Aug. 4, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee veterans completed their second full day of practice at Haslam Field on Saturday and head coach Derek Dooley likes what he sees so far.
"I'm really pleased with the way this team has approached these (first) two days," Dooley said. "They have a real workmanlike approach, a lot of leadership, a lot of chatter and have been really positive."
While the Vols have impressed early in camp, Dooley knows that won't mean much if they can't sustain that energy. UT will put shoulder pads on for the first time Sunday, which will be the first of many tests for the Big Orange over the next few weeks.
"I'm proud of them but, of course, the challenge is as you get deeper into camp something will be new," Dooley said. "We'll have shoulder pads on and they'll feel heavier, it will be hotter and how do we respond to that?
"The good news is that things are good as far as how we are working and how we are approaching (practice) but the test will come each day and that's when it gets tougher on the leadership. Overall, it's been a real good start and we're looking forward to putting pads on."
The veterans aren't the only ones practicing though as Dooley and his staff got their first look at all of the newcomers Friday night.
"Last night was good," Dooley said. "It was about like most of the freshmen practices, so their heads are spinning and they have no idea what we're talking about. The ones that go out and play fast and don't worry about all of that always look a little better. It was good."
DA'RICK PUMPED FOR PATTERSON
The Vols could have one of the most potent receiver corps in the nation with All-SEC receiver Da'Rick Rogers joined by junior Justin Hunter and JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Rogers and Hunter have been working out in the day sessions, while Patterson is taking to the field with the newcomers in the evening. The trio has yet to officially work on the practice field together, but Rogers is anticipating the day, which is slated to be Monday -- when the team practices as one.
"I can't wait until we come together because I really am excited to see what (Patterson) does against the first team," Rogers said. "I have seen him against the other guys and he looked really good."
Many media members and fans have come to the conclusion that Patterson is a combination of both Rogers and Hunter, creating a another weapon for Tyler Bray. Rogers agrees with the concept.
"I do see that," Rogers said about the top-rated JUCO prospect coming into the 2012 season. "He has all those things so we can put him in the slot, we can put him on the outside, we can use him in a lot of places."
Rogers has also been taken by Patterson's comprehension of the game, coupled with his physical gifts making him a huge asset for the Vols.
"Really just his knowledge of the game," Rogers said in terms of what he was most impressed about with Patterson. "His speed is really good. He is my size so he is a big receiver. He just adds to our core.
"When you have so many weapons you have to respect every weapons so it opens up so many opportunities for our offense, even in the run game."
3-4 SCHEME IM-PRESSES COLEMAN
Sophomore defensive back Justin Coleman is really excited for the upcoming season. Not only will he have a year of experience under his belt, but he will also be playing in new Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defensive scheme.
"I feel like Coach Sal's more aggressive defensive style fits me because I am a more physical guy," said the Brunswick, Ga., native. "I like to play press coverage and that will help out on the blitzes. I feel pretty confident with the new scheme. Everything is coming to me fairly easy, but there are still some challenging parts that come with understanding a new defense. That being said, I still have a lot to learn."
"In the 3-4 scheme, there is a little more information that the corners have to learn. We aren't really behind any other position, but there is just a lot to learn with stuff like where to line up so we can know we have the defense set up right."
The 5-10, 182-pounder is excited for practice to start. With many of the secondary positions being wide open, Coleman is especially looking forward to the position battles this August.
"There is a ton of competition with the defensive backs. Everybody wants to start and everybody wants to play especially in a packed stadium with thousands and thousands of people screaming."
O-LINE LOOKING FOR VERSATILITYThe first two days of practice have brought with them some change on the offensive line with James Stone working at center and Alex Bullard seeing action at tackle as the Vols look to increase their versatility up front.
Bullard, who started six games at guard and six at center last season, has embraced the challenge of playing yet another position.
"If somebody goes down I will probably be the person who they move and fill in the void," Bullard said. "I just have to work to know every position, tackle or center, and do that to the best of my ability."
Dooley sees the move with Bullard as adding value to his squad in terms of increased flexibility and depth all across the front five.
"He's a little bit like James (Stone) as far as his body type," Dooley said. "We've worked James at all three (positions) and we've worked Alex at center and guard. We're going to work him a little bit at tackle, which we have the last couple of days to see if he could be that guy. The more guys you have like that the better."
As a unit, Bullard and the rest of the offensive line are clearly confident in their abilities and want to prove their naysayers wrong.
"We are a lot older and we are more mature," Bullard said. "We have a chip on our shoulder. They say we were one of the worst offensive lines in the country last year and I disagree with that. Statistically we were one of the worst, but we have a chip on our shoulder and we have something to prove this year. We want to go out and do it."
COUCH STUDIES UP ON 3-4 DEFENSERedshirt junior Maurice Couch and his fellow defensive linemen have had their hands full learning the 3-4 defense this offseason and in practice.
The Orlando, Fla., native has been practicing mainly at nose tackle, the anchor position of the 3-4, and said working in the offseason with new UT strength and conditioning intern Nick Gentry, who starred in the interior defensive line of Alabama's 3-4 the past five seasons, has helped him adjust to the new defensive scheme.
"Working with Nick Gentry and Coach Mac, as a group we did really great in the offseason," Couch said. "A lot of us got stronger and faster. All over the board, we had a really good offseason."
That work has not gone unnoticed, with head coach Derek Dooley commenting on Couch's improvement after Saturday's practice.
"Mo is doing really well," Dooley said. "He really struggled when he first got here just even getting through practice so he has worked hard on his conditioning and is showing a lot of mental toughness giving effort. He has some good fast-twitch body fibers in there and just goes all out."
Studying game film of Alabama, the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins (teams that run the 3-4) has played a big role in the defensive line's learning process. Couch said the toughest thing about the 3-4 defense is its mental aspect - knowing gap assignments and making adjustments on the fly. Despite the challenge, he thinks the complexity of the scheme will benefit the Vols.
"You definitely get to see different adjustments, like as far as your opponents and what they're doing," he said. "It's just crazy. It's a very tough defensive scheme. At the end of it, for us it definitely will help our team win."
LANE LIKING NEW MENTORThere were many new additions to the coaching staff during the offseason, none as important to Marlin Lane as Jay Graham, the new running backs coach. Graham brings veteran leadership to the university that the running back corps can respect.
"It feels a lot different now because we have someone that we can look at now that played both here at Tennessee and at the next level," said Lane. "Learning from him has given us a head start [to the season]."
Graham was a letterwinner at Tennessee from 1993-96 who rushed for 2,609 yards during that time, seventh most in school history. In 1995, he rushed for 1,438 yards on 272 carries (second on the single-season list).
"He hasn't popped the game tapes in," Lane continued, "but he always says he has no idea what we are talking about when we ask him how many yards he ran. I know a little bit about him though."
Lane is happy with his new mentor, showing up to meetings early and leaving late only to head to the field and work on some plays.
"It feels natural [with Graham]" said Lane. "There are some ups-and-downs because we have more meeting times now than we had in the spring. We are getting to know a lot about each other. He stays on me though and we keep moving forward."