KNOXVILLE (UT) -- Tennessee wrapped up its final full practice of training camp on Monday but the end of one chapter is only the beginning of another as classes start on Wednesday.
After a mock game walkthrough Tuesday night, the Vols will return to the classroom for the start of fall session the next day. When they reconvene as a team Thursday morning, the Orange and White will turn its sole focus on the field to North Carolina State, something everyone is looking forward to.
"(The dynamic) will change come Wednesday when classes start, of course," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "We have to get prepared for all of that. I think this is a good time for classes to start. You don't want it on your game week and you don't want it too early in camp. We'll always go through a couple of days of issues there. Other than that, I think they are just ready to play somebody."
With training camp nearing completion, junior tailback Rajion Neal deemed it a success.
"A lot of guys had a big chip on their shoulder," Neal said. "Nobody is dwelling on the past, but we all still had in the back of our minds how last season ended. A lot of guys came out ready to play. We had a great sense of urgency to be out there and want to learn and want to get this turned around quickly."
Although it was a long grind, Neal said the head coach's mentality made training camp easier to get through.
"You just embrace it because Dooley does," Neal said. "He never lets you forget that one day this will come to end. Like always, you will wish you had one more day. He tries to keep it fun, not so predictable, but we're just embracing it. We're out there ready to work. We have a lot that we want to do and accomplish this year."
In addition to returning to the practice field on Thursday, the Vols will also release the first depth chart since the spring that day, although it will be subject to quite a bit of change over the upcoming weeks.
"I don't think a lot of these positions will get settled until deep into the season, especially defensive line and secondary because we don't really know who is going to be productive on game day," Dooley said. "All we can do is suspect. We'll set a starting lineup based on what we suspect but ultimately they have to go out there and prove it. If they do, they'll get settled in and if they don't, we'll put the other guy in."
NEAL CONTINUES TO GROW
With the final practice of training camp in the books, and the Vols starting to focus on NC State, tailback Rajion Neal has emerged as a leader in the backfield. After seeing time as a back and a receiver over the last two years, Neal has zeroed in on his role as one of the Vols' top runners.
"Just over time, just knowing what to expect," said Neal. "Standing under these coaches, just growing up. It's been fun, but being physical, watching film, standing up under these coaches as much as I can. Just becoming a student of the game more."
Neal ran for just 134 yards as a sophomore, in 11 games. He ran for that exact amount in the Vols' first scrimmage in training camp and added 47 more in the second scrimmage for a total of 181 yards on the ground in two outings. He continues to gain experience that comes with time.
"Just getting older. We kind of start to sew things up a little easier, you've been around, you know what to expect. Everything is kind of a little easy, it's coming to you. That's the big thing I notice. I'm just happy to be back."
Neal is competing with Devrin Young and Marlin Lane for the starting position, but knows that all three will see time taking handoffs.
"The competition between the backs is real competitive," said Neal. "It's still friendly but on the field we really compete and get after it. We try to do whatever it's going to take for us to get this running game started and open up the lanes for passing."
A major difference for the backs has been the addition of Vols legendary tailback Jay Graham as the team's mentor in the backfield.
"Coach Graham is a guy that played a position so he kind of knows what to expect," said Neal. "He knows what it takes to have a successful running game and produce a good back. It was hard, but it was what we needed and we enjoyed it. Just from him being a guy that played the position."
Information provided by UT Sports Media Relations and UTSports.com.