April 14, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee football program has been considered the `best' in the nation five times and the `best' in the SEC on 13 occasions.
As the Vols work this spring towards being the `best', it's as much about what's inside each Vol's helmet as it is their physical abilities.
"Attitude is our number one core value," head coach Derek Dooley said after Tennessee's scrimmage Saturday at Neyland Stadium. "It is that old saying, `Things turn out for the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.' Right now, when things turn out wrong, we have guys who don't make the best of it. That is what we have to learn how to do."
As Dooley cited plenty of positives from Saturday's scrimmage including the improved play of junior quarterback Tyler Bray, the return of junior wide receiver Justin Hunter and standout defensive performances from Herman Lathers and Brian Randolph, he also stressed where the Vols need to make significant progress.
"The biggest thing that is kind of holding us back right now is number one, our level of discipline on the simple things. (We had) a lot penalties. We make too many mistakes that are really simple things.
"The second one is, just our attitude when the flow of the game begins to happen and how we get affected by things that shouldn't affect us. Whether it is a play, you are tired, `I didn't get the call,' or maybe one guy is jawing a little bit. Those are the things right now that we really need to work at."
To be the `best' will require the Power T to also stand for toughness.
"This sport is about who is going to break whose will," Dooley said. "It is a physically, mentally and emotionally draining 60 minutes. At some point either you are going to break his will or he breaks your will. That is what it is. We got our will broken a little too much last year and you saw it in the second half. That is our number one thing this year. We have to toughen up. We don't make excuses. We have to get it done."
SPEAKING OF TOUGH...Senior linebacker Herman Lathers is enjoying a solid and most importantly, healthy, spring camp.
Lathers missed spring practice last year recovering from shoulder surgery in January of 2011.
Returning briefly for summer workouts he was forced to miss the 2011 season with a fractured ankle suffered in early June.
Providing senior leadership and an example, Lathers isn't making any excuses this spring.
"Herman is doing great," Dooley said. "He is flying around. He is not giving me the `Well, I am 80 percent.' We are 100 percent and I think that is helping him get over the hump mentally. When you have had as many injuries as he has, the first sign of pain probably makes you a little nervous. He is working through it and he is playing really good football for us."
While Lathers didn't have any expectations heading into 2012, he's been pleased with his progress.
"I didn't have really any set standards, but it's going pretty good right now," Lathers said. "I am just trying to rehab and get better. I just want to get my body back together. My main job is to make sure everyone gets lined up and make sure they know their job. Once everybody gets lined up and knows their job, then our defense will click as a whole."
Lathers, the Vols second-leading tackler in 2010 with 75, is making the adjustment along with the rest of the UT defense to the 3-4 scheme.
But it's a familiar one for the Baton Rouge, La., native.
"I love it," Lathers said. "I played in it in high school, and it gives you the chance to show a lot of different looks. It messes up the offensive line. They have to change their protection a lot of times when guys are walking up, so it helps us a lot."
BRAY FLASHES BRILLIANCEFor the second scrimmage in a row, junior quarterback Tyler Bray completed 13 passes, but this week it came on 23 attempts, after last week's effort on 32 attempts. The signal caller started off the day brilliant as he connected on his first seven passes of the game, in gaining 104 yards very quickly. He easily surpassed the century mark with a little help from familiar partners Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Mychal Rivera. Each caught two passes of Bray's first seven consecutive completions to start the scrimmage.
"We had a better scrimmage today. The tempo was a little better in the first half," said Bray, who threw for 180 yards including a 50-yard TD pass to Hunter.
After the great start, Bray's next five attempts all went incomplete, followed by six completions in a row, before finishing the day with five incompletions to finish the day. It was a streaky day to say the least.
"A little better day, but didn't execute well in the situations I didn't think," Dooley said. "We had a normal scrimmage where that was about two-thirds of the day and then the last third was end of the game situations. I told our team we need to watch football, we have guys that are sometimes it's third and one, third-and-10, first-and-10 and we have two plays to win the game and we just run plays. Tyler has to get better at that. That end of the game situation, the urgency - that play was incomplete and you have to go to the next one, get it moving. We need a little work in those areas."
Bray agreed with his coaches assessment of an uneven game, saying "we kind of got a little lackadaisical " in the second half, "but other than that, the first half was good."
Having Hunter back in action was a welcome sight, as Bray completed three passes to the receiver for 70 yards.
"His knee is fine. It's just all confidence and what the training staff will let him do," Bray said. "He can run, catch and do all the stuff he used to. It's just his whole mental outlook."
Having the tandem on the field creates issues for the defenses that benefits the Vols according to Bray.
"It helps," Bray said. "They can't just sit on Da'Rick's side and try to trap him all the time. They have to play both sides of the field."