August 10, 2009

2-a-days open with grueling drills

From the day Lane Kiffin was introduced he made it no secret that freshmen would play early and often. Kiffin showed that in the first week of practice, -- including Saturday's scrimmage where freshmen, particularly on offense, were on the field early and often.

"From Day 1 I've talked about in recruiting that our freshmen will get their shot to play and play early. That's not a recruiting ploy," Kiffin said. "That's a chance to find out who are our championship players -which guys can be good. As you saw on offense Saturday, a lot of skill position freshmen touched the ball a lot and it was really interesting to see the film and watch how they kind of showed up."

Monday morning the Vols opened the second week of fall camp with the first of three days of two-a-day practices and the highlight of the three-hour workout was again a freshman. This time it was the elusive and athletic Nu'Keese Richardson, who got several snaps at quarterback in a new package that was being installed. On Saturday, Richardson lined up in the backfield as a running back. On Monday, Richardson's role possibly grew some more with the former All-State standout from Florida back in one of his old high school positions of quarterback -- at times with Richardson handing off to fellow freshman phenom Bryce Brown.

Considering that it was the first of two Monday practices, the morning session looked to be on the long side, and that was just from an observer's viewpoint. For a player dealing with the heat and humidity, the nearly three-hours' worth of work in the first of two practices had to be quite the eye-opener.

"It's a different schedule and once you get in a routine that's just what you get used to. It's a good change though, we get two practices knocked out in one day. It's a mental thing, you're trying to make sure you get your lunch, get your rest in and get your fluids," quarterback Jonathan Crompton said of the adjustment to the rigors of two-a-days.

In addition to simply kicking the conditioning into high gear, the twice-a-day workouts help to simulate the kind of fatigue a football team deals with in late-game situations. That's especially true on hot Saturday's in the South, and Crompton acknowledged that was part of the benefit.

"We have a good amount of time in between practices, but it's a little more physical on us. It's a test," he offered. "It's a mental test. You have to go through some adversity and keep grinding through. There's going to be some mistakes, especially in the second one."

Crompton had what many consider to be the best day of practice in his Tennessee career in a scrimmage setting on Saturday, hitting his first 11 consecutive passes and throwing two touchdowns against no interceptions.

He wasn't quite as sharp on Monday morning, but left the practice field feeling as though he was still on the right path.

"We still have to go back and watch the scrimmage film before we come back tonight for practice. We'll see what we did wrong and come back out here and correct it tonight," Crompton said. " We're still getting comfortable with things, we're still installing, but we're making progress."

Up And At 'Em Fellas

Some freshmen in the program have gotten their 'welcome to college' moments on the field in the form of big hits. Two members of the ballyhooed class of 2009 however got a different kind of welcome on Monday morning, one that involved an up-close-and-personal introduction to Lane Kiffin's focus on discipline, especially during fall camp.


While the rest of the team went through a grueling three hour practice Monday morning, Janzen Jackson and Mike Edwards spent the entire practice time with strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus, as well as other members of the strength program, who put them through a litany of running and conditioning drills that never stopped.

The reason for the punishment wasn't clear, as coaches didn't speak with the media following the morning session. Seems safe to say that the staff was sending a strong message about discipline though.

FITS LIKE A GLOVE

On Saturday the offensive standout was tailback Tauren Poole, who rushed for over 150 yards and two touchdowns. Poole, who has consistently earned praise for making one cut and getting up field, said that he really likes how the run game in the offense is set up.

"I know that I fit well in this offense," Poole said. "I feel great in this offense. The offensive line blocked great. The holes really opened up. The receivers really held up their guys and let me get to the outside and make some plays."

GETTING COMFORTABLE

Across the board getting fit was certainly the summer message with several guys losing weight. Offensive guard Jacques McClendon lost right at 10 pounds and offensive tackle Jarred Shaw lost 25 pounds. And on defense, Gerald Williams lost some weight and is now at 250 pounds as a defensive end. Williams, who is in a fight to get into the rotation said he has become comfortable with being an end and is committed to giving it everything he's got.

"I feel 100 percent about it," Williams said. "Right now, I am getting more comfortable with the position. It's just getting into the playbook and learning everything to turn it loose and go."

THOMPSON STRIDING

LaMarcus Thompson was praised by head coach Lane Kiffin coming out of Saturday's practice for his defensive work. The Vols' 6-foot-1-inch, 221-pound linebacker from Lithonia, Ga., is taking it all stride -- and focusing on improving each day as he continues to battle for a starting spot at the SAM position.

"It's getting better every time. You've just got to come out and (get) reps and more repetitions," said Thompson, who's been a special teams stalwart for the Vols in his first two years. "It started kind of slow coming out, but when we get out here, it's just better. The more reps you get, you get more confident and you just know what you're supposed to do in your assignment."

Thompson, who has appeared in 26 games the past two seasons, acknowledges there's a different edge to competing for and practicing with the first-team defense.

"You just have to go out and go as hard as you can every time because you get that opportunity that's been put in front of you. So you have to take advantage of it," he said.

Though Kiffin said Thompson "made a number of plays" during Saturday's scrimmage work, the Vols' head coach also is challenging the linebackers to gain more comfort and knowledge in the system of his father, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

"During the summer, we all had seven-on-sevens. And we went out by ourselves and tried to get better," Thompson explained. "And that was everybody's key, trying to get better. Even after seven-on-sevens, there were guys trying to get better. That's just tremendous.

"It's alright (his comfort with the playbook). I've got to still work hard; never get complacent and try to get better every time."

That task is made easier by linebackers coach Lance Thompson, who works relentlessly with his troops.

"We all love Coach," Thompson said of his position coach with the same surname. "He's a good guy, treats us right. He's going to tell you if you do wrong and tell you if you do right."

Getting it right, however, isn't easy, Lane Kiffin said.

"The whole time we've been here, we've shuffled guys around and tried to find the best scenario to get them in the right spot," said the coach. "When you have three different linebackers, we need different guys to play those spots. It's not like we can pick a guy to play both. A lot of them can only play one. It's such a complicated defense as far as doing things right. We've got to continue to improve our linebackers."


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