Happen by Haslam Field on Tuesday night and chances are you’ll hear plenty of noise.
When the Tennessee football team resumes spring practice after last week’s spring break, there will be plenty of pads popping. If UT’s first three practices are any indication, you’ll hear some hoots and hollers, too.
By the time players reach the team portion of practice, they’ve already been at it for close to 21⁄2 hours. That’s some 150 minutes of work — 25 minutes shy of the running time for “The Godfather” — with little wasted motion. So to help maintain intensity during the team period, UT coach Lane Kiffin is keeping score.
And that’s more than just grading film at the end of the day.
During 11-on-11 work, the offense and defense can score points based on their performance against each other in the last practice period of the day. Players are kept abreast of the score, and as the clock winds down on the day’s workout, the shouts grow louder.
“It starts to feel like a game,” safety Eric Berry says. “That just makes the games that are going to come in the fall easier to deal with. We’re always running to the ball, running down the field 30 yards after we already tagged the guy off, so we’re just going to be in so much better shape and ready to play this fall.”
There’s a method to the approach beyond just having fun.
Since arriving at Tennessee, Kiffin has promised to foster competition. So far this spring, the Vols have been receptive.
“Every spring the same thing’s going to be told to our payers, just what’s been told to these guys: This is their chance to shine,” Kiffin said.
That approach helped spark a resurgence at Southern California under head coach Pete Carroll. Two of the masons in that rebuilding effort — Kiffin and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron — have brought the same mentality to Tennessee.
“We make every drill competitive so they know the score of the drill,” Kiffin said. “It creates more energy about it. Instead of just going to your 24th play of the day, you have a new phase, you have a new thing you’re going to and you have a new way to keep score.”
And, if you’re on the defensive side of the ball, a winning streak to protect.
“It’s bragging rights for us a little bit,” said defensive end Chris Walker, who said UT’s defense is 3-0 this spring. “We get to go in the locker room and tell them we won again. It’s something fun that we do, but it’s also really serious to help our team get better.”
Count quarterback Jonathan Crompton among those who like to keep score.
“I think that’s pretty cool, because it makes it more competitive and more fun,” he said.
And, so far at least, the Vols have found that work and fun aren’t always mutually exclusive.
“We don’t see anybody who’s like, ‘Man, we’ve been out here three hours,’ ” Walker said. “It’s just going through work. Competition makes everything fun, so we just let the time fly by.”
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.