to flying to Tampa on Saturday, Tennessee practiced in Knoxville on Christmas evening after the players had a few days off to go home and see their families.

"It was weird, but we all had a good vibe coming back," Randolph said. "For people that live close, we got to be home for the beginning of Christmas in the morning. We came back (to Knoxville), we had a good mindset. We had to get the work done. We all want to beat Northwestern, so nobody was complaining."

Jones said the Vols had the game plan completed and installed before the team broke on Dec. 20.

"Everybody came back with the same mentality and the same focus we left (with) going into the break," Sutton said. "We had a high-energized practice on both sides of the ball. Special teams looked crisp. We got after it that day before we came down here."

Fun and games

The team will be busy with bowl-week events and activities each night this week, and the players are looking forward to them.

On the docket for Sunday night is a bowling outing, Monday features a trip to a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey game, Busch Gardens hosts the teams on Tuesday and Wednesday includes a beach day.

"There's definitely a fun week ahead of us, so we'll enjoy it," Dobbs said, "but then come ready to play on Friday."

Randolph, who fancies himself the "next Tiger Woods," proclaimed himself Tennessee's best bowler.

"Y'all are going to see about that," he said. "I'm the best bowler on the team. I've got my technique. I've got a technique that no one knows about, so I'm about to unleash that tonight."

Running back Alvin Kamara, defensive tackle Danny O'Brien and tight end Ethan Wolf will join Dobbs in participating in a slapshot competition during one intermission of the Lightning game.

Dobbs said he hasn't been to a hockey game since the Atlanta Thrashers were in his hometown and he's not played the game since he was six years old.

"In elementary school we had a little hockey competition," he explained. "We had to shoot it in the goal, and one of the things was like a tube and you got money every time you made in the distance. You shot it in the tube, you got a thousands dollars of fake money. That was the last time I played hockey."

Tennessee tidbits

> Larry Marfise is the athletic director at the University of Tampa, where Tennessee is practicing this week. He was the athletic director at Ferris State when Jones coached there in the 1990s. Jones was FSU's running backs coach in 1995 and the offensive coordinator in 1996 and 1997.

> Tennessee is losing its special teams coordinator after Friday's game, when Mark Elder takes over full time as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky, but the loss is minimal since the Vols split up the individual special teams unit among its coaching staff.

"When you have that," Jones said, "the transition should be very soon."

> Smith was impressed by freshmen quarterbacks Quinten Dormady and Sheriron Jones during bowl practices this month.

"I saw a lot of improvement from Sheriron," he said. "Quinten's beyond good. It's crazy. Sheriron took a big step, and I feel like he did a good job. I'm excited for the future. I'm just excited for those guys."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.