Mike Strange: Locker room won't be the same in fall

The clock on the visitor's locker room wall counted down the time until kickoff. And it seemed we had virtually nothing to do but watch it tick.

"This is the worst time of the whole thing,'' Derek Dooley groused.

The White team's dressing room under the south end zone was surprisingly quiet Saturday before Tennessee's spring football game. Players sat in chairs thinking their own thoughts.

One defensive back holed up in a separate room, eyes shut. I wondered if he was actually asleep. A pregame nap. The calm before the storm, so to speak.

At halftime, the ritual was repeated. Our halftime adjustments consisted of a snack and more quiet time.

Finally, I asked assistant coach Eric Russell if this is how it would be for a real game.

"This is nothing like a real game,'' Russell replied.

Of course it wasn't. I already knew that. My first clue was a sportswriter clad in UT gear (blush) delivering the pre-game speech.

It was succinct but apparently inspiring (blush). White thoroughly outplayed the favored Orange, winning 24-7 in brisk conditions more associated with a late-November Kentucky game than any activity with "spring" in the title.

Dooley called it a "blue-collar" performance, and meant it as a compliment.

As for how much the action on the field resembled a real game, I'm skeptical of that as well.

Dooley invited several of us "guest coaches" behind the scenes. I can't speak for the Orange sideline, but it can't have been as jolly as the White sideline was in a virtual wire-to-wire domination.

For the record, this coach didn't call a single play. But offensive coordinator Jim Chaney did keep me filled in ahead of the snap. Thus, I wasn't surprised like the Orange defense by the reverse to Da'Rick Rogers or the pass from Toney Williams to Matt Simms.

The first play that jacked up the White sideline came early, when uncelebrated Dontavis Sapp broke up a third-down pass from celebrated Orange quarterback Tyler Bray to celebrated Orange receiver Justin Hunter.

Simms - remember him? - then led a blue-collar, 76-yard scoring drive for a lead the White never relinquished.

Bray-to-Hunter was an oft-tried combination by the Orange but succeeded only once. Bray to anybody succeeded only five times in 30 attempts.

That's a sobering statistic, but one Dooley shrugged off as irrelevant. Hey, it's the spring game: it's not real.

Though it must have seemed real enough for Simms, getting his first sustained time at quarterback since losing the job to Bray eight games into the 2010 season.

Simms not only threw a touchdown pass, he ran for another and even caught a pass on the trick play to sustain a drive.

He was also the leading chatterbox on the White sideline.

"Hey, Coleman, fade to you,'' Simms shouted at fresh-from-high-school cornerback Justin Coleman when Hunter lined up wide to Coleman's side near the end of the first half.

Simms was right. Fade route to Hunter in the end zone. Not once but twice Coleman broke it up.

Moments later, Hunter was showered with cries of "alligator arms" when he dropped a pass rather than take a dead-on hit from the same defensive back who had appeared to be napping in the locker room.

The final trash talk was "hot dogs, hot dogs," and that was the bottom line. The spring game winner eats steak, the loser hot dogs.

And then everybody goes home to get ready for real football in September.

I imagine the locker room will be a little different then.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 6

bspurlingcac#225603 writes:

Four months of work guys. September will be here before you can say 4th quarter guts!!! GBO

Classof72 writes:

Mickey 'Ears Whitworth' Dearstone was 'workin' like heck', but to no avail. The Orange team should have been picking "The Heather on the Hill" to be their coach. Doc's new nickname is "Hot Dog", cause that's what his team is getting for supper.

gohawks1 writes:

Very enjoyable read, Mr. Strange. We could use more articles like this with behind-the-scenes insight.

DocJas writes:

It was a fun game. I really liked what I seen. We will be able to tell more when fall camp starts. I think the team as a whole will be more physical. Everyone noticed the alligator arms!

LibertyVolance writes:

About 4 months of boring baseball and summer heat and then the relief of fall practice begins. Can't wait. Go Vols.

UofTNVol writes:

Nice article, Mike. Thank you. GBO baby!!!!!

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