The whistles shrieked. The megaphone blared. Friday afternoon, it was, at long last, football time in Tennessee.
At least it was at Haslam Field. Down the street, Neyland Stadium sat quiet and empty, ignored.
Tennessee opened practice Friday, the first fall camp under a new coach, Butch Jones. And what happens on the relative privacy of Haslam Field will determine what eventually happens in the deafening crucible of Neyland Stadium.
We think we have a pretty good idea who will do what on Saturdays in 2013. There is a depth chart. We know who did what in 2012 and have the stats to prove it.
But there will be surprises. Guys we aren’t talking about on opening day will inevitably break through and join the conversation when the lights come on.
“There always is, every year on every team,’’ UT receivers coach Zach Azzanni said Friday.
So those guys were out there Friday, a couple of them anyway. We just didn’t know which ones.
“We’re evaluating everybody right now to see who can help us,’’ Azzanni said. “That’s why there are 105 players in camp. We’re gonna get a look at all 105.’’
That’s good to know if you’re guy No. 94. You weren’t offered a scholarship. You’re paying your way, knowing the odds aren’t in your favor. But you work just as hard as guy No. 10. And you hope.
To quote Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas, so you’re telling me there’s a chance?
On opening day last year did anyone know Jacob Carter was going to break into the receiver rotation, play in 11 games and catch eight passes, including a touchdown?
On opening day last year did anyone know Jaron Toney would earn a place at nickel back, start two games and be the team’s seventh-leading tackler?
On opening day last year did Tyler Drummer know he would score a touchdown in overtime against Missouri?
On opening day 2011 did Derrick Brodus even dare dream that he’d be summoned off his couch one November Saturday morning, rushed to the stadium by police escort and kick a field goal and three extra points against Middle Tennessee State?
On opening day 2010 did Joseph Ayers, a freshman walk-on from Knoxville have a clue he’d start at defensive tackle against Florida?
It’s not just walk-ons. On opening day 2011 there wasn’t a lot of discussion that true freshman Marcus Jackson might start five games at guard.
That same year, true freshman Brian Randolph wasn’t ticketed to start at safety. Whoops, Janzen Jackson got the boot and Randolph started eight games.
Come to think of it, on opening day at Texas A&M last year did anyone know Johnny Manziel would be the Aggies’
starting quarterback, much less the first freshman to win the Heisman?
“Everybody,’’ said UT tight ends coach Mark Elder, “is going to have their shot, their opportunity to show what they can do.’’
Elder produced a good example Friday. Alex Ellis is a walk-on tight end from Delaware. He’s been around two years but never crossed that white sideline onto the field for a single play in a real game.
“He took reps with the ones (first team) today,’’ Elder said, “and he’ll continue to do that. Not every walk-on or every scholarship guy is gonna take reps with the ones.
“I don’t think there’s a single guy on our staff or in our program that cares about whether a guy is a walk-on, a scholarship guy, a fifth-year senior or a true freshman.
“The guys that deserve the reps are going to get them. Period. The end.’’
We think we know who will deserve them, but there are always surprises.
Every year on every team.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44