Marathon men

If the Tennessee Vols have to play a five-overtime football game this fall, they probably will be ready.

Head coach Lane Kiffin saw to that Thursday by putting his team through a gruelling 3 1/2-hour workout on Haslam Field. Even All-America safety Eric Berry, whose enthusiasm for practice is unsurpassed, was led to wisecrack, "Are we going to get a nap?"

No. But the Vols got to do a little of everything else on an unusually productive and aggressive afternoon.

"It was a very physical day today," Kiffin said. "It was the first day with shoulder pads on - an extremely long practice, an extremely physical practice. That's the great thing about fall. Having all of these freshmen gives us a bunch of numbers, so we can really get after 'em."

This is the time of year when coaches traditionally "thin the herd" by making practice so taxing that the players who aren't fully committed will drop out of the drills and/or drop off of the team. So far, Tennessee's herd isn't thinning any.

"I'm very pleased by their effort," Kiffin said. "They just continue to come out and work. We're going to try to bury 'em ... see if we can ... but they're not letting us. It's good to see."

The head man singled out Rico McCoy for praise, noting that the senior linebacker made "a couple of huge hits on the rookie tailbacks" that caused fumbles.

Even limited to helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, the Vols were unusually physical in Thursday's practice. There were a dozen or so resounding hits during the spirited workout. These resulted in several fumbles but - fortunately for the Vols - no serious injuries.

"We try to make (practice) as physical as we can, even without the pads," Kiffin said. "But to have the shoulder pads on really picks up the tempo and the intensity.

"Sometimes you get a little bit worried (about the possibility of injury) and think you need to slow 'em down but we need to learn how to hit, so we aren't going to slow 'em down yet."

There was one scary moment during Thursday's proceedings. Star receiver Gerald Jones, already wearing a cast to protect a surgically repaired left wrist, stayed on the ground for close to a minute following a collision at the end of a touchdown catch.

Although his heart probably skipped a beat, Kiffin said the Vols benefit too much from full-speed contact to curtail it.

"They need it," he said. "There's no other way to simulate it. Sometimes when you 80 percent you get injured, too. I think when you play 100 percent you probably get injured less."

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