Ongoing renovations no distraction for Vols

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, right, gives instructions to wide receiver Matt Milton (85) during the Vols' first official practice of the season at Haslam Field Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011.  (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, right, gives instructions to wide receiver Matt Milton (85) during the Vols' first official practice of the season at Haslam Field Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Derek Dooley was out early on the practice field, and he had plenty of company.

About a dozen workers were busy laying sod, with the Tennessee coach getting a close-up look at the progress.

There were a couple cement trucks just behind Haslam Field shuttling in and out as work continues on the sparkling new practice facility for the Vols.

And, perhaps most noticeable, a massive crane was in operation and occasionally swinging an arm out over the field where UT was sweating through its second workouts of fall camp on Wednesday.

The construction has to be done at some point, and the Vols will obviously be thankful when the $48 million project is complete. So in the short term, they're just doing all they can to block it out and focus on what's happening on the field instead of above it.

"I tell them not to get distracted, but I couldn't help it one time," Dooley said. "That crane rolled over and I heard a little horn and this big old sheet of something was kind of swinging around.

"So I told them I'll keep an eye out and they can keep practicing. But it kind of gets me excited because it tells you what's coming."

Some of the facility upgrades have already arrived for the Vols, who haven't wasted any time putting a new pit for offensive and defensive linemen to use.

The artificial surface installed adjacent to both natural practice fields was still getting some work and inspection from Dooley and the coaching staff on Tuesday afternoon, but a heavy sled was waiting for UT there when it reported for work on Day Two.

"You all see the pit? I mean, that's the best-looking pit in college football right there," Dooley said. "They tear up your grass. They have no regard for field management, they don't.

"So you have to kind of put them over in the sandbox and say, 'You all go over there, and we'll tell you when we need you to run some plays.' It's kind of like your kids -- they tear up your yard and you build them a sandbox."

The whole team will have a nicer place to play when the new facility is complete next year.

For now, that means picturing what the Vols will eventually have and trying to ignore how it's being built.

"It's not a distraction at all," defensive tackle Corey Miller said. "We've got these helmets on. It's us and the man in front of us."

First look: In shorts and a helmet, Dooley was pleased with what he saw when his newcomers hit the practice field for the first time on Tuesday evening.

He's still waiting to see what that means when the Vols add some pads to the mix.

"I saw a lot of good-looking players," Dooley said. "Height, weight, speed, athleticism -- just what I had anticipated and why we signed them. I saw a good work ethic, but I also saw a real bunch of young guys whose heads were spinning with all the stuff we were throwing at them.

"They're still freshmen."

They were also only getting their first taste of a fall camp with the program, which prompted some coaches to have to make adjustments even to the way the players lined up during warm-ups during the open period of practice.

They had a chance to make some corrections with another evening session on Wednesday and will again tonight before they're all thrown in with the veterans on Friday.

"The big thing you look for is how much do they retain," Dooley said. "How much do they not make the same mistakes over and over. Then what is their level of intangibles? How tough are they?

"We can't expect them to know what to do, and I told them that. We've just got to try to get a little bit better each day."

Tight spot: The old reliable weapon is gone, starting his professional career in Tampa Bay.

The new one is more than willing to pick up the slack.

"I'm ready," Mychal Rivera said. "(No.) 81 is here, and I'm ready."

Losing the guy who used to wear No. 88 was significant on offense, with Luke Stocker's selection in the NFL Draft reflecting his value to the Vols. Stocker was one of just two players from the program to be picked in April, and filling that void won't be easy.

But Rivera doesn't appear worried about the degree of difficulty.

"As soon as Luke left, I knew I had to step up," he said. "I had big shoes to fill, but I feel like I'm going to fill them."

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 9

Willis writes:

30 DAYS TILL FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE!!!!!!!

GreerVol22 writes:

in response to BodeaneVol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

yep and I just about have my mullet grown in and I managed to find some womens size 18 white jorts to wear in your honor. I'm so glad we have your wit to keep us motivated.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to GreerVol22:

yep and I just about have my mullet grown in and I managed to find some womens size 18 white jorts to wear in your honor. I'm so glad we have your wit to keep us motivated.

Greer,

Ease up on the troll, Bodeane............he's a tad upset because most people and all stadiums do have running water. Give him credit however......what he does have running........is his mouth.

spencer1989#206886 writes:

"There were a couple cement trucks....". Technically, it's a concrete truck. The trucks do not deliver cement (which is different from concrete).

Brillovol writes:

in response to spencer1989#206886:

"There were a couple cement trucks....". Technically, it's a concrete truck. The trucks do not deliver cement (which is different from concrete).

You're showing your construction nerdiness. ;)

hcjournals#206623 writes:

We're in. Give it your all on the field and we'll give it our all in the stands. More than anywhere in the country, we the fans have the ability to help change things in the vertically built, sound encompassing, intimidating environs of Neyland Stadium. If you bring on the field every play, we will disrupt the opposition. We will make it so loud that they will turn around and look to the referees for comfort. They will then call time out. Then, when they can't hear themselves think, the Quarterback will turn around to the official for relief. The referee will will then point to the line of scrimmage, challenging the QB to get on with it. When the play starts we will not let them into our end zone. Later on, we will not let them across the 50. And then we will sing Rocky Top. 100,000 of us. Then we will win. I talked to a Notre Dame player several years ago who played in Neyland. He said it was the greatest, most intimidating place he had ever played. The players aren't the only ones who have to be ready. We, the fans have to bring it. I don't care if you are 8 or 80. Everyone has to do their part. Everyone.....Go Big Orange. Go Big....Or Go Home....

Dalton writes:

First we need to see a revival in fortune on the field.....after that bring MORE CRANES AND MUCHO CEMENT AND REBAR...ALL THAT phooey!!.....GIT US BIGGER THAN MICHIGAN AND PENN STATE AGIN!!!!

Dalton writes:

I used a slang word that rhymes with trap in previous post and the word police changed it to lower case phooey....kinda loses emphasis on my hand crafted point but GO BIG ORANGE!.....I guess

Brillovol writes:

in response to Dalton:

I used a slang word that rhymes with trap in previous post and the word police changed it to lower case phooey....kinda loses emphasis on my hand crafted point but GO BIG ORANGE!.....I guess

We've all been struck by that one. Somewhere in Knoxville, a computer nerd is laughing every time it happens.

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