Dog pile do's and don'ts

It sounds like something you'd scrape off the sole of your shoe. In fact, a "dog pile" is a lot more interesting than it sounds ... at least in the football context.

During Tennessee's next-to-last spring practice, a receiver fumbled after making a downfield catch. As players scrambled for the loose ball, receivers coach Frank Wilson sprinted upfield and leaped on top of the mass of humanity. Secondary coach Willie Mack Garza immediately responded by grabbing Wilson's ankles and yanking him out of the melee.

Casual observers saw two coaches enjoying some practice-field horseplay. The Vols saw two coaches illustrating the proper way to come out of a dog pile with the football.

"We'd been doing a terrible job with the dog pile," receiver Gerald Jones recalled. "We'd been taught how to do a dog pile and we didn't do it right in the scrimmage (four days before). They (coaches) pointed it out, and everybody corrected their mistake in the dog pile. Everybody did what they were supposed to do."

It turns out, what the Vols are supposed to do is precisely what they saw Wilson and Garza do.

"When somebody fumbles, and a defensive player jumps on it, everybody's supposed to jump on the dog pile and snatch it away," Jones said. "In case you don't make it in time, you pull somebody out by their ankles. They might have the ball and might let go of the ball because you pulled them by the ankles."

If the dog pile sounds like no place for the squeamish ... well, that's because it isn't.

"If you're a little guy, you don't want to be at the bottom of the dog pile," Jones said. "Usually, us little guys are trying to pull somebody out. We don't want to be in there with the big dudes."

Wilson and Garza are not "big dudes," yet they threw themselves into the dog-pile drill with the gung-ho aggressiveness of a couple of 300-pounders.

"That's one thing about the coaches," Jones said, shaking his head in amazement. "I don't know what they do at 6 o'clock in the morning before they get here, but whatever they do they're wired up all day.

"I bet you they go home and crash at the end of the day because they have so much energy it's ridiculous. I love it."

The energy level all spring was almost beyond description. That was in stark contrast to a year ago, when the practice field sometimes resembled a morgue.

"I think we was sort of dead last year," Jones said. "When we was in the locker room we was quiet. We wasn't getting amped up.

"The emotion only plays a part the first play of the game, and everything after that is mental. But the emotion gets everybody into it, gets everybody locked in.

"We have a lot of locked-in emotion. We're high-intensity but we're still focused on what we have to do. I think with that intensity we'll be a lot more physical and a lot more fundamental."

Especially in the middle of dog piles.


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