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Tennessee opens first practice under Kiffin

Tennessee head football coach Lane Kiffin directs his team practices during the first day of football spring practice Tuesday, March 10, 2009 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Tennessee head football coach Lane Kiffin directs his team practices during the first day of football spring practice Tuesday, March 10, 2009 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Tennessee's Lane Kiffin feels like he's waited forever to find what his Volunteers can do on the field.

After more than three months of recruiting, meeting with fans and donors and waiting, the new coach opened spring practice on Tuesday.

"This is what it's about," said Kiffin, who's been on the job since Dec. 1. "This is when it gets really exciting and really fun because we get to really do what we're here to do, which is coach. The recruiting is fun, and the going speaking everywhere and meeting everybody, that's fun, but this is a whole other level. This is what I love to do."

The Vols ran through fast-paced drills during a breezy and warm three-hour practice session Thursday afternoon, and Kiffin praised the players for their energy.

"It's a totally new ballgame," quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. "That's how the whole team is going about it, offense and defense."

Plenty of changes from predecessor Phillip Fulmer's system will be afoot during the spring period, which includes 14 practices in preparation for the Orange and White Game on April 18.

The coaching staff plans to institute physical practices with plenty of contact to determine which players will fit best into the Vols' new scheme. Each player will start with a clean slate, regardless of seniority or experience.

That includes Crompton and fellow quarterbacks B.J. Coleman and Nick Stephens, none of whom emerged as a clear starter after competing throughout last season.

"Ultimately it gets down to the competitive spirit of the position and who can lead the team into the end zone," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said.

Crompton and Coleman will split repetitions during the spring as Stephens sits out to give his broken right wrist a chance to heal. Stephens injured his throwing hand when he fell during a drill.

Stephens said he planned to spend the spring studying the playbook, watching film, meeting with coaches and practicing his footwork in hopes of being on the same page as Crompton and Coleman when he's available to play in three to four weeks.

He's also glad each player is starting with a clean slate.

"I feel like right now, no matter what their position is, no matter how old someone is, they feel like they have a chance to compete," Stephens said. "And that's all you can ask for, really. I've talked to many guys who are excited this spring to get out and just show what they can do."

They'll also have a chance to show Vols fans what they can do before the Orange and White game. Kiffin is opening Friday's practice at Neyland Stadium at 7 p.m. for up to 10,000 fans to attend.

"I want our fans to be an active part of the program," Kiffin wrote in an open letter to fans. "Your energy and enthusiasm are two of the things that make Tennessee great."

Coaches have switched a few players to new positions. Brandon Warren, the heralded tight end who played few snaps last season after transferring from Florida State, will move to wide receiver. Tight end Aaron Douglas will move to offensive tackle, where depth could be an issue this season.

The rest of the players will be evaluated throughout spring practice for starting roles, Kiffin said.

"You have to see them within your system," he said. "There was nothing bad or good about what was done here before. No matter what, when you change an offensive system, especially as much as we've changed it — there is absolutely no carry-over from what was being done before — you've got to see them in your own system."

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