KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Butch Jones believes holding one open practice each year helps prepare his team for the Neyland Stadium environment.
Of course, it helps when that workout draws the type of crowd that many programs can't attract during the regular season.
Even without a quarterback competition to lure curious fans, Tennessee's open practice Saturday at Neyland Stadium drew an announced attendance of 40,000. Spectators filled the majority of the lower bowl at the 102,455-seat facility.
"It's a tremendous evaluation tool to see how our players perform when there are people in the stands," Jones said. "It was invaluable."
Tennessee has made one August practice open to the public at Neyland Stadium each year since Jones' arrival as coach for the 2013 season. The open practices drew announced attendances of 39,000 in 2013 and 40,000 in 2014.
The Vols hope that the large crowd will help their underclassmen get at least a small taste of what they'll experience during regular-season home games. Tennessee played the most true freshmen of any Football Bowl Subdivision program last year and figures to rely heavily on newcomers again this season after signing a second straight recruiting class ranked among the nation's top five by multiple services.
Tennessee begins the season Sept. 5 against Bowling Green in Nashville's Nissan Stadium before facing Oklahoma in its home opener Sept. 12.
"It's nowhere near what game days at Neyland are, but it's definitely a steppingstone, so the first time they walk in here, they're not star-struck and can't think or do their jobs," sophomore tight end Ethan Wolf said.
During the last two open practices, a preseason quarterback competition garnered much of the attention. That wasn't the case this year, as junior Joshua Dobbs is the clear-cut starter and freshman Quinten Dormady was announced Friday as the second-team quarterback.
Jones still found a way to make things interesting for the fans who showed up by including some special events aside from the typical position drills and scrimmaging.
He opened the practice with a one-on-one matchup between mammoth-sized offensive guard Charles Mosley and defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie. Tennessee's roster lists Mosley as 350 pounds and McKenzie as 327 pounds.
Late in the practice, Tennessee's quarterbacks stood at the 30-yard line and threw passes in an attempt to hit the crossbar at the nearest end zone. As it turned out, the first person to accomplish that feat wasn't a quarterback but wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard, who also had entered the competition.
Fans got to see Tennessee try out different combinations on the offensive line as the Vols attempt to replace injured guard Marcus Jackson that likely will knock him out for the entire season. Jones initially didn't specify the nature of Jackson's injury this week before later indicating the fifth-year senior hurt his biceps.
The Vols also worked out Saturday without guards Jack Jones and Jashon Robertson, who was in uniform but didn't participate in offensive line drills as he recovers from an ankle injury. Butch Jones said Jack Jones was held out for precautionary reasons and that Robertson should return this coming week.
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