Rajion Neal talks about the tradition of backs at UT
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."