The UT football team has faced a variety of distractions during their first round of spring football under new head coach Butch Jones and his coaching staff.
Not only are the players dealing with learning new schemes on both sides of the ball and an increase in practice tempo, but on Tuesday Jones introduced a new type of obstacle for the Vols to overcome during scrimmage periods of practice.
"It is what it is," Jones said. "It's being able to focus and (block) out everything, playing in the SEC and having to play at Oregon, some people have described it as the loudest venue in all of college football. You have to learn to sort those distractions, you focus on your communicative skills, your nonverbal communication skills and your command presence."
Usually music or crowd noise is pumped through the speakers at Haslam Field, but on Tuesday Jones pumped unusual sound effects like crying babies, sirens and white noise.
"It's just about trying to distract you," sophomore wide receiver Alton Howard said. "Being mentally focused when you're tired. That's a great practice getting us prepared for games because it will be loud. At the end of the day we'll have to be mentally tuned in and be ready to roll."
The alternate sound effects were a surprise to the players, who did not know that the new sounds were coming.
"It was weird, but you get used to it," sophomore defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry said. "We just got to learn how to block everything out, focus on what you have to do and make plays. I heard a baby crying and was like 'What is this?,' then after that I just tuned it out and started playing ball."
Jones wants to try more distraction tactics on the team to try and prepare them for hostile environments like those in Eugene, Ore., Gainesville, Fla. and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"I like annoying noises," Jones said. "(The baby cry) was a C-minus, we'll tune it up on Thursday."
One area of concern for the Volunteer coaching staff is who is going to return punts for the Vols. The Vols face a major challenge in replacing former standout returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who broke the Vols' single-season all-purpose yardage record previously held by Reggie Cobb.
"Very concerned about who our punt returners are," Jones said. "I think that's the hardest skill in football, not only to catch a punt, but you have 10 guys coming down the field to try to tackle you. It really challenges your concentration, we're looking for the individual who can get 10 yards but also secure the football. A misjudged punt can be the difference in 10, 20, 30 yards of field position."