Public practice a big hit

Chris Walker was unblockable, Montario Hardesty was unstoppable and the electricity was undeniable as the Tennessee football team put its talents on display for the public Friday night at Neyland Stadium.

No statistics were immediately available but head coach Lane Kiffin said Hardesty, a 6-0, 212-pound senior tailback, ran for "a ton of yards" during the Vols' first full-pads workout of the spring.

Walker, a 6-3, 232-pound junior defensive end, seemed to spend as much time in the offensive backfield as UT quarterbacks, prompting Kiffin to comment that he was "kind of unblockable."

As for the crowd, it may have been the most encouraging development of the night. Close to 2,000 fans braved chilly temperatures and a light drizzle to watch and cheer their beloved Vols.

"It was really neat," Kiffin said of the charged atmosphere. "Our players felt it and our coaches felt it. It was really neat to see guys come out, especially with the weather and the baseball game (being playing a few hundred yards away) and the basketball game (being played on TV in the SEC Tournament) going on. It helped us a lot. It helped us have an energetic practice."

The crowd also may have helped Tennessee's recruiting effort. Unsigned running back Bryce Brown, due to announce a much-anticipated decision on Monday, got an impromptu salute from The Vol Nation as he toured the stadium. Dozens of fans recognized him, stood, pointed and chanted, "Bryce Brown, we need you! Bryce Brown, we need you!"

After working for an hour at Haslam Field, the Vols switched to the stadium at 7:17 p.m. to perform for their fans. The crowd cheered loudly when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was the first member of the UT party to trot onto Shields-Watkins Field. Kiffin responded by waving his arms, working the crowd into an even hotter frenzy. When the players showed up a few minutes later, roughly half of the crowd rose to its feet and gave them a standing ovation.

Following some drill work, the Vols did some situational scrimmaging, with the defense dominating the early stages.

"I thought the defense really, really picked it up and came with a lot of energy," Lane Kiffin said. "The defensive staff really had 'em ready to go. I thought they took it to the offense a little bit early, especially with the pass rush."

The public practice featured just two negatives worth mentioning.

First, receiver Ahmad Paige was taken to UT Medical Center as a precautionary measure after injuring his neck following a collision with the brick wall behind the South end zone.

"Any neck injury you have to be very safe with," Kiffin said. "He does have movement in his legs and his arms, so that's great obviously."

The second negative was a fumbled snap between rising senior center Josh McNeil and rising senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton on the latter's first practice snap. Kiffin promptly made both players run a punitive lap around the inside of the stadium.

"The ball's so valuable," the head man explained. "Turnover margin is how you win and lose games, more than anything else that you do. We want to be disciplined, so guys take laps for fumbled snaps or offsides or false starts – penalties that can be avoided. Other penalties happen once in awhile but those are mental penalties, and there's no excuse for a fumbled snap."


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