Bowl practice gets underway for hungry Vols

Bowl season officially got underway here in Knoxville Friday evening, even though the Volunteers are uncertain where and who they will play in postseason action. First-year head coach Lane Kiffin led his troops through a spirited and physical 1 hour and 10 min practice. Go "Inside" for what the excited head coach had to say.

The Volunteers began their bowl-season workouts with a strenuous, hour-long practice session indoors in preparation for their undetermined bowl game.

Most speculation is pointing towards the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, where Tennessee would likely face the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But bowl projections aside, the Vols appeared ready to work Friday evening.

"I thought the guys were in pretty good spirits and energy," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "We got a chance to watch some film with our players and came out and had a full practice today. We'll be back out here tomorrow for another one."

"It was good energy today," junior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson said. "To see that on a day when there's not really a game going on it's good to see."

The addition of postseason practices is significant, Kiffin stressed, not only for the younger players but for the veterans as well.

The Volunteers failed to qualify for a bowl game last year, finishing the season at 5-7 alongside the drama-filled departure of longtime head coach Philip Fulmer.

For the younger half of the Volunteer class, a looming bowl game and postseason practices are a new experience.

"It's really important," Kiffin noted on the freshmen. "I thought a number of them, Bryce, Marsalis looked really fast today. This is really the first time they had a chance to get some reps."

The veterans certainly didn't downplay the importance of bowl experience for the younger players heading into spring practice.

"These bowl practices are very important for these young guys," senior wideout Gerald Jones said. "I think for the most part they are doing exceptionally well, especially Marsalis Teague. He's becoming a great player, it's scary."

Uncertainty regarding the Volunteers' bowl opponent was not an area of concern for coach Kiffin when guiding his team through early preparations.

"We just work on getting better, especially with our young players who may not have had as many chances. It's a chance to go against each other, Tennessee offense, Tennessee defense."

Many of the Volunteer players were just grateful to be working in their pads well into December.

"I was talking to Kevin Cooper earlier today," Jones joked. "I said remember this time last year we were at home? It feels good to be in the bowl game. Even though your body's banged up, you're tired, you still appreciate it."

"It's great to be working in December, you get lazy and relaxed, your body gets out of shape," Thompson added. "This keeps us ahead and keeps us sharp going into next season."

One of Tennessee's biggest opponents of the 2009 season was injuries, which afflicted the defense more than ever, reducing players at multiple linebacker and secondary positions.

A few injuries still had some key players sidelined for the evening.

"Art (Evans) still didn't practice because of his shoulder, (Montario) Hardesty rested, he's really sore, and Marlon Walls hurt a knee this week lifting," coach Kiffin noted when examining the injuries list.

With the team enjoying an extended rest period following the final game of the season, Kiffin admitted to noticing an increase in speed and energy.

"I wouldn't say a lot, I definitely noticed those two freshmen today, they were moving around fast, and it's been a long season for those guys."

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