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Tennessee open practice draws 40,000 fans
Tennessee offensive lineman Jashon Robertson (73), left, overpowers Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (34), right, during Tennessee's open practice at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Lau)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's newcomers are hoping the open practice Saturday gave them at least some idea of what it's like to perform in front of a big crowd at Neyland Stadium.
For the second straight year, the Volunteers tuned up for the season by opening a Neyland Stadium workout to the public. This year's open practice drew an announced attendance of 40,000, a slight increase from last year's total of 39,000.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones noted many of Tennessee's newcomers indicated they had never played in front of a crowd this big. Tennessee plans to rely heavily on a recruiting class that was ranked among the top five in the nation by multiple services.
"At my junior college, we only had about 200 people at the games," wide receiver Von Pearson said. "And this is only practice."
Fourteen of Tennessee's newcomers were here for spring practice and got to participate in the Orange & White Game, which had an announced attendance of 68,548. But this was an entirely new experience for the other 18 members of that heralded signing class.
"It definitely gets you acclimated for what it will be like for game day," freshman linebacker Dillon Bates said. "You know it will be double this on game day, but (it helps) just to get acclimated a little bit and kind of get used to playing in front of people and really focusing in and dialing in on what you're supposed to do."
Jones spent much of the practice holding a microphone, exhorting fans to make as much noise as possible in third-down situations and during field-goal attempts.
The fans got to see some typical practice drills as well as some scrimmaging. Some of the drills were particularly crowd pleasing. In one drill, players tried to catch punts while cradling a few other footballs in their arms. In another drill, players practiced fumble recoveries by diving for a football hidden underneath a pile of padding.
This practice also showed plenty of competition remains heading into the Aug. 31 season opener against Utah State.
Tennessee's first-team offensive line included Jacob Gilliam at left tackle, Marcus Jackson at left guard, Mack Crowder at center, Jashon Robertson at right guard and Kyler Kerbyson at right tackle. That represented a change from the start of training camp, when the first-team line featured Kerbyson at right guard with Coleman Thomas at right tackle. Robertson, a freshman, moved from defense to offense early in training camp.
"Tonight will serve as a great evaluation tool, and then moving forward next week.... on Monday we'll start working on our starters and guys who we feel will be out there when we take the field against Utah State," Jones said.
NOTES: Defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry was helped to the sidelines after getting hurt during practice. There was no immediate word on the nature or severity of his injury. ... Defensive end Curt Maggitt was held out of Saturday night's practice as he continues to rest an ankle injury. Maggitt and Jones have said the injury isn't serious. ... The entire Tennessee coaching staff was doused with ice water after the practice as part of the Ice Bucket Challenge to help fight ALS.