Vols take to Haslam Field for first practice of fall 2012
Full video: Derek Dooley speaks at first Vols' press conference of 2012-13 season
When Derek Dooley's third camp opens today, Tennessee will have more bodies and more competition than at any other time in his tenure.
That means the cuts will be quicker, the coaches will be less forgiving and the first few days of camp will be vital showcases for players fighting to move up the depth chart.
"We're going to try to get them comfortable being uncomfortable," Dooley said Thursday during a pre-practice press conference at Neyland Stadium. "We can't rep 'em all and play 'em all, so we have to (make decisions) pretty quickly."
The Vols start practice with two-a-day sessions at Haslam Field today, Saturday and Sunday. Instead of an early-morning start, Tennessee will practice first at 2:15 p.m. and then again at 7:45.
After three single-practice sessions and another two-a-day next week, the Vols will depart for Milligan College near Elizabethton on Aug. 9 for five days of practices. By then, coaches hope that many of the young players who plan to make an impact in 2012 will already have asserted themselves.
The influx of freshmen, promising junior college players and true sophomores who were tossed into action last season has made position battles more interesting. Dooley said there would be renewed competition in the secondary and on both sides of the line.
"There's a lot more to choose from," he said. "There are a lot more guys in the competition and now it's just a matter of who's going to do it."
Summer workouts have helped. Sophomore safety Brian Randolph, offering brutal honesty, said the young receivers initially struck him as "a little average and a little slow."
Now? "I think they're ready to be on the field in the SEC," he said.
Sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said he spent extra time in the film room, watching "whatever Sal (Sunseri) put on for us."
"I feel like if you're doing just what you're told to do, you're not going to get it," Maggitt said. "You have to come in and study extra on your own."
The summertime platitudes are all well and good, Dooley said, but few will take them seriously if the Vols don't prepare this month to deliver this fall.
"You've heard me bragging the whole offseason, the last eight months, about how hard they've worked, the chemistry and the leadership of the group," Dooley said. "All that's great, but none of that's going to pay dividends in the fall if we don't approach the next couple weeks with the right kind of mindset."
Dooley announced Thursday that Nigel Mitchell-Thornton was retiring from football. The Stone Mountain, Ga., native was a reserve linebacker and special teams player in three years with the Vols.
Dooley said that Mitchell-Thornton has already earned a degree.
"I support Nigel, I'm proud for him, and he'll be a great employee for somebody," Dooley said.
Dooley also confirmed that freshman defensive lineman Dante "Omari" Phillips had been officially added to the roster.
Phillips originally signed with Florida but was denied admission to the school. He signed with the Vols in July. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound defensive tackle from Venice, Fla., was ranked a four-star prospect by every major recruiting service.
"We brought him up on a visit, we did our diligence and the process has gotten us to here," Dooley said. "It's really not any different than we do every other player. We just did it in a different time of year than what you normally do."
On the injury front, Dooley said freshman wide receiver Alton Howard (foot) is "progressing forward" after surgery, while redshirt freshman linebacker Chris Harris is coming back "rapidly" after surgery for a torn ACL 14 weeks ago.
Wide receiver Justin Hunter, who is recovering from a season-ending ACL surgery, said he's 100 percent and has been running with no pain.
"I'm jumping a little higher than I was and my speed hasn't decreased, so I think everything's good," Hunter said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat