Saturday Tennessee's fans will get a glimpse at their football team under first-year coach Lane Kiffin. And it will be a true game-like setting, according to the Vols' 33-year-old leader who was introduced as UT's new head coach on Dec. 1, 2008.
The contest will feature first-string units competing against each other with a modified scoring system.
"The scoring system is if offense scores, it's just normal. Seven and three points," Kiffin said. "The defense will have a scoring system where it's four points for any stop, five points for any turnover and seven points for a touchdown."
Scoreboard monitoring will take a backseat to Kiffin's evaluations of his team in an environment that is expected to closely parallel a game-day atmosphere. More than 30,000 tickets already have been distributed for the game, and with a promising weather forecast, UT officials have indicated an expectation for a huge walk-up crowd on Saturday. Attendance could swell toward 50,000, which would mark the Vols' second-largest spring game. The 1986 contest, a record-setter at that time, drew nearly 75,000 fans.
"It's the most important evaluation tool we've had so far. To put our team in Neyland Stadium in front of our fans, which is where we have eight games next year, we've got to see how they perform in that situation," Kiffin said of seeing his team before the masses in the Vols' home. "It's why we want so many fans there because we want the energy and the noise and the Vol Walk. See which guys it scares and see which guys rise to the top."
The Vols even will conduct team meetings both Friday and prior to kickoff Saturday in replicating as many game-like situations as possible. Anything to help improve upon Thursday's up-and-down performance by the offense, which saw Shane Reveiz, Savion Frazier and Gerald Williams record interceptions.
"We had three too many turnovers. The quarterbacks threw (three) picks. We've got to get that fixed by Saturday," Kiffin said. "Starting right now, it's countdown to game day for them. We'll have pre-game meetings (Friday) and the day of the game to get us ready."
While Kiffin stated during Thursday's SEC coaches' teleconference that senior Jonathan Crompton was out in front of the Vols' three-headed quarterback derby, Kiffin also made it clear no one has seized the reins.
"We've still got a lot of information to get in and a really valuable one on Saturday. It's a game-like situation in front of our people and in front of our fans in Neyland Stadium," Kiffin said. "That's going to be more important than anything that's happened; because that's what matters the most is how they perform on game day."
Despite his efforts to do so, Crompton indicated he hadn't entered camp with the expectation he would secure the starting nod by spring's end.
"I anticipated that. Like I told you the first day. I am going to keep practicing like I am the fifth-team guy," said the Waynesville, N.C., native. "I am going to have that chip on my shoulder. I am going to compete my butt off everyday day no matter what."
Crompton contends that his focus as spring practice comes to a close is simply on improving his game in the offense.
"Getting better," Crompton said of his mentality. "Learning the offense more and more everyday. I am going to be up there in the film room. I will be around all of May, June and July. I don't really have much to do so I am going to be working out and being up in the film room."
Crompton, as well as fellow signal-callers Nick Stephens and B.J. Coleman, will work under the close supervision of Kiffin during Saturday's Orange & White game. With no hand-signals yet installed in the offense and no headsets for the contest, Kiffin will be in the huddle with the quarterbacks and calling plays.
"We don't have all the signals down, we won't have on headsets and I'll be out there with the quarterbacks," Kiffin said. "Which is good for me to evaluate how all the guys are in the huddle and how they deal with adversity. It will be just like it was in the scrimmages."
And while Saturday is big for the fans, for the coaches it's more about the entire body of work the last six weeks and both sides of the ball like what they have gotten done.
"I think we are right on schedule for what we are trying to get done," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I don't know if we can nail down a depth chart. What we are finding out is individually what we can do so as you put a game plan together you can find out what they are going to be able to do and what they can do. As for the depth chart, I think we are going to let this competition keep going."
Defensively, defensive guru Monte Kiffin likes what he has seen from an effort standpoint which was his first priority when spring practice started.
"It's a new system and some guys are making mistakes," said the Vols' fabled defensive coordinator and head coach's father. "We can do better at this or do better at that, but the biggest thing is that we are playing hard. I tell them to play hard, play fast, and play together."
But that doesn't mean that the "Monte 2" is ready for action.
"Probably about 90 percent," Kiffin replied when asked how much of his defensive had been installed. "We feel pretty good right now. I just love to see guys getting better. It's pretty exciting.
"We are way off. We are just getting better. We are not ready to play right now. We will be, but we are not right now. It's hard. They are good people and they are studying hard."
Hancock a model of consistency
Wide receiver Quintin Hancock has been awarded the Harvey Robinson Award. The St. Augustine, Fla., native has gotten more productive as the spring has progressed and, according to Chaney, Hancock has 100-percent committed himself to the new offensive system.
"I think Quintin has done a fantastic job for us," Chaney said. "From the first workout at 6am till now, that young man has bought into exactly what we want to do as far as effort and physical play. He has done a marvelous job. He indicates everyday by his actions that he knows exactly what we want to get done. He plays football the way we want."
Defensive end Chris Walker has had a noteworthy spring. He has been called unblockable and for his play the last month, he has been awarded the Andy Spiva Award
for the most improved defensive player.
"It's always been in there. It was just somebody coming in there and tapping me and getting it out of me," said the junior from Memphis, who credited Ed Orgeron as a key factor in his development.
"Just the energy. I love coach O's energy and just being around him," Walker continued. "All the people that he's coached and all the things he's done for other people. It's a big compliment to him and it's just a big honor for us to be coached by him."
Though Walker knows Orgeron's reputation as a recruiting wunderkind, he cautions against people overlooking the former University of Mississippi head coach's ability to develop talent.
"Most definitely because they talk about how good of a recruiter he is, but they really don't know how good of a coach he is," Walker said. "Our D-line has gotten 10 notches better since last year, and I think people are going to see that when we come out in the spring game."
Walker wowed both the Vols' coordinators this spring.
"He is very explosive," Monte Kiffin said. "You could notice in the off-season workouts that he was dedicated. He was always on time and always working hard. Then to see him go on the field and do it and be the player you are looking for, he has a great future. I think Coach O has done a great job with him. He's 235 pounds. There are guys who are bigger, but he plays awfully strong for 235 pounds."
Chaney has a different prospective on Walker having to try and scheme and stop him every day. And the former NFL offensive tackles/tight ends coach sees a really special player.
"Oh yea, I think he has been fantastic," Chaney said. "I think he is a special guy. He is a much stronger football player than I gave him credit for. He doesn't look real big, but he is hard to block. He has had a wonderful spring. To me, he is everything that Chris Scott needs. He (Walker) makes you strain on every play. If you make a little bit of a mistake then he makes you play and to me that is how you define good football players. You make a little mistake on him and he makes you pay."
Though Walker did only light work in Tuesday's scrimmage and sat out Thursday's work, he said an MRI on Wednesday turned up nothing significant and that he will play in Saturday's Orange & White game.
Getting it done, for the most part
Crompton continues to get the bulk of the first-team work and on Thursday, Kiffin said that Crompton is out in front in the quarterback competition. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney feels that Crompton has done nothing but show him that he can get things done.
"I have no indication to think that Jonathan can't turn this thing around and do well," Chaney said. "All I know is what I am seeing on the football field. He is preparing well for practice. He is competiting well at practice. He is throwing accurate balls in practice and for the most part he is making good decisions. Not as many as I would like, but no quarterback I have ever coached does. For the most part I am pleased. I have no indication other than to think he will be a successful football player."
The biggest surprise
There have been a few surprises this spring both for the offense and the defense, but there hasn't been any bigger surprise than the arrival of freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes. Hughes, who nearly quit in morning runs, has gone from who to running with the first team. And count Monte Kiffin as one of those who said "who" back in January.
"I think he has really been the big surprise," Kiffin said. "I know when I first got here I saw him at a workout at 6 in the morning and he was struggling. I said what's the deal with that big guy. They said he is a young guy and I thought well we will redshirt him and maybe he will become a player someday. He just kept getting into better and better shape. Then we put the pads on him and he loves football. He became very aggressive. He is going to help us."
A little advice
On the banquet circuit so to speak, the line from the Kiffins is that Eric Berry is the only returning starter. Thursday, the elder Kiffin had a word of advice for his former NFL peers.
"I just tell everyone, and I am not exaggerating at all, I will say this: there are 32 teams and whatever pick I have in the first round, I am taking Eric Berry," said the Berry's defensive coach. "Some people are good in the box. Some people are good in the middle of the field. Some have great ball skills. Some have everything but. Eric can run. He can hit. He loves football and he is a good leader. He is a good guy and he is smart. Is there something he is not good at? I don't know. I haven't seen that yet."
Being physical has been a message this spring for not just the offensive line, but for everyone on the offensive side of the ball and that includes the wide receivers. With the installation of the wide zone running play, the ability to block on the corners by the receivers is key and Chaney said his wideouts get that.
"One of the things I have been most pleased with this entire spring is how our wide receivers have blocked," Chaney said. "Our physical nature out wide at receiver has really been a plus for the offense all spring."
One of the things said back when Lane Kiffin arrived in December was the need for the offensive line to get in better shape. As spring practice comes to a close, Chaney is pleased with where his guys are up front in terms of their physical shape.
"We would like to find a little more foot speed if we can," Chaney said. "We would like to get a little weight off of Chris (Scott) and Jarrod (Shaw). They would be the one's. Everyone else is doing what we want them to do. We have talked to those two young men and they are working hard at it."
Linebacker accomplishments and concerns
One of the bright spots this spring has been the play of middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, but overall the linebacker position appears to be behind the defensive front and the secondary.
"I think Nick has really jumped out and showed us some things that some people didn't know he could do," Kiffin offered. "I know he is short or whatever, but I don't care. I you can make the play, make the play and I see (No.) 56 making a lot of plays.
"I don't think our situation (at linebacker) is as strong as it is in the secondary or on the defensive line. I just think we need to keep working. Outside of Rico our 'backers just haven't played much. They have been here and been in the system or whatever, but they are still young. They just haven't played a lot."
Kiffin all a-Twitter
Add head coach Lane Kiffin to the Twittering masses. Kiffin has deployed the new communication technology to help stay connected with the Vols' fans and also not lose a step with any competitors. Mark Richt and Pete Carroll, among others, were among the earliest to embrace the Twitter technology.
"You know, it was something that we did. I have somebody that runs that for me that communicates with me on a daily basis," Kiffin said. "Just another method of getting out there and letting our fan base or recruits know what's going on with our program.
"I don't know that it's a great recruiting tool, I really don't. to me it's more one of those things that you don't want anybody else doing anything that you're not. Reading that coach Richt had started that and had one, we just wanted to make sure that there wasn't anything that could possibly be a benefit that we weren't doing. I don't know that it really helps you that much in recruiting, but if it does, we're trying."
Heath Shuler and Johnny Majors shared what appeared to be an engaging conversation for about 15 minutes during the early stages of Thursday's practice.
Despite wearing only shorts and shoulder pads in addition to their helmets, the Vols were extremely physical during Thursday's practice. Several players left the field banged up, including Gerald Jones with a left ankle or foot that was stepped on by C.J. Fleming and Ben Martin with an apparent left leg injury. Kiffin said both players were expected to be available Saturday. Also, Tauren Poole took a vicious hit late in the practice during some scrimmage work and was checked out on the sideline but appeared OK. Jeff Cottam did not practice with a knee injury.
Gerald Williams' interception was quite impressive; he batted a ball at the line of scrimmage and then wrapped his paws around it for the pick. Of course, Frazier might have topped him. Dropping into coverage downfield, the 6-foot-2, 221-pound Frazier soared high and snared a one-handed interception falling to the ground. Reveiz also nabbed his pick with nice coverage in the flat. Freshman Toney Williams might have had the most hard-hitting afternoon. After he was decked near the end of a play by Rod Wilks, Williams responded on the very next snap when he grabbed a pass out of the backfield and absolutely made a would-be tackler bounce to the ground. But Williams took another hard pop late in the scrimmage.
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