40,000 Fans Show Up For Tennessee's Open Practice

Vols Use Crowd To Energize Saturday Night Workout

Sunday, August 17, 2014 - by Special to Chattanoogan.com

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – An impressive 40,000 Tennessee football fans turned out for Saturday’s open practice to show their support and love for 2014 Vols. More than anything, the coaches and players appreciated the opportunity to have a game-like atmosphere to practice to with just over two weeks until the first game.

"Thank you to the fans for coming out and creating a game atmosphere," coach Butch Jones said.

"We needed that for our development. Feeding off the crowd's energy is what our football team needed."

As seniors, linebacker A.J. Johnson and running back Marlin Lane know the feeling of a great crowd.

"There was a lot of energy," said Johnson. "It felt real good. It felt like a game environment. We came running out and there were people everywhere."

"It's a great experience for the freshmen. When they get to the game it's going to be ten times better, but they still get the great feeling of being in a game environment."

Lane realizes that not many programs have the chance to practice in front of such a large crowd.

"There's nothing like practicing in front of a live crowd. Everybody wishes to practice like this with 50,000 people there. Seeing the energy of the crowd keeps us motivated and going."

With the band playing and good ole Rocky Top in the back, the energy of the crowd served as a gift for the team.

"It definitely gets us ready for the game and reminds us of a game like environment," said Brain Randolph. "It was a good rejuvenation. Our legs are dead. Some of us just need an extra spark, and I think that did the trick."

Freshman linebacker Dillon Bates felt the intensity of a crowd that he grew up being a fan of and shared the experience with his fellow newcomers.

"It was amazing," Bates said. "To come out with all these fans coming just to watch practice and just to show how important this team is to the community and to Vol Nation--it's just great to see this kind of turnout."

WORLEY HAS FAITH IN O-LINE, OFFENSE

Starting quarterback Justin Worley praised his offense after the open practice at Neyland Stadium, as the group ran through basic offense drills.

"I think everybody showed up," said Worley. "I mean, it's always incredible to get in front of these fans and there was a little bit more energy, a little bit more bouncing around. The defense got fired up on third downs. I think everybody responded well and came here and competed."

Among points of interest for Jones, the chemistry of the offense and the strength of the offensive line were both put to the test. During a seven-on-seven series, Worley completed a third down conversion pass to wide receiver Marquez North, which reassured the quarterback that the offensive schemes are starting to gel.

"Just being able to throw routes with Marquez [North] and Jason (Croom) and all those guys, every rep counts," added Worley. "Both of those guys have done a great job in the offseason, first of all, and are now taking it into fall camp and developing. They've done a great job."

Worley is also gaining more and more confidence in his young offensive line, which faced a fast and energized Vol defense in scrimmage situations.

"I don't need to worry about the offensive line," said Worley. "As long as I can get myself protected, that's on me and my knowledge of the game, my knowledge of my protection and everything. I'd say each one of them has a chip on their shoulder and they want to go out and prove themselves.

"I have faith in these guys. They're going to step up and play hard for me, I know that."

BATES UNDER THE NEYLAND LIGHTS

The practice marked a first for freshman Bates, who had never performed at Neyland Stadium until Saturday.

“It was amazing," he said. "Definitely got those butterflies coming in, but you never get that anywhere else. It's the greatest feeling in the world."

Bates, who did not play in the spring Orange and White game, although he did attend the scrimmage, noted that the similar environments will help him for the regular season.

"Just to show and see all the fans here in a similar atmosphere, it definitely gets you acclimated to what it's like for game day," Bates said.

Not only did Volunteer fans give Bates a glimpse into what Neyland Stadium is like during game days, but they also provided him and the rest of the team with more energy during practice.

"When you come out in Neyland Stadium in front of thousands of people, the energy level does turn up a little bit, and everybody gets that much more excited," Bates said.

The big turnout came as a bit of a shock to the freshman.

"I didn't expect that many people to be here," Bates said. "But, it's great, and it just shows how in love the Vol Nation is with this team."

Bates is excited about the opportunity to see a packed Neyland Stadium for UT's season opener against Utah State.

"It's going to be double this, so just even with the lower bowl--and I don't know how many people were out here--it was still loud," Bates said. "You could still feel it in your chest. So, just imagining that times two and seeing these thousands of people coming out to watch us play, it'll be exciting."

RANDOLPH IMPRESSED WITH NEW-LOOK SECONDARY

Saturdays open practice marked the first "game-like" challenge for many players in the Volunteer defensive backfield. It was a test, according to Randolph, that greatly helped the secondary become more prepared for the upcoming season.

"It went well," he said. "With the crowd noise, there was some lack of communication out there. We still have to get better with our hand signals, but for the most part, I feel like we got more prepared for game one."

Freshmen D’Andre Payne and Rashaan Gaulden were especially impressive to the veteran safety.

"He was pretty much lockdown on the corner position tonight," he said about Payne. "He did good against the big receivers. And also, Rashaan Gaulden. He did good in the one-on-ones. He got him a pick, and he just came out with a lot of emotion tonight."

Freshman Todd Kelly Jr., and sophomore Michael Williams also earned Randolph’s praise.

"Mike Williams has great speed out there, and that's something that we need in the secondary, of course," said Randolph. "He can also get physical at times with the receivers, so he's got a good toolbox to use, and he's been doing well in practice."

"He's a football player," he said of Kelly Jr. "He loves the game - you can tell. He's always asking questions, he always wants to learn more, so he's just a hungry freshman. He's trying to get some playing time. You can tell with his background that football means a lot to him. You can tell he has an edge about him."

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)


UTC Women's Tennis Team Travels To Knoxville For Two Matches

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women's tennis team has a busy weekend ahead of them with a pair of matches in Knoxville, Tenn. on Sunday, Jan. 22.  The Mocs take on Air Force at 10:00 a.m. (E.S.T.) and Tennessee at 5:00 p.m. at the Goodfriend Tennis Center.  Both the Falcons and the Volunteers are starting team play this weekend.  Chattanooga has ... (click for more)

UTC Wrestling At Southern Illinois-Edwardsville

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling team gets back to Southern Conference action at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville this weekend.  The Mocs take on the Cougars on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 6:00 p.m. (E.S.T.). Live video and live scoring is available for the match this weekend.  Links for both are located on the wrestling schedule page on GoMocs.com. ... (click for more)

School Board Turns Thumbs Down To Proposed Funding Of Central Track

County school board members on Thursday night expressed a number of concerns about a proposed $500,000 new track under consideration for funding by the County Commission at Central High School. The vote was 9-0 to table a motion to accept the money (if offered). Karitsa Mosley-Jones said, "We've got students at schools on a high priority list and you're going to give me a track?" ... (click for more)

School Board Approves 4-Year Contract Extension With Independent Bus Drivers, Who Say They Can Handle 100 Routes; Extension Given On Custodial Contract

The county school board on Thursday night extended the contract by four years of school bus owner operators, who said they could deliver on 100 bus routes. The board delayed until a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Central High School the issue of whether to accept the offer of 100 contract routes. That would be handled by many of the current 49 owner operators taking ... (click for more)

Bikers Need To Have Licenses And Insurance - And Response

I am okay with Haslam’s idea of raising the gas tax and lowering the food tax.  But, I want to see a tax of bicycles since they have their own lanes now and they also have to be maintained. How much revenue would that bring in?  I would think if we have enough bike riders to have the lanes in the first place, there must be enough to generate some money for road improvements. ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Where Is Central’s Auditorium?

I am surely one of the biggest proponents of high school athletics there is, especially after half a decade of being an eye witness to the vast array of lessons that are learned every day by anyone associated with sports. That said, I have watched the Hamilton County Commission waffle on a $500,000 track at Central High School with a certain curiosity because the same high school ... (click for more)