Trip down memory lane with the Geralds
Saturday, Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin promised, will be "a gigantic day for everybody.''
Nobody knows that better than Nick Stephens, who is battling Jonathan Crompton to be named starting quarterback for the Sept. 5 opener.
Saturday will be a game-simulation scrimmage, from the Vol Walk to the locker-room music to the football played between the opening kickoff and the final horn.
"This is the last chance to go out there and show the coaches what you can do,'' Stephens said Thursday after a full-contact practice.
That's because the Vols' final scrimmage (Aug. 29) will be more of a walk-through and special-teams drill. Saturday is full speed and the most important of UT's four preseason scrimmages, Kiffin said.
Once upon a time, such a pressurized scenario might have made Stephens tense up and prone to try to do too much to impress the coaches. That was especially true at the start of fall camp considering he had missed most of spring practice due to an injury.
But not any more, he said. Beginning with last week's scrimmage, Stephens said he has had a mental breakthrough.
His mantra: relax.
"I think at the beginning I was pressing and trying to make too much happen,'' he said. "I realize that's not going to win me this job.
"Winning the job is showing that I know when the deep ball is not there you check it down and that's what I've done the past week and I feel good about it.
"I've just been relaxed in my mind. I've been playing football a long time. Just let it come.''
He's seen the benefits of his peace of mind this week in practice:
"I think I've done a pretty good job of minimizing mistakes and at the same time I think I've been making plays. ... That's what the quarterback position is all about.''
Kiffin expects to name a starter shortly after grading the scrimmage. That translates into early next week.
To get a true evaluation - not just at quarterback but all positions - Kiffin said the staff has pulled back on installing new portions of the offense.
"We want there to be no excuses for an evaluation,'' he said. "We don't want to have a better kid and not give him a shot because we've installed stuff, especially the young guys.''
The coaches on Saturday will be divided between the field and the press box. And Kiffin will be on the sideline, not in the huddle.
"The (quarterbacks) are going to have to manage the huddle and manage the offense,'' he said, "and that will be a challenge for them.''
Cast Away: Receiver Gerald Jones looks forward to the day he'll play without a cast on his left wrist.
He began camp with a hard cast to protect his wrist surgery and has since transitioned to a soft cast that he wears only at practice.
"Even though it's slowed me down,'' Jones said, "it's actually helped me out a lot with my fundamentals ... like looking the ball in.''
Jones has become adept at some impressive one-handed catches.
Injury Report: Thursday's personnel was pretty much the same as Tuesday, prior to the day off. Josh McNeil and Wes Brown worked with the No. 1 offensive and defensive lines, respectively.
Hardesty Ahead: Kiffin confirmed senior Montario Hardesty is the No. 1 tailback. As for sophomore Tauren Poole and freshmen David Oku and Bryce Brown?
"We need to see this Saturday before we can figure that out,'' Kiffin said. "But it's not like there is a big difference. They're right on Hardesty's tail.''
Vol Calls Coming: The "Vol Calls'' radio show returns Monday at 8 p.m. for a 36-week run through April.
Kiffin will be available on the one-hour show originating from Texas Roadhouse beside West Town Mall.
The show can be heard on the 70-plus stations of the Vol Network.