published Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Butch Jones' Vols get public introduction

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, left, talks with wide receiver Jason Croom, center, between plays during an NCAA college football spring scrimmage at Neyland Stadium on April 13 in Knoxville.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, left, talks with wide receiver Jason Croom, center, between plays during an NCAA college football spring scrimmage at Neyland Stadium on April 13 in Knoxville.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ATTENDANCE ANALYSIS

Since setting an attendance record (73,801) in 1986, Tennessee's spring game has attracted 30,000 or more fans just three times. From 1993 to 2002, the average attendance was 16,789. Here's a look at the listed attendances of the past 10 Orange and White Games.

2012: 35,421

2011: 29,451

2010: 35,891

2009: 51,488*

2008: 28,898

2007: 17,409

2006: 15,411

2005: 23,475

2004: 14,371

2003: 12,234

* The spring game's second-highest attendance came in Lane Kiffin's lone season as coach.

Half of the SEC's 14 programs already have held their spring games, with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Missouri and Mississippi State joining Tennessee on today's slate.

Here are the listed attendances from those seven games.

Florida: NA

Georgia: 45,113

Kentucky: 50,831

South Carolina: 35,218

Ole Miss: 28,000 (approximate_

Texas A&M: 45,212

Vanderbilt: 14,000

IF YOU GO

When: Kickoff at 2 p.m.

Where: Fans can enter Gate 7 at Neyland Stadium for Fan Appreciation Day, which features autograph sessions with coaches and players and runs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the field.

How much: Attendance and parking are free.

KNOXVILLE — For Tennessee's new football coaching staff and the players, this afternoon's Orange and White Game serves as both a dress rehearsal and a culmination of more than a month of work.

Yet this edition of the annual intrasquad scrimmage may be more of a showcase than in past years.

With a host of former players, dozens of prospects and a fan base that seems energized by what first-year coach Butch Jones has accomplished in five months providing the background watching, today's festivities will be the first public display for the Volunteers under their new management.

"It's all about first impressions," Jones said after practice Wednesday, "and it's a mentality we've taken this week in practice."

Players have been active on Twitter in promoting the spring game and calling for fans to fill Neyland Stadium. Safety Byron Moore and defensive end Corey Miller, two of the most active Vols on Twitter, issued a challenge to the fans to break the game's attendance record (73,801), set in 1986. Moore and Miller say that if that record is not surpassed, they will leave the popular social media.

At least temporarily.

"I'll be able to do it," Miller said Wednesday with a laugh, "but I don't know about him."

"It's just to show the passion for this program, being able to fill Neyland as much as we can," Moore added. "I think it'd go a long way for everybody around the program seeing that with this new coaching staff, everybody's bought in and believes in this. It shows the recruits how big of an importance our fans put on something like a spring game."

The energy of Jones and his staff and their quick start on the recruiting trail -- Tennessee currently has nine verbal commitments, including top in-state players in tailback Jalen Hurd and safety Todd Kelly, and a top-five class nationally, according to Rivals and 247sports -- have energized a hungry fan base ready for the program to get back on track after three losing seasons.

"I think guys are really eager," left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson said. "I think the fans are really eager, not just to see us, but see what the new coaching staff is really bringing, and I think with the players, I think that we're a product of them. I think people are really excited to see the changes in the program."

The on-field product will be watered down by injuries -- the Vols likely will be down three receivers, potential starters at tight end, left tackle, linebacker and cornerback and two of their top defensive tackles -- and vanilla schemes, as is common for spring games. The first-team offense will face the first-team defense, the second-team offense will face the second-team defense and Jones will use the same scoring standard he's used throughout the spring.

He said a couple of weeks ago, however, he didn't plan to be on the microphone he normally uses in practice.

For the coaches, the evaluations on players are complete, but the staff does want to see how players perform with a big crowd on hand to watch.

"We always talk about trying to create stressful situations for all of our players, especially our quarterbacks," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said Thursday, "and for the first time, it's not just going to be Coach Jones' reel of annoying noises. It's going to be the pressure of playing in front of a crowd. I'm looking forward to having that added element of a little more pressure and then a little more stress to their game."

Added defensive coordinator John Jancek: "This will be to see who can respond in a competitive situation and take the fundamentals and the techniques that we've been working on and use them when they're a little bit more nervous and [there's] a little more anxiety inside the players."

Jones said he wanted the game to be a dress rehearsal for his assistants, and though the format won't provide an exact simulation, the coaches are viewing today's game as a dry run to test their in-game communication.

They may deny it, but both the staff and the players will have an eye on the showcase side of Tennessee's spring finale.

"I think atmosphere-wise, and how we do things and kind of the culture change, that's what I want recruits to see," said Zach Azzanni, the Vols' receivers coach and recruiting coordinator. "They're not going to see a perfect product out on the field. That's a long process that's going to take a long time.

"I just want everyone to see improvement, a different attitude in kids, a different culture, a different way of doing things, a tempo and the excitement around the program. They want excitement around the program. Hopefully they'll see that when they come."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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