Derek Dooley talks after Thursday's practice, March 24, 2011
The weather hasn't exactly been on the same page through Tennessee's first three spring football practices.
Unseasonably warm, sun-soaked conditions Tuesday gave way to a blitz of lightning and heavy rain Wednesday. On Thursday, temperatures resembled those similar to what the Vols faced in November games against Memphis and Ole Miss.
That's spring in Knoxville and that's OK with Derek Dooley.
"Good preparation" is what the UT coach called it after Thursday's two-hour session at Haslam Field, the first of eight where the Vols don full pads and engage in full-contact drills.
"Yesterday we didn't handle it well at all when it started raining," Dooley said. "We were about 0-for-5 right out of the gate when it was raining. We talked to the offense about that, and it's what I said about young players - things don't go your way, you get affected, you start thinking about the elements, that's what we've got to learn to play through.
"We're going to have a lot of adversity, a lot of competition so we can try to mature faster."
The first dose of contact - a hearty one at that, according to players - since last year's Music City Bowl loss to North Carolina was enough to keep the Vols distracted from the inclement conditions.
Moments after reporters were ushered away from the field at the end of the open viewing period, whistles blew and players hollered in excitement. Shortly thereafter, the thud of pads crashing against each other could be heard from outside the gates.
"It was great," middle linebacker John Propst said. "As a linebacker, you love it. You want to get out here and hit people."
Sound tackling was a problem for UT all last season, as a number of the explosive plays it allowed could have been stopped at their onset. That, combined with an inordinate amount of young players, is why the Vols have focused on the basics of tackling at the start of practices this week.
"It's a mindset," Dooley said. "You know there's going to be a lot of mistakes, but we've got to have guys moving fast and hitting hard and then we'll clean up the mistakes as we go."
Moving On Up: Marcus Jackson, an early enrollee from Vero Beach, Fla., worked with the first-team offensive line at left guard during Thursday's open portion of practice.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 337 pounds, Jackson certainly looks the part of an SEC offensive lineman and has drawn strong praise from players on both sides of the ball. On Tuesday, Dooley said he didn't notice Jackson, "which was good."
"He's pretty good. I like him," right guard Zach Fulton said. "I try teaching him everything I know about the position. He's trying to learn from me and JerQuari (Schofield)."
In a friendly competition to see which offensive lineman can add the most pounds of muscle, Fulton, who is listed at 334 pounds, said he currently has Jackson beat by "a couple pounds."
"It's a little bit of a battle," Fulton said.
Three Days Straight: Dooley didn't want to open the spring with three consecutive practices, but the way spring break fell at UT left him no other choice, he said.
"Usually the first seven practices, I'd rather go every other day," Dooley said. "It allows you a lot of film time in between, but we couldn't do that . . . I didn't want to jam a practice or two at the front end of spring break."
The Vols will have today off before returning to Haslam Field on Saturday morning.
Kiffin Speaks: Former Vols football coach Lane Kiffin told reporters in Los Angeles on Thursday that he doesn't expect to be suspended as a result of his link to the UT NCAA investigation.
Kiffin, now the head coach at Southern Cal, was cited specifically in UT's Notice of Allegations for failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program and failure to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several assistant coaches.
Unless Kiffin agrees to all of the charges levied against him, he will be in Indianapolis with UT administrators and others for a June meeting with the Committee on Infractions.
"I don't have a concern for it," Kiffin said. "It has to do with how you deal with the NCAA and how you communicate with them through the process and I don't think that is at question at all in this situation."