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KNOXVILLE — The first day of our SEC fall camp series has wrapped up, with Tennessee hitting the practice field for the first time of the 2022 season.
Now, with the early practices going without pads, the thumping or hard hits were absent, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get an early look at the atmosphere around practice.
Going back a few steps, if you were wondering how the day starts at the facility for people covering the practice. There is a sign-in sheet for all reporters, where SID Bill Martin — you won’t find a better SID in the country— and his team are waiting to give you a credential that has to be worn at all times while on the field.
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We are then escorted out onto the field or indoor complex, where the first few periods of practice have already started. Usually, these are just stretch periods or basic drills for players starting off the day.
At any given time, a coach could tell the SID that they don’t want this portion of the drill on video and we’d have to focus on something else. It would be better if Bill Martin had that clicker device from the Batman movie, where Bruce Wayne exits his vehicle and immediately clicks a button to fry the cameras, but I don’t imagine Tennessee has that in the budget.
Then, it’s observing and seeing who might be missing or wearing non-contact jerseys. This is key in determining who’s still nursing or recovering from an injury. Also, the coaching staff could be taking their time in getting a player back to full speed, like Christian Charles, who wore the red jersey on Monday.
Being that this is Josh Heupel’s second season in charge on Rocky Top, the flow of the first practice wasn’t as chaotic as last season. Now, you’ve got veteran players that know what to expect from the staff, as they work from drill to drill.
Communication and expectations are just two of the differences that were noticeable on Monday morning, given that each coach or support staff member is wearing a headset. A few players worked in red non-contact jerseys, while the rest were decked out in either orange or white.
Each period lasted eight minutes. As the horn would sound, players would shuffle off into the next drill, with some coaches giving them an earful. For most of the roster, this isn’t new.
Just ask the defensive linemen that are working with Rodney Garner. There’s a reason that some of the practice videos don’t make it to public eye, as he looks to get the most out of his players with every word yelled or just by giving them the infamous stare.
It’s intriguing to watch the quarterbacks and wide receivers breakout into routes-on-air during the early periods, knowing that it will be the most watched period from a reporter’s perspective.
You don’t get much out of the period, but for some reason it always catches your eye. As we’ve seen in the past, this drill can be deceiving. It’s all about the QB’s early on in fall practice, especially when you get to see the summer workouts with the WR group come to fruition.
There are certain drills that the coaches don’t allow you to film, with today being the QB to RB handoff. I have no idea what they think they’re hiding, but this has been the case since Heupel arrived in Knoxville.
Jeremy Pruitt did it as well, not allowing the offensive line to be recorded, along with other drills. To be honest, every college football coach is like this, certainly not wanting to give away state secrets.
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There is always movement, whether it be the staff, player support, trainers or even the person in control of the music. Something is always going on and the Tennessee head coach is always watching.
Usually, the offensive staff will imitate live game scenarios once the back end of practice begins, but the media are escorted out after two periods, usually.
But on the opening day of camp, the media is allowed to stay for eight periods, being asked to turn off the cameras after the second. This will most likely be the only time that anyone will see what is going on after warmups and routes-on-air.
In a joke that had to have been cooked up by the athletic department, the studio where we interviewed Josh Heupel was scorching. I didn’t think I could drop a few pounds while asking questions, but that turned out to be the case on Sunday. It ended up being an air-conditioning problem, but the thought of SID Bill Martin playing an early camp joke did cross my mind.
As most reporters sat around working on stories, waiting for that final horn to go off at practice, Heupel met with the media again on Monday.
Although the head coach just answered questions on Sunday, this was another opportunity to sell what is going on at Tennessee. Over the course of fall camp, the local media will meet with position coaches and coordinators, breaking things up a bit and getting a different perspective on the team and individual players.
Sometimes these coaches take the opportunity to call out a player, knowing they might end up seeing it in a subsequent article. It’s all fun and games anyways, at least until they head back upstairs to breakdown film from practice, combing over every mistake made, while looking for the guys that stood out.
Mini cameras are setup throughout the practice field or a support staffer will be holding a handheld, catching every drill the players go through. This will lead to staffers breaking down the tape and handing if over to their position boss after practice is concluded.
While in years past the Vols have dealt with trying to find a starting quarterback for the season opener, this year that’s not the case.
Hendon Hooker is the solidified first stringer, while Joe Milton runs with the second team, both trying to outwork the other, even though they will most likely grab dinner together later on in the day.
This is the life of training camp, with the coaches hoping a bond is formed between the players and the coaches can work in a cohesive fashion. But, as we inch closer to the first scrimmage of camp, the competition will continue to rise, with every player looking for a shot at playing time or a starting position.
The Vols have completed one practice and the staff is already looking for the guys who will standup and lead the team this season.
Some are timid at first, but as camp continues, the ones with the loudest voice and biggest gains could end up being the guys who Heupel and his staff rely on.
It’s SEC Fall Camp 2022 and the Vols are officially underway.