July 19, 2012
HEAD COACH Derek Dooley
"Appreciate you guys coming. As if these three days weren't painful enough, we added a couple more of us to put a little hot air into it. Third year, third Media Day. I told some of the guys earlier that I feel better today about where we are as a program than at any point since I've been in Knoxville, and I mean that. And probably the number one reason for that is for the first time we have a settled roster. Our roster's in place. We have a full 85 on scholarship, we have 19 starters back, so we have a lot of experience. I think a microcosm of what we've been through, where we were, where we are now, you look at the offensive line. Two years ago when I was standing here, we were going into a season with a combined three starts, and now we're going in with a combined 106. You look at the quarterback position. We went in with a group that hadn't played one SEC game. Now we got a group that's played in 20. So that level of experience really gives you a lot of hope.
"We're certainly deeper than we've been. It's so important to be deep and talented because you can't allow an injury or two that happens to every team decimates your season. We're certainly more talented in many ways. Actually getting talked about in some of the all SEC pre-season stuff. But probably the biggest thing is the maturity level of the team. I've really been proud of the work that these guys have put in from a team chemistry, from a leadership standpoint, just a lot more emotional maturity than we've had. So this group has been fun to be around. It's been a tough four years in Tennessee. I know, of course, the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times. But there's a nice mood on our team right now that you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore. So I'm excited about the season and I feel like we got a team that can go toe-to-toe for four quarters with all the teams in our league. It certainly doesn't mean we've arrived, it certainly doesn't mean we're where we want to be at every position.
"I made the statement to our local media, it's kind of that song, A little less conversation and a little more action, so we have to go out and prove it, and that's what we intend to do this year."
(on one of the things that most looking to improve on from last season)
"Well, we need to improve on just about everything, because we really weren't good at anything. Certainly on offense, it starts with the run game. We have absolutely no chance to compete for an SEC title if we run it the way we ran it last year. Put a big commitment in the spring on improving that area. I think on defense, of course, I felt like we needed to be a lot more aggressive to impact the game in a positive way. We had some respectable statistics in some areas, but I never felt like we impacted the game from a negative play standpoint, from a turnover standpoint, from a sack standpoint. We're going to try to be a little more aggressive on defense. Got to run the ball better on offense. We have to play well across the board on the other areas, too. But those have been the two big points of emphasis."
(on Tiny Richardson being put in a position of enormous responsibility on the O-line and what areas he progressed quickest and where would you like to see him put in some more improvement between now and September)
"Well, what set Antonio back was he was hurt last year. He came in last season where we felt like he was going to be able to help us was a true freshman, he missed the first six weeks. It's very difficult on the offensive line to make up that ground that he lost. But he came in this spring and was further along than I anticipated from a knowledge standpoint, from a dependability standpoint.
"What Tiny brings is he has incredible energy. He just walks in that huddle and energizes the place. He has great leadership capabilities. So his presence is not only felt in his abilities to block, but it's also felt in the huddle. So he's been a good addition for me. He certainly has a long way to go. He hasn't been out in the fire. He hasn't been sitting there on third and eight and have one of the top pass-rushers in college football coming at him. He's going to have some growing pains. He's not the first freshman we played. We played 32 true freshmen the last two years, so he's a wily veteran as a sophomore."
(on losing Bray last season with injury)
"Well, I think the cumulative effect -- we lost Herman Lathers before the season, then we lost Justin the third game of the season, Justin Hunter, then we lost Tyler the fifth game of the season. Those were three of our most I guess talented, publicized players. I think it had a bad impact on us. Our spirit was broken. You know what, as the head coach, that was my responsibility. I probably didn't do as good a job as I needed to do keeping that together. I think the important thing is you get a deep and talented football team to where you don't lose a guy or two and it decimates your season.
"We had some good teams in our league that lost great players and they didn't skip a beat. That's what you're going to have to do in this league, because you're going to have injuries. Did it affect us? Absolutely. Did it affect us a little more than it probably should have? I think that's fair to say."
(on Jay Graham joining the coaching staff:)
"When I looked at Jay, the better question is, Why wouldn't you want him? First of all, he's a Vol. Has an incredible history as a runner. One of the best of all time in Tennessee. You watch what he did at South Carolina for Coach Spurrier. He did a great job recruiting. He did a great job of developing a young back. Then when you meet him, just an incredible man. Great character, integrity, fun to be around, good energy. So he's been a welcomed addition to the staff."
(on playing in the Chik-fil-A Kick-Off Classic:)
"The first game. Well, it's why you come to Tennessee. You want to play in these kind of games. It's a great way to kick off the season. We're playing an opponent that's picked to win the ACC by a lot of publications. So it's going to be a good early measure for our football team to see how much improvement we made in the last seven months. So it's going to be a fun thing. I'm looking forward to it. That's why you come to Tennessee, to play in those kind of games."
(on Herman Lathers' leadership:)
"Herman is such a great presence for our football team for a lot of reasons. Obviously he has a great story. When he was younger, the cancer he fought and went through. Then he gets what he thinks is his senior year ruined last year by getting hurt. But not just overcoming those injuries, it's the level of commitment that he showed to be the best player he could be, and also be a great team leader. He's extremely committed to having a great season, but also this team to have a great season. That has permeated throughout the team. I think guys like Herman, they have an ability to affect others and create more leadership on the team. We're glad to have him. I hope he stays healthy for us. I'm looking forward to having him have a big year."
(on Bray and receivers carrying the offense early:)
"Let me address that a couple ways. First the receiving core. It's getting a lot of publicity. That's a good thing. Means we have some talent there. We really only have one guy that's gone through 12 games and been productive in the league. So we have a lot to prove. Justin flashing great things for us, but he only played three games. All the other guys are new. We have some ability, but we haven't really proven we can do it. That's what we are set out to do.
"As far as whether the pass sets up the run, the run sets up the pass, it really doesn't matter. What matters is you're able to do both when you wanted to do both. Everybody does it differently. We have to figure out what works for us."
(on coach Gene Stallings being against a postseason playoff and opinions on how that should be structured:)
"It's interesting you say that because he was pushing a plus-one 20 years ago. We don't call it a plus-one, but it's one more game. I think it has taken all the good things that we've done with the BCS, and there's been some great things. It gets beat on, but there's been some matchups that we never would have seen the last 15 years. Done that extra step to really polish up some of the challenges we've been facing.
"I commend the leadership of our conferences, the BCS, to making that step. So I think it's going to be a healthy thing for college football. Of course, the biggest thing I always worry about, because I grew up in this league, is the fans. It makes it at little more challenging. If you're a Tennessee fan, any of the other fans, you got the SEC game, the semi, the national, that's your biggest concern. With all this expansion stuff, everything that's going on, how do we help the fans, you know. I mean, there's a lot of talk about the nine-game deal, which I've been for because, again, that familiarity, the fans. We don't want to lose what made this game special, we don't want to lose what makes this league special."
(On Bray's improvement on and off the field during the offseason:)
"I think just his investment in being good off the field. A lot of things go into that. It's how you work when you come to the facility, whether it's how you're training in the weight room, going out there and throwing with the wideouts, the film study you're doing by yourself. It's also your leadership when you're here. How much are you affecting the other guys on the team to put in the kind of work you're putting in.
"I think that was something Tyler wasn't real comfortable with as a young player, of getting the other guys and making a difference in their lives.
Of course, the third thing is sort of a lifestyle change. You have to live as the quarterback at Tennessee. If your lifestyle is not reflecting that, then it's going to be hard to go out and perform to your best. I've seen a real change in his maturity level. I'm hoping he continues on that path and I'm hoping it will net him some big results this fall."
(on new receiver Drae Bowles:)
"We don't know. A lot of these freshmen, we haven't had a chance to get down there and put our hands on them, see them move, watch what their strengths are, what they don't bring. Drae has a lot of ability, good character, good size and speed. We'll see where he fits in. So we're not sure right now. Appreciate you guys."
QUARTERBACK Tyler Bray
(On what he did during the offseason to improve himself as a quarterback)
"Just going back to basic fundamentals. Sometimes I kind of lacked on my fundamentals when the game started, so just getting back to the fundamentals. Working on my footwork, working on my reads and progressions."
(On embracing the lifestyle of a quarterback)
"If you watch Peyton (Manning), he's very fundamental. He's going to throw the same way every time. I just try to be like that."
(On if he picked up anything specific at the Manning Camp)
"Just trying to make every throw the same. It's not always going to be the same, but if you do a five-step set up and throw, try to make it look the same every time. Repetition."
(On bringing Tennessee back to a top contender in the SEC)
"We haven't had the seasons Tennessee's had in the past, but we're going to try to change that. We have great leadership this year and a good offense and a good defense."
(On his thoughts on the last two seasons)
"It's been really hard. My freshman year, I didn't quite know what to think. I was just coming in trying to learn the offense and at least trying to get a few snaps. I finally got to start and played the rest of the season, and I was a little shocked about that. Last year when I broke the thumb, I had never had an injury I had to sit out a game for, so I wasn't really pleased with that. I'm just trying to get back this year and show the nation not only what I can do, but what the University of Tennessee can do."
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN Ja'Wuan James
(On if the team feels the frustration of having not been at the level that Tennessee used to be at)
"It definitely was a lot of frustration especially after the loss to Kentucky. We all just came together as players and as a group and just talked about it and said, `We're on a mission this year to bring Tennessee back to what it used to be.' We left it at that, and we've just been working all offseason just so we can do that."
(On if the team is looking forward to the mid-camp trip to Maryville College)
"It's going to be an experience. It's team bonding. We keep saying it's going to be like Remember the Titans or something, and we're going to run to Gettysburg or something like that. I think it's going to be fun just to be out there together, away from school, away from Knoxville, away from everything just to get away and just to do ball."
(On the offensive line having grown up together and what it will be able to accomplish this year)
"It definitely has helped a lot. We've all been through it together. We've been through the fire together. We've all seen the ups and downs. It's great to know that the person next to you to your right or to your left has been through it, and they have your back. It makes your job a lot easier because you can play with more confidence and play more relaxed and just do what you know you're capable of."
(On if he is excited about the pressure for the offense to be good this season)
"I like it. Everybody's putting it on us as an offense. It's my third year going into it. It's the third year for a lot of guys on the offensive line, and collectively as a group, we like it to be on our shoulders instead of anything else. I feel like our offense can do anything. We have running backs. We have receivers. We have a lot of skill guys. Our offensive line has a lot of depth now and a lot of experience. I feel like we'll be great."
LINEBACKER Herman Lathers
(On returning from injury)
"It feels good. It feels like I haven't played in almost two years. I'm looking forward to it. I put in a lot of work in my training and my rehabilitation to get back to where I was two years ago. I'm looking forward to playing this season."
(On his expectations for the defense this year)
"Our new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, he brings a lot to the table coming from a program that just won the national championship and a top-ranked defense. The guy knows how to win and his scheme is proven and it's going to work for us if we just buy in. His scheme helps with our personnel, so it should help a lot."
(On coming back from all of the medical hardships he has been through)
"Definitely I've had a lot of disappoints throughout my lifetime and a lot of injuries, overcoming bone cancer and I've had five or six surgeries since I've been here. It's been a lot. It's been overwhelming. I've had a brother who's stood by me through it all. I'm glad to call him my brother. He's been there no matter what the injury was, no matter what time of day it was, I could call upon him. He's helped me get where I am today. With the bone cancer, I didn't even start playing ball until 10th grade. I didn't really know much, and my brother paid for a lot of camps. I have to thank for where I am today here at the University of Tennessee. It's been a lot. I'm mature enough to handle it. I know how it feels to be disappointed and hurt. I know how to handle it. I can share my story with a lot of people and help those guys out."
(On if there are any newcomers that stand out)
"Howard. He's a real small, fast guy. He has deceptive speed. He's fast, quick. Cornell Patterson came in about a week or two ago. I've built a real good relationship with him so far. He's a guy that wants to work, wants to win, and wants to do whatever it takes to put Tennessee back on the map. We have a lot of players that are really good that are going to really help us early this fall, and we're looking forward to it."