Tennessee placed an early emphasis on special teams in the first of two weekend practices at Decatur High School, the team’s initial action since arriving in Atlanta for Chick-Fil-A Bowl week.
Several players acknowledged being rusty during Saturday’s two-hour workout, including senior running back Montario Hardesty and junior tight end Luke Stocker, but both pledged Sunday’s do-over would be an upgrade. The team will move into the Georgia Dome for morning practices on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bowl officials helped Tennessee pick Decatur as a practice site over Georgia Tech and Clark Atlanta after the Vols (7-5) were selected to play in the New Year’s Eve game against Virginia Tech. Players and coaches arrived 30 minutes ahead of the 11:15 a.m. workout and bounced around the locker rooms and the weight-training facility afterward. The Volunteers had practiced at their on-campus facility through Tuesday before breaking one day early for the Christmas holiday.
“We came down for an inspection, and [Decatur High] was the option that suited us best,” travel coordinator David Elliott said. “We were looking for a surface similar to that of the Georgia Dome and this was the best fit.”
A field-turf installation was part of nearly $27 million in athletic facility upgrades at Decatur since December 2007. The venture was established by athletics director Carter Wilson several years ago and completed with the grand opening of the 2,000-seat gymnasium in October.
“It’s a very exciting time, not only for our school but for the City of Decatur,” Wilson said. “It shows that other people think highly of our facilities, as we do. We look forward to a long relationship with the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.”
All accounted for
Coach Lane Kiffin affirmed with a simple “yes” that all 109 Volunteers players arrived safe and sound Friday. Players reported to the team hotel by 8 p.m. for Christmas dinner and a team meeting. Receiver Gerald Jones, an Oklahoma City native, spent the break in Nashville before driving to Atlanta with teammate Marsalous Johnson. Oklahoma City and other parts of the Midwest received several inches of snowfall Christmas Eve. “If I had gone home, I wouldn’t be here,” Jones said. “It probably would have been Saturday or Sunday before I got here.”
Brown misses practice
Kiffin said backup tailback Bryce Brown was held out of practice Saturday as a precaution. Brown, a freshman who contributed 460 rushing yards during the regular season, suffered a concussion Monday. He will be evaluated ahead of Sunday’s practice and might participate. Right tackle Aaron Douglas saw limited action with an ankle injury, but is expected to practice Sunday.
Tennessee begins its Sunday practice at 11:15 a.m., followed by a 3:30 p.m. visit to the Georgia Aquarium. Other scheduled team activities include a Monday afternoon visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Tuesday appearances by selected players at the Scottish Rite and Hughes Spalding hospitals. Details for other bowl-related events can be found on the Chick-fil-A bowl's Web site.