Photo by Michael Patrick
Tennessee's football practice ended with a bang Tuesday, apparently a Lane Kiffin trademark.
The Vols worked on a goal-line scenario with music blaring and voices roaring.
Both the offense and defense won a few battles but the offense got to roar when Nick Stephens found Luke Stocker in the back of the end zone with a short touchdown pass.
Everybody was glad to see No. 88 back in action after the junior tight end missed Saturday's scrimmage and Monday practice with a sprained toe.
A sprained toe doesn't sound like a major injury but try one on some time. It's a nagging, painful condition that you feel with every step.
"I had a toe sprain and a bone bruise at the same time,'' Stocker said. "It happened Thursday. I practiced through it today and did all right.''
Stocker is locked in a battle with Jeff Cottam to be UT's No. 1 tight end, although both should play plenty this season.
Stocker is excited about UT's new offense and didn't want to miss any more practice time.
"There are tons of opportunities in this offense for tight ends,'' Stocker said.
"Coach has got us running down the middle of the field a lot. It's up to us to run our butts off and get open and the ball is going to come to us.''
Stocker caught 13 passes as a sophomore. Cottam played eight games in 2008 and didn't catch a pass.
"They are different and we'd like to use 'em to the best of their abilities, to do what they do best,'' Kiffin said.
"Luke stretches the field a little more and Jeff is bigger and stockier at the point of attack. Hopefully they can stay healthy. They keep getting banged up.''
Stocker can't help but notice the tight ends are being used as passing targets more since Kiffin arrived.
"We'll see what happens when the games get here,'' Stocker said.
"I don't want to jinx the tight ends but I feel this year there's going to be a lot of opportunities come our way.''
Kiffin says that's the general idea.
"We'll use anything we can with our roster,'' he said. "Anything we can figure out to make a first down or a play.''
Big Finish: Both the players and coaching staff were animated during the practice-ending goal-line drill.
The division, of course, was along offensive and defensive lines.
"The environment really does feel like a real game out there,'' said defensive tackle Dan Williams.
"It's competition for both teams and all it can do is make us better on both sides. ... We really take the competition to heart.''
QB Update: Stephens had several nice pass completions Tuesday, two of them to sophomore tight end Ben Bartholomew.
Stephens also hit Brandon Warren with a deep ball and Gerald Jones on a medium-range sideline route.
Injury News: Center Josh McNeil was limited due to sore knees. Cody Sullins worked at center with the No. 1 offense.
Middle linebacker Herman Lathers was back in contact work for the first time in a while.
"We've got to get guys healthy,'' Kiffin said. "By the end of the day there were 18 guys on the injury report.
"We're not playing a game tomorrow. We wouldn't be practicing like this if we were. We're smart. We've been doing this a long time. We know when to pull back.''
D-Line: While the team dressed in full pads, defensive tackle Marlon Walls wore shorts, an indication he is still officially in an acclimation period since being declared eligible late last week.
Walls, however, wore thigh pads under his shorts and participated in several 11-on-11 drills.
Victor Thomas continued to get work with the No. 1 D-line as Wes Brown was used sparingly to rest his knees.
"We hope Wes can go the whole season and play every snap,'' Kiffin said. "But Wes has had a lot of injuries, very much like Josh (McNeil). Who knows how much he'll be able to play, so developing our young guys has been very key.''
Long Drive: The Vols worked on a long-drive drill Tuesday in which the same lineup stayed on the field for 10 consecutive plays to test endurance.