KNOXVILLE - As coach Derek Dooley promised, the Tennessee football Volunteers attacked each other with a physical practice Tuesday at Haslam Field, starting their off-week work.
The Vols went through what Dooley and most other coaches call a "good-on-good" practice. The top two lines of the depth chart battled each other rather than beat up on the scout team.
"It was a lot of good work, and we needed it," Dooley said. "We could use about 100 of those. We'll come out here tomorrow and try to do the same thing. I was real pleased with the spirit, the energy and the competitiveness today.
"That's what we expect from them. I would have been disappointed if we didn't."
Several young Vols got in the mix, too, which pleased Dooley.
"We got a lot of the young guys in there, and they're active and hungry and physical and playing after the whistle - so it was good," Dooley said. "I think it brings a little spirit to the practice. It's no scout team and all that other stuff.
"You just go out there, and it's like going out there in the yard. That's the beauty of it."
Junior quarterback Matt Simms said Tuesday's spirit was "kind of surprising, actually," considering UT's past two games - a brutal, last-play loss at undefeated LSU and a tail-whipping at Georgia.
"It was tough, it was long, and we got a lot of reps in," Simms said.
And some new faces mixing it up was a "good thing," the quarterback added.
"It definitely made it a little more edgy in practice between everyone," he said. "It definitely brought the competition level up a little bit. You definitely need that, especially with a bye week. Usually in a bye week people kind of relax and just go with the motions and just kind of take it as it goes and rest up. We're a team where we're not in a position to be like that right now.
"If we would have won the past two games, maybe we could have relaxed a little bit this week. Since we didn't, and we're in the place we're at right now, we just need to get a little more edge to us and come out and practice a little harder. We ran 7-on-7. Usually, that's two-hand touch, but our defense was just straight-up tackling us. I didn't appreciate that too much, but that's just how it goes."
Reminded that he couldn't get tackled in a green, no-contact jersey, Simms said, "They were hitting everybody except for me. But they know I'd get up and try to fight, so they definitely can't do that."
Cornerback Eric Gordon, one of several UT freshmen already firmly fixed in the 2-deep, said he was "gassed" after practice, but he thought the team needed it.
"Guys are just out there trying to make plays," Gordon said. "Guys aren't really caring about what year they are in school or where they are on the depth chart. They're just out there flying around, trying to make plays. Guys are going to go all-out.
"Anybody who feels like they already have their spot given to them, they're not going to work as hard. Anybody who's hungry - you know, a redshirt type of guy - they're going to go out there and give it their all every snap."
Former UT wide receiver and return specialist Nu'Keese Richardson has re-emerged in a big way at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College - at a new position.
Richardson, now a cornerback, leads all junior colleges with seven interceptions through just five games. He also has nine pass breakups and returned one interception for a touchdown.
"Good for him. Keep doing your thing, Nu'Keese," UT senior wide receiver Gerald Jones said.
Before being dismissed from the program for off-the-field transgressions, Richardson played in nine games for the Vols, catching eight passes for 102 yards and touchdown and adding 58 yards on six carries - including a 41-yard dash against Auburn. He also averaged 11 yards on six punt returns and 22.5 yards on 13 kickoff returns.
"He's so good with the ball in his hands, so I just assumed he'd stay on offense," UT senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "Obviously, people have been throwing his way, and obviously he can still catch. I saw him hit people on special teams last year, but I never thought that was his forte - you know, he's such a small guy. But you know what? Nu'Keese is extremely athletic. He could probably play anywhere on the field ... and probably do a pretty good job."
Reveiz and others said they were pleased with Richardson's progress.
"Once a Vol, always a Vol," Reveiz said. "But also, just as a person, you want to see people do well. You don't want to wish bad on people, no matter what they did. Everyone deserves a second chance, and everyone deserves to make up for it if they made a mistake.
"I talked to Nu'Keese a few times. I feel like he's a good kid. He made a mistake, but I'm glad he's doing well now, and I hope he continues to have success."