KNOXVILLE — Tennessee guard Alex Bullard conceded one of the facts of football.
Preseason training camps, with steamy August afternoons, grueling practices day after day, constant team meetings and few breaks, are physically demanding.
It’s most commonly described as a grind, and although that term’s overused, it’s also fairly accurate.
As the Volunteers wrap up training camp with practice this afternoon preceeding two days off, the start of fall semester classes and the focus turning toward the first game under first-year coach Butch Jones, Bullard took a different route to sum up this one.
“Personally, this has been the funnest camp I’ve been a part of,” Tennessee’s senior starting left guard said after practice Sunday afternoon. “The coaches are fun and energetic. Coach Jones finds a way to make practice fun, and honestly, I feel like practice has been a recess.
“I’ve looked forward to going out there every day and improving, and if things need to be corrected, I’m eager to get out there and correct it. It’s just fun. You have to find a way to make it fun, because it makes it not as miserable, but this has been fun and it’s been a great experience.”
The handful of freshmen on which Tennessee will depend from the get-go this season may beg to differ.
Allow right guard Zach Fulton — like Bullard, a senior — to explain what the Vols’ rookies have faced.
“My freshman year I was getting reps with like the ones, twos and threes sometimes,” he recalled. “I was dog tired most of the time, getting reps here and there all the time. It was bad.”
Jones said his team’s mental toughness and identity would be formed during the toughest part of the preseason, a stretch that included 11 practices in 10 days. He and his staff have been demanding in their attempts to instill the proper mentality into the Vols. The size of the payoff only comes during the season.
“I told our team I can tell the type of mentality we have by the way we walk into our team meetings to start the day, and we have some individuals that have to learn how to push through,” Jones said. “When you’re mentally fatigued, finding ways, that’s where you really get better. It’s understanding what your team needs and pushing them through it.”
The coach would prefer a core of leaders to help with the pushing, but it’s a new coaching staff with a new way of doing things for them, too. Jones referred to that dilemma a “double-edged sword,” but the Vols aren’t calling it an excuse. He wants more leadership from his team to help some of the younger players avoid resorting to what he called “survival mode” during the crucial practices leading up the season opener.
“We don’t want them to get through the practice,” he said. “We want them to attack the practice. It’s an ongoing process.”
Overall, the Vols have been inconsistent throughout this month. Though some players have maintained a steadiness in their performance, many have followed up good plays or days with bad ones. With Tennessee relying on freshmen or inexperienced new faces in certain spots, specifically quarterback, receiver and cornerback, that’s to be expected.
“I feel like it was a good camp,” safety Brian Randolph said. “I feel like we learned a lot more this camp. We spent a lot of time in the meeting room, and we spent a lot of time talking. We weren’t necessarily pounding on each other too much this camp, so I feel like overall this camp was good for our team.”
The Vols know they have one last chance to add to it before turning their attention to Austin Peay and beyond.
“We’ve got one more practice tomorrow,” said linebacker A.J. Johnson, “so we’re going to go out and bust our tail to try to make it one of the best.”
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...