Tennessee opens practice looking to CFL for tips to handle season
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers are looking North of the border to help them prepare for a rough stretch of three games in 13 days.
Tennessee opens Sept. 4 against Georgia Tech at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as part of the Chick-fil-A-Kickoff.
Then the Vols host Indiana State in their home opener at Neyland Stadium on Sept. 9 before visiting rival Florida on Sept. 16.
''I don't know if that's ever been done. If it has, it hasn't been done quite often,'' Jones said Friday as the Vols reported to preseason camp. ''We've tried to research everything from the Canadian Football League - how do they handle time off during the course of the week, getting your players back mentally and physically from what will be a very taxing 13 days.''
Tennessee hits the field for its first practice Saturday with a lot more unknowns than in past seasons.
The Vols are replacing several stars now in the NFL, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs, defensive end Derek Barnett, running back Alvin Kamara and cornerback Cameron Sutton.
Projected to win the SEC East last season, Tennessee stumbled down the stretch finishing in a three-way tie for second with disappointing losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt
The Vols enter this season facing much lower expectations . They're embracing a ''chip on their shoulder'' mentality after being picked to finish third in the SEC East behind Florida and Georgia this preseason.
With the NCAA eliminating two-a-day practices, Tennessee took advantage of a waiver to start camp a week earlier this season.
The Vols plan to practice five days a week with one full day off as mandated by the NCAA with another ''mental day'' Jones employs when players will be in the weight room.
Jones expects this to be ''the most competitive'' camp in his five years at Tennessee. Although the quarterback competition between junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano draws the most interest, the Vols have more starting spots to fill.
''The greatest motivator is that of playing time, so we are excited about that,'' Jones said. ''And it's not just the quarterback battle that will be extremely competitive. It's nine position groups across the board that should be extremely competitive.''
After a rash of injuries last season, a major priority is building more quality depth.
The Vols begin practice with some key players already hobbled. Jones said junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., sophomore linebacker Daniel Bituli, junior offensive lineman Chance Hall and junior defensive tackle Shy Tuttle will be limited early.
The Vols are stronger now thanks to new strength coach Rock Gullickson. Jones said 12 players can power clean at least 300 pounds, 10 players have squatted at least 500 pounds and 64 players have their names on the team record board.
How that translates to the field will be determined in the next few weeks as the Vols look to establish an identity under a revamped coaching staff.
Jones said he keeps a journal by his bed to make notes of what to do over again and what can be better the following day.
The journal for this team remains a work in progress.
''This place is very challenging in blocking out the outside noise and the clutter, the distractions,'' Jones said. ''I know what we are building here. I know what we have built here and (you can't let) anyone take you off course of that. And I think not only for me personally, but for the program in general - from the coaching staff to the players.''
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