Aug. 16, 2011
KNOXVILLE - Tennessee practiced Tuesday morning in its first session of the day. While the Vols won't have to get used to two-a-days, they can get comfortable with seeing Haslam Field at 9 a.m. It's something they'll be doing from here through season's end.
"It helps the coaches with their game-planning," head coach Derek Dooley said about the adjustment to the practice schedule. "It gives them that full day on Monday. It cleans up the game for the players on Sunday. You don't have to wake up Monday and still revisit Saturday. I think it's going to help the players manage their weeks better. They're going to get in bed earlier. They're going to eat better. They won't be oversleeping for class because they have practice. I just feel like it will be a better routine for everybody."
While it may be a better routine, it will be an adjustment that will take getting used to.
"I'm really more nervous about what we hadn't thought of," Dooley said. "I feel pretty good about the schedule. We have to get in a little rhythm of game-planning as coaches because this will be new for our game-planning. That's what I'm a little concerned about. Going through the weeks last year, you have this routine when you're watching third down, when you're doing red area or whatever it is. We just have to get in that rhythm. The other tricky one is the open dates and how we're going to manage those. Those will be a little different, but I feel pretty good about the schedule."
As for just the second practice of fall camp, the team was still working through that adjustment mentally.
"We have this sign," Dooley said. "I don't know if you've all seen it. `Relentless pursuit of continuous improvement.' That's our sign. That's what we stand for. I told the players there's not a parenthesis under it that says, `When I feel like it,' unless somebody wrote it this morning. That was about the mentality today. `I don't feel like it so I'm not going to do it.' It was not the start that we needed mentally. We are a very immature team when it comes to working. We have to learn that nobody really cares how you feel. When you're in the fourth quarter and you're tired and hurting, the 102,000 that paid money to come see you don't really care how you feel, nor does the guy lining up next to you. The only way to be able to perform in those circumstances is when you don't feel good, you have to overcome it mentally. We're still working on that."
The Vols will take the practice field again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday evening in their final two-a-day of the preseason.
With freshmen Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson emerging as apparent starters at the outside linebacker positions, senior linebacker Austin Johnson seems to be settling in the middle after floating around this past spring.
"We think he has better production at mike (linebacker)," Dooley said. "We also feel like he has the best command for the defense for the calls. He has senior leadership. That's kind of what you want out of your mike linebackers. But when Herman (Lathers) went down and before the freshmen got here, John (Propst) is a good, adequate mike backup and we didn't have enough guys at Will (linebacker). It kind of forced us to move Austin out. Hopefully, these two freshmen will continue to perform the way they have been performing and if they do, we can keep Austin in the middle."
Johnson recorded 44 tackles as a junior after spending his first two seasons at UT as a fullback. The Hickory, N.C., native was among UT's top three tacklers in five games last year.
The Vols return three wideouts that played steady roles in the receiving game last season in sophomores Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers along with junior Zach Rogers. Another returning receiver, sophomore Matt Milton, is gaining a lot of preseason attention. The converted high school quarterback has impressed early on in camp. During the team's second scrimmage, he was among the team leaders with four catches for 63 yards including an 18-yard TD reception.
"With them gone, there is a good amount of pressure on us," said Milton, who saw action in four games as a true freshman in 2010. "You have to make plays now and you have to know what you are doing. It helped me out with them leaving and opening up (a spot) for me." In trying to gain his own playing time, Milton is now being pressed by a pair of freshmen in DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas.
"Some people approach it as competition," Milton said. "I approach it as trying to help them (the freshmen) out. I know the offense now and they don't. They have a lot of ability. I approach it that I have to go do my job to help them get better. I think that helps them a lot."
Milton says he has made great strides in his second full season with the Vols.
"I have had to learn how to play a lot faster," Milton said. "Trying to learn the offense (last year), I would find myself cruising and thinking while I'm running. I was just all about speed, running my routes faster, getting to the line faster. Zach (Rogers) has really helped me with that. Zach has helped me learn a lot."
Da'Rick Rogers knows how important Milton can be to the receiving corp.
"Matt is a big guy," said the fellow sophomore. "He's a big fast guy. Runs a 4.4 (in the) 40 with laser time. He can jump well. He's really coming on, worked on route-running all summer long. He's really doing it right."
PALARDY FEELING POWERFUL
After battling through an injury-plagued freshman season, sophomore kicker Michael Palardy feels healthy and poised for a strong 2011 campaign.
"It was pretty difficult to overcome my groin injury last season, but this year I am a lot healthier," Palardy said. "It's good to know that you are 100 percent. It's a good feeling. It's definitely brought a lot of confidence to my game which is what I needed and didn't have last year.
That confidence was on full display in last Saturday's scrimmage as Palardy nailed all four of his field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder. As strong as he looked in that area, however, Palardy has been even more pleased with another area of his expertise: kickoffs.
"Kickoffs are really what hurt me last year. My groin (injury) didn't let me get a lot of power on it. I've added another five, six, seven yards on my kickoffs. That puts me from the two-yard line inside the goal line two-deep, three-deep consistently."
The Vols' pair of junior college transfers in the secondary are getting more comfortable with the style play in practice at the FBS level. Both Izauea Lanier and Byron Moore are competing to gain playing time in their first years in Knoxville. Lanier was a JUCO All-American at East Mississippi C.C., last season while Moore was the defensive player of the year in his conference at Los Angeles Harbor C.C.
"The speed of the game is the biggest difference from junior college," said Moore, who spent his true freshman season at USC, where he redshirted. "I was at USC before, I knew what to expect. Now, its just getting my legs back under me after having a year off at JUCO."
"I feel I can play on this level," Lanier said. "I'm starting to get everything down. Things are starting to settle in."
Moore has used his previous time with the Trojans to help with his acclimation with the Vols.
"It helped out a lot, knowing what to look for. It was a lot easier the second time around."