March 31, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After "doing what he needed to do", junior All-SEC wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers was back out on Haslam Field practicing with the Tennessee football team on Saturday morning.
"It was something he had to do, he did it and he's back," head coach Derek Dooley said. "He's doing good. He had a good day out there today. He had good energy. He did a good job covering punts a couple of times. He's obviously an extremely talented plays so I'm glad he took care of what he had to do."
Rogers, who missed Thursday's practice, has had positive conversations with head coach Derek Dooley since his absence.
"Very positive," Dooley said of his meetings with Rogers. "Extremely positive. It's like I said. With all players - it doesn't matter who it is, even the best players and even the guys who seem like they have everything going for them - there are a lot of meetings that you have with them.
"College football is hard. It's tough. College is tough. Life is tough. Learning how to navigate through those waters takes a lot of mentoring and a lot of time with them so that when they're playing in their competitive element, they're free of all that clutter. That's the biggest challenge you have as a coach is teaching the players how to manage all of the clutter that can enter their lives and manage the difficulties of college football, the difficulties of the exposure they get and the difficulties of the criticism they get sometimes publicly."
ONE DOWN, THREE TO GOSaturday morning's workout at Haslam Field concluded the first week of work this spring for Tennessee, with four practices in the books.
While the Vols won't become an unstoppable force overnight, the results of Tennessee's first week were positive.
"I've been real pleased with the energy level," Dooley said. "I've been pleased with the tempo. We're playing a lot more physical. I'm pleased with how engaged the players are in learning what to do. Having said that, the lack of experience from a lot of the young guys shows up considerably, a lot of the new stuff we're doing. There's a lot of rust. We have to just learn and it's not going to get solved in 15 practices."
The focus of Saturday's practice was installing red area packages on both offense and defense. Last season, Tennessee scored 24 touchdowns in 38 trips inside the 20-yard line (.632), while holding its opponents to 22 red zone TDs in 40 trips (.550).
The goal, as always, is to improve.
"The red area is so critical in a game because offenses are so good at moving the ball," Dooley said. "When you get down there, you have to bow up. The whole key there is scoring touchdowns on offense and holding them to field goals on defense. It was a good day. We had a lot of good energy out there, good hitting. We just continue to go day by day."
Sophomore tight end Cameron Clear comes off a rookie season in which he saw limited time but gained tremendous knowledge as part of his introduction to college football.
"Being a top recruit out of Tennessee you think it is going to be easy but once you are on the field everybody is the same," said Clear, who was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the state by Rivals. "It is tough you have to work it out."
Clear did play in all 12 games as a freshman in 2011, but only made a single catch coming against Middle Tennessee. The 6-6, 283-pound product learned as his freshman season progressed that it wouldn't be easy to made the jump from prep ball to the SEC.
"In the beginning I was very frustrated because coming from high school," Clear said. "I am used to not coming off the field. Here I play very few snaps, but now I am getting it under control and it is getting easier."
Clear has made strides and Dooley has high hopes for the Memphis native.
"Cameron is a really talented football player who has a rare combination of size and athleticism at that position," Dooley said. "There are not many guys who are as big as him, who can move, and who are as athletic as him. He has a great attitude and he is learning and I think he is going to be a really good football player."
Clear played tight end in high school, making 18 catches as a senior, but some viewed him as a offensive lineman once he entered the college game. Dooley made a vow to Clear to play him at tight end as long as he did his part.
"From day one, (playing tight end) is what I promised him," Dooley said. "I told him, `As long as your weight allows you to play at that level we are good.' The players always tease him because I think he fasts to make sure he doesn't get to 300 pounds because he knows what is going to move him either inside or to the other side of the ball. I am not looking for him to do that. I don't want him to gain weight because he is a good tight end. He is very aware of that."
Clear is well aware of the talk of him being more suited to be a lineman and is working hard to make a difference as a tight end.
"With my size, it is like the size of an offensive tackle on paper," Clear said. "When someone sees me and my athleticism, they are like, 'Whoa, maybe we can us this guy down the field.' I know a lot of the coaches thought I would progress into a tackle with my blocking ability. I feel that I deserve a chance at tight end. I keep my weight pretty good."
RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAMAs Dooley said after practice on Thursday, Tennessee's emphasis offensively is to get better at running the football.
Increased physicality from multiple positions on the offensive side of the ball has aided that effort.
"The progress that we're making is everywhere," Dooley said. "I'm seeing the O-Line playing with a little more aggression. I'm seeing the receivers taking a greater interest in helping us block on the perimeter. And I'm seeing the runners run with a lot of discipline. They're hitting the holes a lot faster and playing behind their pads."
That doesn't automatically mean the Vols will be putting up Jay Graham-like numbers, however.
"It's only been two days in pads so we're not ready for a national declaration that we can run the ball now," Dooley said. "I hesitate to say things to (the media) because then it's `We're going to lead the country in rushing.' We're just doing a little better. I'm proud of where we are right now relative to where we were."
In 1995, Jay Graham, now UT's running backs coach, rushed for 1,438 yards, the second-highest total in a single season in UT history.
While Graham was a workhorse back as a Vol, he's teaching a group of running backs that may very well all have pivotal roles in the offense in 2012. "He has brought a lot and has been teaching us a lot of things we did not know as running backs," said sophomore tailback Tom Smith, a downhill runner. "He is a very special man. He has us competing faster and working much harder." Devrin Young, one of the Vols' fastest players, is looking forward to the multiple looks opposing defenses will have to face.
"It is really good because there is still an opportunity for you to be used in different ways," Young said. "It is good to know that our backfield is so versatile. We have a man that can do everything. I feel like that can be very frustrating to our opponents."