Aug. 3, 2011
KNOXVILLE - Following a season in which Tennessee played 26 total freshmen, third-most nationally in 2010, the dividends have been evident thus far in fall camp.
"What we have found is that we look a little bigger," head coach Derek Dooley said Wednesday after practice at Haslam Field. "We look a little stronger. We're in really good condition. There's been great carryover in how we practice and schemes. I feel like we're playing with a lot more physical toughness and we're not even in pads yet. That's a good thing.
"There's a lot of build-up. I can tell there's a lot of anticipation for tomorrow when we put the shoulder pads on and it starts getting a little more physical. I'm encouraged by two days but tomorrow we play real football."
While the Vols used a lot of freshman in 2010, UT's new crop of rookies took the field for the first time this fall Tuesday evening.
"I saw a lot of good-looking players," Dooley said. "Height, weight, speed and athleticism, just what I anticipated. That's why we signed them. I saw a good work ethic, but I also saw a real bunch of young guys whose heads were spinning with all of the stuff we were throwing at them. They were really fatigued and they weren't even in the heat. They're still freshmen."
Luckily for Tennessee, the program is well-trained and experienced on how to handle those `spinning heads.'
"The big thing you look for is how much they retain," Dooley said. "How much do they not make the same mistakes over and over? What is their level of intangibles? How tough they are, the effort they give and those kinds of things. We can't expect them to know what to do and I told them that. We just have to try to get a little bit each day."
PUT ME IN COACH
The Vols' offensive line features many versatile players. Whether its center/guard or guard/tackle, left side/right side, many of the players can play multiple positions that give Dooley many options. UT returns a lot of players with starting experience on the offensive line, but only upperclassman returnee in junior Dallas Thomas, who started all 13 games at left tackle. The other returnees (James Stone, Zach Fulton, JerQuari Schofield, and Ja'Wuan James) all started during 2010 as freshmen.
"It doesn't hurt to have a good seven where you could throw a guy in for 15 or 20 snaps to spell somebody," Dooley said. "Continuity is a lot more important on the offensive line than anywhere else. They have to work together with calls and they block together."
Stone, who is penciled in as the starting center heading into camp, started at left guard three times before moving to the middle for the final five games of 2010. The Nashville native earned FWAA and Sporting News' Freshman All-America honors.
Stone insisted he has no preference between the two.
"I will play whichever one coach (Harry) Hiestand feels he wants me to play."
Along with the four returning sophomores, the Vols add second-year offensive lineman Alex Bullard, who came to Knoxville last spring after starting his career at Notre Dame.
"Both of us (Stone) have been working hard," said Bullard, who played both tackle and guard with the Irish. "He's new snapping with his right hand, I'm new snapping and playing. We are working together, James and I are really good friends. We are from the same area (Nashville), we are buddies and really help each other out."
On playing either any of the line spots, center, tackle or guard, Bullard displayed his team mentality.
"I'm going to do what the coaches ask me to do to the best of my ability. My job is to help this team win an SEC Championship and I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do. I have been moved around positions all my life, its not new (to me)."
"We have a lot of chemistry with four of us coming back," said Fulton, who played 12 games and started five at right guard as a freshman in 2010. "We are still trying to find a left guard and a center."
ROGERS, HUNTER READY TO TAKE ON LEADERSHIP ROLE
The graduation of UT's top three pass-catchers from last season - Denarius Moore, Gerald Jones and Luke Stocker - left a leadership void on the outside, but sophomore wide receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter have been quick to step in fill the gap.
Having gone through the same scenario as freshmen last season, Rogers (11 catches, 167 yards, 2 TD) and Hunter (16 catches, 415 yards, 7 TD) are able to shepherd freshman wideouts Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett along, providing them pointers on lessening the learning curve during their rookie campaigns. First and foremost, Rogers says, is learning the playbook.
"Vincent and DeAnthony were here all summer and look really good," Rogers said. "They are showing a lot of promise for us. (Justin and I) tell them so much about the playbook. We say this is how you have to learn it. It's a different world out here. I tell them to study, study, study. You want to know the playbook and be able to play fast. If you come out and don't know what you are doing, you don't play as fast and that's when bad things happen. That was definitely (the key for me last season).
"Everybody wants to try to go to that next level. I feel like as young guys, we aren't giving our seniors our all if we aren't buckling down and getting serious. It's little things like sitting in the front row at special teams meetings. As freshmen you could get away with sitting in the back, but now we have to step up because we are leaders now."
VERSATILE MILLER BRACES FOR ANY ROLE
Sophomore defensive lineman Corey Miller, who saw playing time on both the interior and exterior of the defensive line as a freshman in 2010, is slated as Malik Jackson's backup at defensive tackle. However, Miller is prepared to play at whatever position is needed.
"Playing last year in different positions will help me going forward," Miller said. "I want to be as versatile as I can. I want to be able to help my team in any situation wherever they need me."
Football single game tickets go on sale Monday, August 8 at 8:30 am via UTTix.com or by calling the Ticket Office at 865/656-1200.