Vols spring football practice - April 19, 2012
The steaks are the same.
But this time there is more on the line for Tennessee than food.
After a couple years of drafting teams and winding up with rosters that might not have provided all that much to evaluate, the Vols are largely keeping their starters together and planning an Orange and White Game on Saturday that figures to be more competitive than previous editions that Derek Dooley has staged.
"We divided teams to try to maintain a little continuity on the offense and the defense," the Vols coach said after a light practice Thursday morning. "It's not perfect because there are guys who have been working with the ones that won't be able to work with the ones, but for the most part it's a good-on-good scrimmage and we're trying not to have a lot of mismatches. You know, it will be a good opportunity for us to get another day's work.
"We want to see how these guys go. It's like a third scrimmage."
The Vols seemingly haven't approached the last workout of spring quite as seriously over the last two years, even though the difference between the post-game meals for the winners and losers remains the same.
The steaks and hot dogs
for the respective sides still provide some motivation for the Vols as they prepare to wrap up camp at Neyland Stadium, but now there's a bit of added importance for guys looking to win a job or starters trying to send a message heading into the offseason.
And on both sides of the ball, the chances of doing that with nothing but familiar faces on the field should increase.
"The only way to really compete is to compete against people at your level," senior tight end Mychal Rivera said. "We're really just excited to get out there and make it a game-like situation for everybody.
"It does feel a little more serious, and I hope it goes well because we do have what feels like the whole offensive unit together. In the past it was a little choppy because you had guys lining up next to you that you never really played with. You can never forget that the spring game is one of the 15 practices, so that's just another day to get some good work in."
It will be the last one for a while as the Vols head into the offseason, and they've clearly made it an emphasis to maximize the last few days of practice after the disappointment of last season.
The offense has continued to keep its attention on improving the running game and playing more physically, and keeping the offensive line together this weekend should help in both areas.
The defense has spent the last month adapting to a new scheme, and while it has done plenty of tinkering with the personnel, maintaining some stability with the first-team squad may eliminate confusion or missed assignments.
But only one of the top units will get to feast when spring officially comes to a close. And the trash-talking and gamesmanship had already started before the Vols left Neyland Stadium on Thursday.
"It's going to be very competitive out there," left tackle Antonio Richardson said. "That's what it's all about at the end of the day and that's what I'm excited about right now.
"To be real with you, I want to go out there and compete. But the (food) is like my second motive right there — I want my steak."
And Dooley wants to see who is the most hungry.
That doesn't just apply to the dinner table either.
"You can tell right now, it's a high-stakes games," Dooley said. "A high-stakes game.
"We do fine china (for the winners), steaks, all the trimmings, baked potato and dessert, and they have nice people serving them tea. The other crowd is in the same room, paper plates, hot dogs, potato chips and water with no ice.
"That's what we're playing for — and pride."