KNOXVILLE - Although it’s impossible to truly replicate the impact of 102,455 screaming fans at Neyland Stadium, Tennessee prepared its ears during Wednesday morning’s practice by piping in artificial crowd noise at Haslam Field.
“We implemented a little crowd noise today, and we had a lot of rat-trapping,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “We made a lot of mistakes (because) a lot of the noise gets you thinking. (It’s a) good thing we have another day to try to polish it up. Went out there and tried to create a little chaos for the young guys, and that’s what it looked like. That’s why we have an extra day, and hopefully we can polish it up.”
With Saturday’s game being the first on the 2011 schedule, the Vols have had ample time to prepare for their season-opening opponent, Montana.
“Anytime there is an open date, and this is kind of like having an open date, you like to get a little extra day or two ahead and that’s what we’re doing,” Dooley said. “You always need it.”
TIME TO HIT SOMEBODY ELSE IN TENNESSEE
Since opening fall camp Aug. 2, the Vols have been preparing for the 2011 season in a variety of ways -- including hitting each other on a daily basis. There comes a time for every team, however, to implore its physicality on an opponent. For Tennessee, that time comes at 6:07 p.m. ET on Saturday.
“I think we are ready to play a ballgame,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “Let’s go find out where we are at. It’s that time of the year. It’s time to go hit somebody different and see what happens. I’m like you guys, I’m looking forward to watching us play. I’m hoping we play well, the run game is good and the pass game is good. Who the heck knows? That’s why we play the game, to find out.”
The Vols have scrimmaged, ran through a mock game and practiced multiple scenarios and situations over the past month. But everything changes when you run through the ‘T.’
“The game is different,” Chaney said. “This is real time. Let’s go out and play a game in front of a lot of people and see how everybody reacts. I’ve been around some guys that can practice well, but when the lights come on things change a little bit. Certainly you look at the game. We’re here to play the game and try to win the football game. We’ll see how we perform when we get out there.”
Although teams tweak and evolve schematically year-to-year, the Vols are expecting Montana to stick with the same philosophies that have made it a successful program.
“They are a base defensive team, like many teams in our conference,” Chaney said. “They are going to play an Over. You go through the whole season on your first opponent, so you really don’t know. They do a little bit of everything, but our gut feeling is that they are going to play base and zone coverage and just go play like they did all of last year.”
One player the Vol offense will be weary of is All-American and two-time All-Big Sky cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who will have the tall task of covering UT wideouts Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers.
“He’s a heck of a player, no question about it,” Chaney said. “He shows up on tape making plays all the time. Our wideouts are going to have to come to play if they end up matched on him because he is going to compete and see how good he can be. Our guys are going to do that every week. They are going to play against a (lot of) good football players, so I hope they rise to the occasion and compete at the level we expect them to.”
WIL-LING AND ABLE
The Tennessee defense is gearing up for its second season under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. Montana plays a fast-paced style, which presents some game-planning strategies for Wilcox.
“With the tempo, they do limit your subs,” said Wilcox. “That’s one thing we have to be ready for and we have been stressing that for two weeks. It’s very hard to simulate during practice, because it’s something they do every day, it’s part of their program. It’s how they operate. It’s an up-tempo pace and we have to be ready to handle that. What that does is, sometimes if you want to sub and they are going up-tempo, you are not able to just because you don’t want to be running in-and-out while they are snapping the ball.”
With that fast pace, Wilcox has to adjust some of his packages.
“We have to be able to play groups to all their personnel groups,” he said. “We can’t always one-for-one sub them if they are going at that up-tempo. It can (limit what UT does). We will see how fast they are going.”
One team that Wilcox can use as a reference is his alma mater, Oregon, who played at Tennessee last September. He said it can be a help, “for the players that played in the game” last season.
“You can tell (the players) every 12-13 seconds they are running a play and you can simulate it out here at practice by doing up-tempo fastball formations,” Wilcox said. “But until you are in that environment, you can talk about all you want, you have to be in that environment and that’s when you really get exposed to it.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On freshman linebackers Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson)
“They’ve been the same. They have a real steady demeanor about them. They’ve been the same today as they’ve been all camp. They really have. I hope they can maintain that once the battles begin. I’ve been impressed with them. They have a real professional way about them.”
(On ability to battle adversity)
“It’s what you want from most young players. It gives you an early indicator of how quickly they can progress and how high their ceiling is going to be. What concerns you a lot is when guys are making the same mistakes over and over. You get a little concerned about their ability to survive, their survival skills. They haven’t shown that.”
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
(On the offensive line)
“I believe the choreography in the front is very, very important. The quicker you get those pieces in place, the better you are. We’re hoping we reap those benefits.”
(On the confidence level of the offense)
“We’re more familiar about what we are trying to do, no question about it. I call a play and they don’t look at me like, ‘What was that?’ so I think we are (more confident).”
(On whether his strategy for the Montana game will be any different than usual)
“We set a game plan for an opponent and execute the game plan. I don’t put a face on it. Just go play ball. It is all X’s and O’s to me.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
(On Prentiss Waggner’s switch back to safety)
“Prentiss played safety for us last year. He’s a guy that knows what we are doing and understands the concepts of it. He’s a calming effect on the other guys and he’s really comfortable playing back there. There isn’t any high anxiety for him, because he knows what he is doing. It’s been fairly easy for him to move back there and feel comfortable.”
(On freshman cornerback Justin Coleman)
“He competes. He just competes and competes. He makes mistakes, but he comes back and learns from them and he is going to compete again. Obviously you have to have a baseline skill set to play corner, but to go out there on an island and line up against the receiver play after play, you are going to get beat at times, but you have to be able to go out and shake it off and have that attitude. That’s important at that position and that’s what he has shown above all else.”
(On starting two freshmen at linebackers)
“They earned it. That’s the reality of it. We’re trying to get the best guys on the field for that spot. If they are the best, whether they are a freshman walk-on, senior (on) scholarship, five-star recruit, no-star recruit, if they are going to the best guy at that spot, we are going to start them.”
(On what impresses him about Montana’s offense)
“Tempo and the lack of mistakes that they make. They don’t beat themselves. They are very well coached and they know what they are doing. The players understand the scheme and they operate at a fast tempo. You had better be on your game or else they can exploit you really quick.”
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