Tennessee's football team broke from practice Wednesday with its focus on Thursday afternoon's final major team scrimmage before the Vols' Sept. 1 season opener at UCLA.
"I don't expect our team to lose focus any (Thursday)," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "Tomorrow is a very important scrimmage for us. You have to be a little careful in what you do and how much you do. They're very tired, they just started to back to class. All the girls are back. They're 18 to 22, they're not all totally focused on football."
Fulmer, nonetheless, has high expectations for a scrimmage that typically goes a long way in solidifying the Vols' two-deep depth chart and identifying which players likely can help the team.
"I expect it to be a very good scrimmage for us," Fulmer said. "We'll do a lot of situational work and try to play. Whether it's 1s vs. 2s or whatever, we'll try to have a flow-of-the-game-type situation for five or six series and some other situations that we feel like we need a little more work on later. I'll probably do the last half of it with 'thud' (to end a play) and situations."
Among those vying to shore up his spot in the Vols' rotation is offensive lineman Ramone Johnson, who has been widely praised recently by both Fulmer and line coach Greg Adkins.
"(Fulmer's) told me I'm starting to look like a starter but I'm not about to let that go to my head," said the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from Chicago. "I know that I still have a lot of things I need to work on to get better. I still have a lot of screws in my game that need to be tightened up."
But Johnson also has flashed some versatility outside the realm of the typical offensive lineman. Coaches began last week working him at tight end in some short-yardage and jumbo packages. His focus remains on improving in every area.
"It's just hard work, knowing that you have to work hard every day, that's the biggest difference," said Johnson, the kicker for his Morgan Park High School team. "I don't like to brag at all, I just the coaches critique my game and tell me what I need to improve on.
This boot made for walking?
Starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton laughed off the notion that anything was wrong with his right ankle, which this week has become the Vols' 2008 version of Erik Ainge's "Pinkygate."
"I don't know what you're talking about. My ankle is fine," said the junior from Waynesville, N.C. "I mean, it's football. You get a little tweak here and there, but I'm perfectly fine. I'm 100 percent ready to go."
But was Crompton ever in a walking boot this week?
"No," he said. "I've been in tennis shoes and sandals."
Crompton lauded the Vols' ability to stay healthy throughout fall camp, seeing only Chase Nelson endure a season-ending knee injury. Arian Foster, Savion Frazier, Wes Brown, Chris Walker and Austin Johnson have all missed some practice with various bumps and bruises, but none is expected to be affected long-term.
"It's very rare going through a whole camp that you don't have somebody have to sit out three weeks or something like that, especially going into the first game for us having beaten up on each other as much as we have in scrimmages," Crompton said. "I give all the credit to the strength staff and what they've done this off season in getting us prepared."
B.J. Coleman said the competition to be the Vols' No. 2 quarterback continues with Coleman and redshirt sophomore Nick Stephens. Earlier this week Dave Clawson indicated he would prefer for one of the backups to seize command as UT's clear-cut second option.
Coleman certainly feels like he's made definite strides in the right direction.
"I really think that I've come a long way," said Coleman, a redshirt freshman from Chattanooga's McCallie School, of his progress since camp opened. "Thank the Lord for coach Fulmer, coach Clawson and these guys on offense have really helped me along. The o-line has done an excellent job and the receivers have done an excellent job.
"The main thing is that we've got to continue to go. I've got a long, long way to go, but I'm excited about the journey ahead of me. This is a very competitive college football. We're among the few of the guys in the country to get to play this and we're very blessed."
Coleman knows Thursday's final major intrasquad scrimmage is key, not just for him and Stephens but the entire team.
"(Thursday) is going to be a big day, I think, for the whole team," he said. "We're out there to do one thing, and that's get better. I think the guys have done an awesome job this week really working hard, especially with the transition to school. We had a good practice today, and we're looking forward to tomorrow and seeing what we're able to execute and get it perfected and make sure it's right.
"I think it will be a big day for the second group, that way we can start developing depth. Of course it's a competition, but the main thing is we (Coleman and Stephens) both want the best for the team."
Does Coleman think he's the No. 2 guy?
"We'll see. Whatever's best for the team is how they're going to have to do that, and I understand both ways," Coleman said. "I feel like I've gained a lot of confidence from the guys here, being around them, and I feel like if need be, either one of us are going to be ready to step in there and help this team."
Fulmer doesn't expect a quick end to the runner-up battle but praised both signal-callers.
"I think that's going to be an ongoing process," Fulmer said. "Neither one of them has really distinguished himself and neither one of them has really dropped the ball. I think we're fortunate in that we have two guys who could be the second-team quarterback. That will eventually settle itself."
Paring down, honing in
Clawson, who indicated following last Saturday's scrimmage that the team would begin in earnest to trim its playbook, had his offensive charges continue to prepare for the opener at UCLA in 12 days by zeroing in on certain offensive sets and what looks the Bruins' defense might deploy.
"We've gotten a good bit in today, a couple things that we'll normally do every game week. It was like a Tuesday practice," Coleman explained. "We started installing some stuff and we had a couple of team periods today that were geared toward UCLA. And what it is, it's just so that we can kind of turn our attention to the Bruins and be able to make sure we can start learning some of their concepts with our formations."
Thomas coming on; needs consistency
Victor Thomas, whose ability to contribute became magnified following Nelson's injury, appears to have taken advantage of the added reps and expectations in practice. Fulmer just wants to see more of it.
"Victor's one of those guys who I'm looking for consistency from," said Fulmer, who noted Thomas had enjoyed a good week of practice. "He needs to be more consistent, more focused. Some of that just comes with time, but I'm not going to sit here and wait until he's a fourth-year junior or whatever to be mature. We're in his rear end every day and I expect him to grow up and I expect his peers to be in his rear end, too, because we need him.
"We need him and (Donald) Langley and (Andre) Mathis to be able to play some real snaps for us. But they're not going to play if they're not ready. We'll go to a three-down scheme and do something else. You hit a button."
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