- It may have been the first practice, but the Tennessee football team was already focusing on finishing when the veterans hit Haslam Field on Friday afternoon.
Head Coach Derek Dooley took an example from the Olympic Games currently taking place in London and used it as a source of inspiration for his team.
"The biggest thing that I want to emphasize to them is that this is when you begin to develop habits," Dooley said. "There was a great story on Michael Phelps when he (got caught and) won the silver right at the end there. Bob Costas asked him what happened and he had an amazing answer when he said, `I wasn't finishing when I was training and it caught up to me in the final.'
"If you don't train the right way, train to finish and develop that habit, when it gets to crunch time you aren't going to be able to finish it off. That is our starting point right now."
That starting point is at a higher level than Dooley's first two years at Rocky Top, but he was quick to point out that the team still has a long way to go. One of the biggest hurdles is getting everyone in "football shape" after a summer spent focusing on strength training.
"It was a good first day, but a typical first day," Dooley said. "There is no way, I don't care how much you train, that you will be ready for the first day when you put the helmet on and are running the plays. These first three practices are always a little more taxing because of the split squads so they are getting a lot of reps."
The biggest strength for the Vols this year lies in its experience as it returns 10 starters on the offense and seven on the defensive side of the ball. That experience makes a difference from day one and helped the squad get off to a strong start on Friday.
"The biggest thing you notice is the administration of practice," Dooley said. "You can actually coach technique and what you are supposed to coach instead of how to get into a stance, where to lineup, don't jump offsides, get the snap. You are coaching the right things. It looked like practice 10 from an administration standpoint and that's good. That's what it should be."
FIRST DAY FROM BRAY
With practice back in session, Vols quarterback Tyler Bray felt good about the team's showing on a humid afternoon.
"It went well, the offensive line blocked great, we ran the ball pretty good," said Bray. "The receivers did what they normally do and caught the ball."
Bray talked about what he and his mates hoped to get out of the first day.
"It's the start to the season," he said. "New guys are learning the plays. Old guys are just trying to remember what's going on. You move on through practice. It's the first day, so it's all installs, it's what we have been doing for a couple of years now."
With more than two years under his belt in college, Bray feels he has a better knowledge of what is expected.
"Just an understanding of what is going on and what the coaches want from me," said Bray, who has played 16 college games. "Before I was just let's run the plays and see what happens. Now it is let's run the offense and move the ball down the field."
Heading into his third year with the Vols, Bray has a good base to carry him into his junior year.
"The comfort level is the same. I have trust in my line and they are going to block like they normally do and the receivers are going to catch the ball. So I just have to go out there and execute."
NEAL BONDS WITH OFFENSIVE LINE
Junior tailback Rajion Neal spent a better part of the summer in the weight room, with the offensive line. The Fayetteville, Ga. native felt that working out with the offensive front would help him to push himself to get bigger and stronger.
"It was a big push working with the offensive line," said Neal. "They didn't want to see a little guy come in and out-lift them. It was a competition and I think he helped both them and myself. I feel the numbers improved, the stats show it in there and hopefully it will show on the field."
The work out sessions also proved well for bonding both offensive fronts.
"I thought working with them would give me a push and allow me to bond with them," he added. "I want to prove to my teammates that I am dependable and reliable and I want to show them that I am ready to work for them and help them out in the best way that I can."
YOUNG READY TO IMPRESS
Sophomore tailback and return man Devrin Young
looks to bounce back from a broken collarbone injury last season and build off a solid offseason. The Bearden High School product feels extremely confident heading into the new season.
Physically, the 5-8, 172-pound Young says he is in fantastic shape, thanks in large part to strength coach Ron McKeefery. Heading into the season, he looks to really focus on the mental aspect of his game.
"I'm try to grind hard every day," Young said. "Everybody is pushing everybody and no one wants to get left behind so I put a big emphasis on my work ethic this offseason. I feel like my speed is obviously my biggest strength. Coach Ron McKeefery really pushed my body to the max. I think I've put on 10 pounds. I feel like physically I'm well prepared and it is all just a mental game from here on out."
Young is using the upcoming season to really show what he can do and hopes to contribute wherever he can to help the team.
"I am going to produce as much as I can," Young said. "My goal is to get as many reps as I can. I know I'm not an every down back and I'm not going to be running too much power, but at the same time, if I'm doing well, coach is going to give me the rock."
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)