Tennessee football practice on Aug. 16, 2013
Butch Jones won’t tone down his volume even with fans in the house.
The first-year Tennessee football coach has made it clear he still plans to call out players — sometimes with a dose of sarcasm — when the Vols throw open the gates to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night for the first and only public practice and scrimmage of the camp.
“(Fans) are going to see some elements of practice that they don’t normally get to see,” Jones said.
The practice begins at 7 p.m. and gates open one hour earlier. Admission is free and the concession stands will be staffed. Fans may enter from Gates 14, 20 or 21. Free parking is available in the G-3, G-4, G-5 and G-10 lots, as well as Staff Lot 9.
Jones said Thursday that “hopefully” 40,000 fans would come out, but he avoided a numerical goal when he spoke to reporters on Friday afternoon.
“I’m expecting a big crowd,” said Jones. “We need to get that home-field advantage back. We have a great passionate fan base. I know our players are just looking forward to competing in Neyland, competing in front of our fans. We’re going to need them.”
The players most likely to benefit from the Neyland Stadium atmosphere are the true freshmen, most of whom weren’t around in the spring when the Vols drew a reported 61,076 fans to the Orange and White game.
“They need to be in that venue,” Jones said. “This is kind of a dress rehearsal ... There are going to be some pressure-type situations we’re going to put our players under.”
The Vols won’t conduct a full scrimmage, but fans will get to see a fairly comprehensive practice that includes some scrimmage elements.
Jones said there will be some individual drills, including some one-on-one matchups between receivers and defensive backs.
“We’re going to call them out,” Jones said. “So they’re going to have to step up in front of that crowd.”
Jones didn’t say how much direction he’d give the crowd. (For instance, will he implore the crowd to join in with their fists raised after a third-down stop?) But he said he can tell fans are hungry for football.
“I anticipate our fans getting excited,” he said. “That has never been an issue here.”
As for his ever-present microphone, Jones said he might offer some play-by-play.
“I’ll keep them informed with what we are doing and why we are doing it,” he said.
With only two weeks to go until the season opener, several position battles are reaching their critical stage. Most notably, Jones has declined to narrow the four-way quarterback battle, saying that coaches were still “a long way” from naming a starter. But surging freshman Riley Ferguson’s cause could benefit from a strong performance on a big stage.
The special teams units, which have vexed Jones throughout camp, will also be under the microscope. Senior Michael Palardy appears to have a healthy lead in the battle for starting place-kicker and punter, but Jones’ most animated practice meltdowns this month have come during seemingly mundane special teams drills.
Then there are the receivers. At least two true freshmen — Marquez North and Josh Smith — appear to be in line for significant playing time. This public practice will be the biggest stage of their young college careers.
“This is an evaluation tool for me,” Jones said. “They didn’t have a spring game. They haven’t played in that venue when there are people in the stands. I’ve got to see which guys are going to perform under those conditions.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org