Tennessee turned on the lights at Neyland Stadium and tried to simulate the game night experience Wednesday as part of a one-hour, no-contact practice.
Head coach Derek Dooley and staff set up a complete pregame itinerary that included a trial Vol Walk, pregame locker room traditions, halftime responsibilities and even the postgame media operation. Dooley’s plan was to familiarize himself and the new players and coaches with the expected routine when UT Martin visits for the Sept. 4 opener.
“There are 26 things I wrote down that we’ve got to clean up administratively, with coaches headsets, adjustments and how we do things,” Dooley said. “This is why this was important and it was good.
“I told the players that they were very professional about it, they approached it the right way and I think we got a lot accomplished. We didn’t really get better as a football team but we got a lot done in the hopes that the first game we can play well, and that’s what we were here for.”
Wednesday’s plan was for the practice to more closely mirror an actual game in pace and potential for confusion.
“There were two occasions out there — one time we went from nickel to goal line and we had 12 guys on the field. And then we had a couple of issues on the sideline, a guy trying to make adjustments and he supposed to be in the octagon ready to get on the special teams play.
“That was the mental part. You don’t get that in practice. All the things that happen three times a year, one time a year — but it happens and you’ve got to be ready. When it does happen, you’ve got to act like it happens every game. It’s just hard to rep all that stuff.”
Dooley said he’s likes where the team is at this point after a successful 20-practice fall camp, although more work remains.
“I think from a day-to-day work standpoint, it’s been phenomenal,” he said. “But what is not there are all the things that come up — ‘We didn’t talk about that. Holy smokes! How are we going to handle that?’ It’s just the newness and it takes a full year to really iron out the little things.
“Where you’re really going to see it is when it gets a little thick out there. The fans are screaming, we’re struggling, the coordinator’s screaming on the headset, the head coach is screaming on the headset — that’s where it’s important. You don’t know until it gets thick. And when it gets thick, how everybody handles it and works together to solve the problem, is when you know you have something.”
Tennessee practices again Friday before taking the weekend off for what the head coach termed rest and recovery.