KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- What started out as Peyton Manning's idea, was a smashing success on Saturday night as 39,000 fans came out to the Vols open practice at Neyland Stadium.
Butch Jones led the Vols through its normal practice including scrimmage situations, one-on-one drills and even the three-man weave.
"First of all, thank you for coming out," said Jones. "I think I would be remiss if I didn't start by first thanking the best fan base in the country. That was evident today. You have a practice, and the way the crowd comes out was a gameday-like atmosphere."
Jones was quick to give credit to where the idea was originated.
"Peyton Manning suggested this open practice," said Jones. "We spoke about it, and talked about some situations we would do and then we planned everything out as a staff of what this football team needed.
"We needed to play football, we needed a one-minute drill, we needed a last second clock situations, we needed to get some of our younger kids some reps. Also, I wanted to have some practice. There's nothing like having your name called out on the loudspeaker and having to perform 1-on-1 against the other guy. Again, I thought it was extremely productive."
Though it wasn't the normal 100,000 fans in Neyland stadium, the Vol quarterbacks had a taste of game day Saturday night.
Despite the rain, the crowd remained, under the overhang, cheering their Vols on and reacting to the practice.
The experience was good for all of the Vols, but especially the quarterbacks.
"We didn't have this last year, so I think this was great for the young guys including myself," said redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. "We don't get a lot of opportunities in front of the crowd besides the game. It was great to have everyone out."
Though Jones brings in noises during practice, the crowd element isn't something you can duplicate.
"As a quarterback you just have to stay calm through the elements of the crowd," said junior Justin Worley. "Everything outside of the actual game of football. I think we all handled it well, I don't think there were too many actual mistakes by the quarterbacks."
The Vols practice was like any other but when it came to individual drills, Jones used the opportunity to single players out and see how they reacted.
"Coach Jones said he was going to put us in front of the fans and then single you out in front of them to see what kind of a man and competitor you are," said Peterman. "That is a great learning opportunity and chance to get better. It was great and I appreciate Coach Jones for doing that."
"That is what it was meant to be, in a pressure situation," continued Worley. "All eyes on the quarterback, the receiver and the DB. That put it in a game situation, the pressure that you have on each and every play."
Jones is pleased by how the quarterbacks handled themselves.
"My first impression without seeing the film, I was very encouraged," said Jones. "I thought we made some plays, but we have to make the routine plays. When we have somebody open in the secondary on a deep ball, that's the difference between winning and losing. That's why you practice. That's why you put your team in those types of situations."
HUNGRY IN THE TRENCHES
As the Tennessee Volunteers preseason camp continues, so does the progression of each player. Now halfway through and "over the hump," the offensive line is ready to step out onto Shields- Watkins field in just two weeks against Austin Peay.
Today's practice, which was held in Neyland Stadium and open to fans, held a bigger focus for the Vols in finding their future playmakers.
"Just finding our guys, finding out who is going to be able and go out there make plays in front of these people and make plays, you know, just together as a team," said senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James. "I feel like we're just going to evaluate ourselves, take a few things we can get better on and just move forward."
The senior offensive linemen have become a close-knit group these past four years and are starving for success this season.
"Big Dan [McCullers], you know, he definitely stepped it up a lot," said James.
"Also, a guy like Corey Miller, Jacques Smith before the thumb injury, he was doing well. Marlon Walls. We have a lot, like I said, hungry guys up there that want to rush the passer."
Tiny Richardson hopes that the o-line's enthusiasm and leadership spreads throughout Team 117 and it is becoming obvious among the team that it is working.
Both freshmen quarterbacks, Riley Ferguson and Josh Dobbs, are showing progression each practice.
"The strides that they have taken since day one has been tremendous," Richardson said. "Just watching their presence in the pocket, they don't buckle down in pressure so it has been really good for them."
Then there are players who are earning more playing time than ever before, like redshirt sophomore running back, Tom Smith.
"His performance was really well," said Richardson. "He has been sitting back there for three years waiting for the opportunity. He got some opportunities today and did really well so as the season goes on a progresses we will see what happens."
Maybe, rain is a good thing.
BIG ORANGE SWARM
With exactly two weeks to go until It's Football Time In Tennessee, junior defensive back Justin Coleman is happy with what he saw from the Vols secondary tonight in Neyland Stadium.
"I feel like [the defensive backs] came to compete," said Coleman. "We came to lock things down. As a defense everybody wanted to see the orange swarm and that is what we did. We wanted to show everybody that we can do what we do."
The Brunswick, Ga., native picked out a few positives from his group in tonight's open practice, including aggression and leverage against the wideouts.
"The DBs are showing that they are tough and willing to compete with anybody," Coleman said. "I saw everybody taking good leverage against the ball; everybody was making good tackles and breaking up the ball while trying to get turnovers."
Coach Jones was relatively happy with what he saw from the No. 1 defensive backfield, but knows there's more work to do over the next two weeks.
"For the most part, I thought our first secondary made some plays, but we still had too many missed tackles especially in the red zone," Jones said. "I'll know a little bit more when I watch the film. The big thing is overall depth, where are we at with that."
ANOTHER STRIPE BITES THE DUST
Adding to the list of Vol newcomers to have the black stripe removed from their helmets was quarterback Riley Ferguson who's stripe was taken off by Jones and his big brother Michael Palardy Friday night.
That brings the Vols' totals of stripe removals to eight.
Black Stripe Removals In Order
Cameron Sutton, Aug. 8
Dylan Wiesman, Aug. 11
Justus Pickett, Aug. 11
Marquez North, Aug. 11
Corey Vereen, Aug. 11
Johnathon Johnson, Aug. 15
Jaylen Miller, Aug. 16
Riley Ferguson, Aug. 16
GETTING USED TO THE LIMELIGHT
For the upperclassmen, running onto Shields-Watkins Field never gets old, but they have become accustomed to it.
For the many fresh faces to this Vols, it is something that takes getting used to.
"It is really good [to have this open practice]," said Antonio Richardson, "because when I was a freshman I can remember running through the T for the first time, I wouldn't say it is intimidating, but it is an adrenaline rush when you are not used to that atmosphere, it was good for them to get a taste of it."
Butch Jones concurs.
"I thought there were some great, great teaching lessons for our football team," said Jones. "For a lot of those guys - walking out of the tunnel and hearing the band play and the excitement - that's the first time they've experienced that. I thought that was a great atmosphere to develop this football team."
"If anybody doesn't realize the magnitude by which Tennessee football is, all you had to do was be here tonight and see it," continued Jones. "It's the responsibility of this football team, coaching staff all the people associated with this football program to give their all each and every day."