Outdoor practice space expanding for football Vols

Outdoor practice space expanding for football Vols

August 6th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

 

KNOXVILLE — Neyland Stadium towers above the banks of the Tennessee River at the University of Tennessee, a longstanding bastion of college football lore on a campus crazed by the sport.

It will be updated and modernized over the next several years, but the structure is one of only eight in the country that seat more than 100,000 fans.

Just a half mile to the west, however, the fields where the football team spends significantly more time have been slipping below the ever-rising standards of major college programs.

An estimated $10 million project is in the process of changing that.

Renovations to Tennessee's practice space are taking shape, with the Volunteers having access to a second 120-yard outdoor practice field for the first time during the beginning of this year's preseason camp.

The full second field is a welcome addition, Tennessee coaches and players say. But it's a third field to be completed in the spring that will bring the practice space to the top half of the Southeastern Conference and allow for optimum efficiency on time and energy spent at practice.

"We need that third field, because we chart everything in yards run, and a lot of times the yardage is just in transitions," head coach Butch Jones said after the Vols' first preseason practice. "So when we get the other field it's going to be critical for us, because now you go side by side, which most practice fields that's the set-up."

The future practice field will be parallel to the second one, creating a shorter jog for players between drills on different fields.

The second field now is end to end with the primary practice field. When the defensive players conclude a drill on the main field and need to switch fields for the next period of practice, it can require a long run.

Strength assistant Brad Roll, who oversees a GPS and satellite tracking system that charts distance run by players, said that Tennessee's staff refers to ground covered between practice periods as "useless yards."

"Over time, that can have an effect on certain players," Roll said.

For a program that dealt with numerous injuries during last year's 9-4 season, even something as simple as reducing "useless yards" could help keep players healthy.

"I don't think too much of it," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "But I'm sure if you actually did a study over the course of a long season with a lot of the injuries we had last year and wear and tear on the body, I'm sure that is something that affects it."

Combined with the full indoor practice field that is adjacent to the expanding outdoor complex, Tennessee will have four full practice fields once the renovation project is complete. That number does not include Neyland Stadium, where the team occasionally scrimmages.

Only LSU and Mississippi State, each with an indoor and four outdoor fields, have more practice space.

Before the field added this year, Tennessee's secondary practice surface was 30 yards shorter than a full field. That made Tennessee one of only two schools in the SEC without a full second outdoor field, according to information provided to the Times Free Press by sports information directors at the league's schools.

A project overview of the Haslam Fields Expansion project on the Tennessee Fund fundraising website noted the football program "currently has one of the smallest footprints of outdoor practice space in Division I football."

The overview also noted that the wear of a season's worth of practice "places the surface under severe distress."

So while the coaches look forward to having the full third outdoor field, they are glad to have the full second field as the Vols prepare for their Sept. 4 season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

"To be able to have our defense have a full 120 yards is invaluable," Jones said. "Not just defensively, but from a special teams standpoint, a quality of practice with field space and also the quality of grass as well."

"Transitions from the offensive to the defensive field sometimes aren't the greatest thing in the world," added 344-pound defensive tackle Khalil McKenzie said. "But it's a great time having your own defensive field."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com

Status quo

Football practice space at Southeastern Conference schools:

LSU

4 outdoor (3 grass, 1 turf), 1 indoor

Mississippi State

4 outdoor (3 grass, 1 turf), 1 indoor (80 yards)

Alabama

3 outdoor, 1 indoor (150 yards)

Missouri

3 outdoor, 1 indoor (100 yards including end zones)

Ole Miss

3 outdoor (2 full-length, 1 short), 1 indoor

Georgia

2.5 outdoor, 1 indoor

Arkansas

2 outdoor (1 turf, 1 grass), 1 indoor

Florida

2 outdoor, 1 indoor

Kentucky

2 outdoor, 1 indoor

South Carolina

2 outdoor, 1 indoor

Texas A&M

2 outdoor, 1 indoor

Vanderbilt

2 outdoor (1 turf, 1 grass) 1 indoor

Auburn

2 outdoor (1 full, 1 90 yards), 1 indoor

— information from school SIDs


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