Bowl work invaluable to young Vols

One reason college football's rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer is bowl games. In addition to a six- or seven-figure payout, bowl appearances also provide a school an opportunity to give their players additional practice time. This is especially crucial for young players who are still learning schemes and techniques.

''It's important to get those young guys in the mix,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''Our first priority is to win the football game. If we can get those guys some playing time that'd be good. But we're going to work them in practice for sure. If you're smart, you take bowl practice and use it as a mini-spring practice for some of your athletes.''

Because Tennessee is grooming a lot of young players for its future, Peach Bowl preparations will be especially valuable this year. Of course, many of Tennessee's young players already have gotten considerable work because of injuries to veteran Vols.

''We don't have that many guys on offense that haven't gotten coached pretty hard this year,'' offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. ''The guys you're trying to redshirt or are running with the scout team haven't gotten much individual coaching, so you spend a lot of time with them. But we don't have many of those guys. The guys you'd normally try to redshirt have had to play this year for one reason or another.''

Although preparing for Dec. 31 and the Peach Bowl game is Job 1 for the Vols, preparing for 2003 and beyond is almost as important.

''Our first priority is to prepare to win this game,'' Sanders said. ''Pretty close behind that is working a lot of these guys who are returning and start building toward next year. We have 15 days of spring practice and almost that many practice opportunities here. We'll try to get a good start on spring practice.''

It seems farfetched that a young player could make significant strides in two weeks of bowl preparations but Chavis says the progress is often dramatic.

''I think you can see a big difference just in the amount of time they spend out on the field, watching them progress from a fundamental standpoint,'' he said. ''In terms of learning the scheme, they're not going to get a whole lot of that. But you can really work fundamentals with young kids and do some one-on-one live work that I think pays big dividends down the road.''


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