ATLANTA — Montario Hardesty believes the streak dates back to last spring.
Lane Kiffin isn’t quite so sure about that.
But even if the Tennessee running back and the Vols coach don’t exactly agree on the last time Hardesty fumbled in practice, they at least haven’t had to worry about him doing it in a game this season.
“I put it on the ground a couple times during spring ball, but none during fall camp,” Hardesty said. “That was one of my biggest goals coming in was I wanted to get better in all aspects of the game, running, blocking, pass-catching, but the main thing was I didn’t want to let the ball go.
“I’ve been able to get through the regular season without a fumble and I’m just keep working to keep that streak going through the bowl game.”
Virginia Tech (9-3, 6-2 ACC) won’t make that easy on New Year’s Eve; but, like the rest of the Vols, Hardesty is prepared for a ball-hawking defense since he plays against one each day in practice.
UT (7-5, 4-4 SEC) had some interception issues early in the season, but it has been reliable with the football in hand and only coughed up six fumbles all season to help finish with a plus-four turnover margin. None of them belonged to Hardesty despite piling up 264 carries, although his coach says the Vols might have forced at least one from him sometime during fall practice.
“I don’t want to say that it’s not right, but the film doesn’t lie and I remember one coming out,” Kiffin said. “But we’ll go with him. Whatever’s working, whatever it is (264) carries without a fumble.
“We do a lot of drills — today we started individual with ball-security drills — and sometimes it takes awhile to get it going. It takes a little time, and you’ve seen the difference from the first half of the season to the second half in the way we’ve taken care of the ball. All of the players are buying in. Hopefully we’ll continue that.”
The official streak depends on it.
Brown Still Sidelined: Bryce Brown has one more test left this morning before he can be cleared for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but he seemed to pass a big one Sunday.
Though he was limited again and held out of the contact portion of practice, Brown, who is recovering from a concussion, didn’t report having a headache since after a workout on Saturday and could return for the Vols today.
“It was just headaches and just not being able to run around, feeling a little light-headed, so they just held me off to give me another day,” Brown said. “I did a little bit today, no contact, and I’m just trying to work my way back in and get ready for the bowl game 100 percent.
“The trainers are doing a lot to get me back and I’m just taking it one day at a time to hopefully be ready to go.”
As he recovers from the concussion suffered last week in practice, Brown admitted it wasn’t the first time headaches have caused him to sit out. He never missed a game in high school due to migraines, but occasionally they would keep him off the field during the week.
Noticing A Draft: UT senior offensive tackle Chris Scott perused NFL mock drafts on the Internet even when he was in high school.
That was for fun. But the next draft will be all business.
“I think I’ve developed my talent a long way,” Scott said after Sunday’s practice. “I credit that to my coaches — Coach (Lane) Kiffin, Coach (Jim) Chaney and Coach (James) Cregg.
“I think I did pretty well this year. The coaches have helped me.”
The competition has helped, too. Defensive end has been one of the SEC’s strongest positions the last two years, so Scott repeatedly has gone against future NFL players.
“I think they helped me out — as well as I helped them out,” he said.
Asked to pick his toughest challenge, he had a surprising answer. It wasn’t Florida’s Carlos Dunlap or Auburn’s Antonio Coleman.
“All of them are pretty good, but if I had to pinpoint one, I would say Broderick Stewart of Vanderbilt,” Scott said.
Bama Comparison: UT linebacker LaMarcus Thompson didn’t hesitate when asked if Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams reminded him of anyone in the SEC.
He immediately thought of “the Alabama running back.” And he wasn’t referring to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
“I would say (Alabama freshman) Trent Richardson,” Thompson said. “He has that power and speed. You definitely have to gang-tackle a back like that.
“Williams reminds me of him.”
Head Inside: After two days at Decatur High School, the Vols will settle into their new home at the Georgia Dome today for the first of three practices.
Typically Kiffin doesn’t take the team to the stadium before the game when UT is on the road, but he certainly won’t complain about moving practice inside for the rest of the week.
“As they say in ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘It’s the same length, everything’s the same no matter where you are,’” Kiffin said. “But we’ll go in there, and it’ll be good to be out of the weather conditions. Other than that I don’t think it’s a big deal.”