A string of new rules going into effect this season regarding preseason practice has forced college coaches to restructure their traditional fall camp schedules. The NCAA has banned two-a-day practices in the first five days, and essentially limited two-a-days to every other day.
Also gone is the orientation period for freshmen and transfers. In the past, freshmen arrived two to three days early and participated in a few practices before upperclassmen reported. This year, freshmen and upperclassmen report the same day and begin practice together.
"I think [the changes are] good," said Johnson, who has never been big on two-a-days anyway. "The only reason we went to two-a-days in the past is because you had to in order to get all your practices in. If I had my druthers, I'd rather practice once a day, as long as you have the same number of practices as everybody else."
The Commodores practice together officially for the first time on Wednesday, and Johnson, a consummate organizer, has scheduled his first-week practices during evening hours-- one per day, as the rules mandate.
"We're going to go in the evening time, for two reasons-- the heat, and summer school," Johnson said. "We've still got some guys in summer school who will be taking exams that Thursday and Friday, so we want to make sure we have everybody there.
"The first two days [Wednesday and Thursday] are in shorts and helmets only. The next two days [Friday and Saturday] are helmets and shoulder pads. The fifth day [Sunday] is full pads, but only one per day. Then [beginning Monday, Aug. 11] you can start alternating two-a-days and one-a-days."
NCAA regulations allow for 29 practice opportunities before the first game. Johnson and his staff will spread those opportunities over the 24 days between Wednesday, August 6, and Friday, August 29.
"[For two-a-days] we're going to go in the morning, then at night, then the afternoon for the next practice day. That gives us the maximum amount of hours in between practices so our guys can recover, and we think it will make us more efficient."
Though the new regulations may force some college teams to schedule two-a-day sessions during the week before the opener, Johnson said that won't be a problem for the Commodores in their August 30 opener vs. Ole Miss.
"We'll have all our two-a-days done [before then]. In fact, the Saturday before the Ole Miss game [August 23] we'll have our run-through of the stadium and make sure we know what our pre-game routine is. After that we'll pretty much go into our regular game-week routine, and hopefully get everything polished up to take on the Rebels."
Several coaches at SEC Media Days voiced various complaints about the changes, but Johnson says he has no problems with them.
"I'm excited about it," said Johnson. "I think it will be beneficial to our new football players. It's going to keep them more alert. It's going to keep them fresher.
"As long as everybody's doing it and has the same number of practice opportunities, I don't see where it hurts anybody."
The overall intent of the rules changes was to protect the players and ease the grind of two-a-days under the August heat. Though some college coaches have traditionally viewed two-a-days as essential for forging a group of young men into a team, there can be little doubt that the withering grind of back-to-back two-a-days took a heavy physical and emotional toll on players, according to Johnson.
"You ever see Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?" Johnson laughed. "That's what the players say two-a-days are like-- the same thing, over and over."
Vanderbilt's preseason practices are tentatively set to be open to the public up through Saturday, August 23, but will close afterwards as the team begins preparations for Ole Miss.
Fans are invited to meet the team and coaches and obtain autographs at Dore Jam II, this Sunday from 4:00 to 6:00 pm. at the John Rich Practice Complex on Natchez Trace behind McGugin Athletics Center.
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