Aug. 13, 2012
MILLIGAN COLLEGE, Tenn. - When Tennessee hit the practice field at Milligan College for the first time on Monday, head coach Derek Dooley was looking for a different kind of leadership than he has been getting out of his squad.
Although the Vols have clearly become a tightly-knit unit, thanks in part to a variety of team-bonding activities including a hike to the top of Mt. LeConte and whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River over the summer and a karaoke session on Sunday night, that is only one part of the equation.
Now, Dooley wants that unity to carry over to the gridiron as the initial excitement for the start of training camp has slowly waned and the soreness from Saturday's scrimmage has quickly sunk in.
"This is when leadership starts getting tested," Dooley said. "We have great team chemistry, a lot of good camaraderie going on, but we don't need leadership when it is open mic night and we're up there singing and rapping. We need leadership when it hurts and some guys are struggling.
"Part of that is when you are struggling and you need a little leadership to talk to your buddy and have him help pull you through. It is continuing to try to coach and teach how to pull our way through together."
One of Dooley's primary focuses throughout training camp has been on teaching the players how to be comfortable when they are uncomfortable. Those lessons are starting to come into play as the days until the first game continue to wind down.
"Learning how to control your mind to refuse to go out there and have a bad practice is very important," Dooley said. "That's what we are doing. We are trying to learn how to be comfortable in a real uncomfortable setting.
"There are so many games out there where you get in a real uncomfortable situation and if you don't train your mind to learn how to overcome it when you do get uncomfortable then you will never be able to play your way out of it. That's what we are really working on right now."
SUNDAY: DAY OF REST (AND KARAOKE)
Sunday marked the first day off for the Vols since fall camp started on August 3. The team was treated to a little rest, some film breakdown ... and karaoke.
Ja'Wuan James was pleased with the day off, but felt as though it went by a little too fast.
"Yesterday we walked through the things that we messed up on in the scrimmage," said James. "The guys that messed up walked through the plays they messed up on or went to the wrong people on. And there was just a bunch of meetings about the scrimmage."
It was the night time entertainment that had the team talking.
James believes that the coaches have done a great job of letting the team relax at night during the meetings with some lighthearted activities.
"They let us do talent shows with the freshmen," said James, "the night before we played a `Name that Vol' trivia night and last night we had karaoke."
As to not completely embarrass their athletes, the coaches proposed face-offs between different units. The O-line took on the D-line, the linebackers faced off against the running backs, etc.
James was unsure of what each team sang but his recollection emitted laughs from the media.
"We sang I will survive," said James. "The D Line got MC Hammer, I Like Big Butts."
After being told that Baby Got Back was indeed rapped by Sir Mix-A-Lot, James just laughed and proclaimed victory for his defensive counterpart.
Devrin Young was a part of the running back corps that took on the linebackers in a good-old-fashioned dance off.
"Every position had something to do," said Young. "The running backs, we did a dance competition against the linebackers, so that was Rajion [Neal] and A.J. [Johnson] all day."
COULD COUCH END UP AT END?
Junior Maurice Couch has played various spots on the Vols' defensive line in his short stay in Knoxville after transferring from Garden City Community College prior to the 2011 season. With the Vols' adjustment from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under Sal Sunseri this season, Couch was slotted as a defensive tackle on the pre-camp depth chart. Now, Couch is also working as a defensive end.
"This is a week where we can keep moving guys around for a lot of reasons, either evaluation purposes or contingency plans," said Dooley. "Mo (Couch) we put in the five-technique and Dan Hood we put back at nose, so we'll see how he does there."
Couch, who started four games at nose tackle last season, is trying to pick up the end position.
"I got moved to end on Friday," said Couch, who sees pluses and minuses to the move. "You are not going have to worry about three guys crashing down on you. It feels kind of awkward because you have more freedom and you are always used to someone crashing down on you. That is something I have to adjust to because I tend to make mistakes because I am worried about someone hitting me from the side."
With a 6-2, 299-pound frame, Couch gives Dooley plenty of options on the defensive line.
"He has a body type that has a lot of flexibility," said Dooley. "He can play nose, he can play three-technique and he can play five. He's not a tall guy so he doesn't have the range but he has a lot of good quick-twitch and power which allows him to play a lot of positions."
YOUNG AND IMPROVING
Although pleased with his own and his teammates work with the time they've spent at Milligan College, sophomore tailback Devrin Young says he is still striving to improve. After watching Saturday's scrimmage film, Young pinpointed some improvements that need to be made.
"It looked really good on tape," Young said. "Obviously there were a few things that we messed up on here and there, but every day we're striving for perfection. This last scrimmage, everybody showed that they could play. I feel like I played my role pretty well [at the scrimmage] - I ran a little bit, caught a little bit, did a little bit of special teams, so it looked like a pretty live game out there for me."
"I need to work on my whole game," Young said. "But my biggest thing is my pass protection. Obviously I'm a smaller back, so I need to be more sound technique wise. [Pass protection] is one of the most important parts of the game, especially for a running back, so we work that every day as well."
Coming into this fall's season, the Knoxville native is optimistic after his first season as a Vol.
"I feel like it's safe to say we've made strides compared to last year," he said. "Rajion [Neal] did good, Tom [Smith] did good, Quenshaun [Watson], Marlin [Lane], everybody did good. We're very productive in the backfield."
Young spoke well of his teammates on the wide receiving end, not worried at all for the passing game.
"You don't want to be one-sided out there, you want to be able to run as much as throw. Obviously, we have enough talent on the wide receiving stance, so defense is going to be anticipating that especially with how the running game has been in the past, but we're really going to work on balancing it like we did during spring."
GORDON LOOKS TO SHINE AT STARA number of players have changed positions with Tennessee's switch to a new defensive scheme, but few have fit more naturally than Eric Gordon at the STAR position, UT's variation of the nickel.
"I love the physical style of playing the star position," Gordon said. "It is a very versatile position, filing in the run, covering for some guys, so I feel like it fits me perfectly. I've been playing for that for a while now, so it's a comfortable fit for me."
Gordon has always had the ability to make game-changing plays, as evidenced by his game-winning interception in overtime against Vanderbilt last season, but has had trouble balancing the risk of going for those plays against playing his assignment.
"I've had a few picks, but I feel like I need to lock down on my technique a little better," Gordon said. "The [coaches] want me to know when to take the risk is the biggest thing. Knowing when I can do stuff, like when I can jump across, but other than that, they want me in line."
Head coach Derek Dooley agreed with Gordon's assessment of his performance to this point in training camp.
"Eric is doing good playing that Star spot," Dooley said. "He's on all of our special teams. He's the same guy, he is active, he is disruptive and he makes plays. Of course, his challenge is consistency. I think [this defense] is going to maybe help him create a little more disruptiveness against the offense."
BYNUM UNDERGOES SURGERY
Freshman linebacker Kenny Bynum underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Dr. Greg Mathien performed the surgery at UT Medical Center. Bynum is expected to miss the 2012 season and return in January for winter conditioning drills.