KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Butch Jones believes the use of some unusual sound effects this spring can help the Volunteers make a little more noise this fall.
The honk of a car alarm or the roar of a jet engine occasionally have replaced the standard soundtrack of rock and rap music during the Vols' workouts in their first spring practice under Jones.
"It may be corny, but it is what it is," Jones said. "It's being able to focus and 'x out' everything."
Every now and then, Jones gets particularly creative. The Vols heard the wails of a crying baby as they attempted to communicate during red-zone drills last week.
And then there was the time wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard tried to field punts while the oinking sounds of pigs came over the loudspeaker. Jones credited Tennessee sports technology coordinator Joe Harrington for coming up with that idea.
"It sounded like two animals dying at one point," senior offensive guard Zach Fulton quipped. "I don't know. It was just weird."
Senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp said it's the variety of sound effects that make it difficult to maintain focus. Once the players get used to one sound, they start hearing something entirely different.
"You hear the car alarm and kind of get used to it and you're thinking, 'It doesn't bother me anymore,' " Sapp said. "Then you hear the baby crying. Then you hear something else. It's just hard to get used to it. It kind of messes with your mind. You try to put that aside and go out and play."
Introducing all those sound effects to practice is part of Jones' mission to make sure the Vols avoid getting distracted in hostile environments or in tight situations. Tennessee continually came up short in that regard last year while posting their third consecutive losing season.
The Vols turned the ball over in their final three possessions of a 51-44 loss to Georgia. They allowed a game-clinching touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter of a 41-31 loss at Mississippi State. They were in field-goal range with less than two minutes remaining when they lost a fumble in a 38-35 setback at South Carolina. They lost 51-48 to Missouri in four overtimes after giving up a 25-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-12 play with 47 seconds left in regulation.
"Most games come down to about five or six plays that are going to be the difference between winning and losing," senior safety Byron Moore said.
Tennessee will need much more mental toughness this fall to survive an early-season schedule that includes trips to Oregon and Florida in consecutive September weekends. The Vols also have a three-game stretch in October against Georgia, South Carolina and defending national champion Alabama.
The Vols say these sound effects can make a difference.
"It's good for the young guys who haven't experienced Alabama at night or Florida down in the Swamp at night," senior offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "I feel like that definitely helps. It gets everybody antsy, but we've just got to calm down and play through it."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said the staff started utilizing them during their stint in Cincinnati and saw their teams show more poise in high-stress situations afterward. Over time, they learned which particular sounds worked best.
"We want it to be as annoying as possible," Bajakian said. "We're trying to create an environment - a high-stress environment, a chaotic environment. Those noises cause stress. I have a daughter who just turned two, a daughter who's about to turn one and one on the way. I hear a baby crying and it reminds me of home. I get to relax a little bit. But for these guys who aren't used to it, I think it creates a stress level and just an added element of pressure."
The players don't mind the additional stress that accompanies the noise. They know as loud as it gets on the practice field, it won't compare to what they'll encounter this fall.
"It's going to be more intensity, more loud, more crazy," Howard said. "That's just a little warmup of what it's going to be like on Saturdays."
• Briefly: Running back Marlin Lane missed a third straight practice for disciplinary reasons Wednesday. Jones didn't rule out the possibility that Lane could return for Saturday's Orange & White Game. "There's still an opportunity," Jones said. "He has some criteria that have to be met, and he's meeting that criteria. As of right now, he's still out." ... The Orange & White Game's format will pit the offense against the defense, with each unit earning points for big achievements. The Vols have used a similar format during their Saturday scrimmages.