Aug. 16, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After spending nearly a week at Milligan College, Tennessee returned home to Rocky Top on Thursday, practicing under the lights at Haslam Field in preparation for Friday's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
The practice ended a long day for the Vols as they spent the morning moving into their fall housing accommodations as they get ready for school to start next week. Although that proved to be a distraction during the evening practice, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said it also provided a valuable lesson that will serve the team well in the long run.
"At Milligan we had no distractions, nothing going on," Dooley said. "The mental focus was as good as I've been around with our team and coaches. Of course now, we came back and they all had to move into fall housing so that was a big distracting element. We could start feeling the first day of school coming so we had a lot of mental mistakes out there.
"It was a good lesson for the team to clear their mind before practice and try to eliminate all that clutter. We have a big scrimmage tomorrow. It will be our last real big one and important for evaluations so I'm looking forward to it."
After a strong first scrimmage last week at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, the Big Orange is looking to fine tune its play in specific situations on Friday.
"We hope we keep improving in all areas, but tomorrow will be a lot more situational stuff instead of just running plays," Dooley said. "Learning how to manage the end of the game -- four-minute offense, four-minute defense, two-minute offense, two-minute defense - and making the critical plays at the critical times. It's stuff you don't work on a lot but it can be the difference in a game."
DOOLEY DEEMS MILLIGAN TRIP A SUCCESSReflecting on the team's trip to Milligan College on Thursday, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley could not have been more pleased.
The six-day trip to upper East Tennessee was clearly time well spent for the Vols who hope it will have a lasting impact throughout the season.
"If you look back at what we did that week, it's hard look at it and see what we could have done differently and that's rare for a move like that," Dooley said. "I'm not sure that there is anything we could have done differently that we feel could have made it better. I have no complaints with our team's approach, how they handled it and some of the benefits that came out of it. I think it was a real positive experience."
As a reward for his team's performance during the off-site training camp, Dooley sent his squad home a little early, cancelling the final practice on Wednesday evening at the last minute.
"[That decision] really wasn't made until about two o'clock yesterday," Dooley said. "I just felt that we had a great camp, it was a hard morning practice, they were pushing and there hadn't been one negative complaint and I know they were hurting. I just felt it was the right thing to do. They earned it and they probably needed it more than anything."
The gesture was one the team definitely appreciated.
"It was like third graders on the last day of school," sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "Everybody just freaked out and were jumping around. It was a good feeling, a great feeling. We came today to work and it was a great feeling. It was a long camp."
The original inspiration for the off-site training camp was based on an experience from Dooley's own youth, as he explained Thursday.
"We did it in high school," Dooley said. "We loaded up yellow hounds and drove six hours on a two-line highway to Jekyll Island, Georgia. I told the team that when I get back with my old high school buddies the first thing we talk about is Jekyll Island. I thought it helped us. We went 52-4 in four years and I thought that was a big reason for it. That and we had some good players.
"We did it every year for one week and it was miserable. It was different then. We had six guys in a room with two double beds and a sofa bed and we never washed our clothes. We never washed our uniforms, think about that. Staph infections going everywhere. Your pants after the last practice, you could stand them up. These guys have no idea."
A CHANGE DID FOWLKES GOODRedshirt senior Steven Fowlkes, like many of his other teammates has had to deal with change throughout his career. The now-defensive lineman originally came to Tennessee as a 6-5, 213 pound wide receiver.
Looking at him now you would never have known as the College Park, Ga. native added as much as 50 pounds to his tall frame for his final go around at Rocky Top.
"I have changed a lot," said Fowlkes. "I have put on a couple pounds. I have always been up and down. This is the first time my weight has been consistent. I am at about 265/270 right now. That is the key. My mind set has changed a lot too. When I first got here I was more of a finesse guy trying to get around guys. This year I feel like I am trying to get through them."
All-Area as wide receiver and defensive end in high school, Fowlkes' permanent move to defense didn't faze him as much as it could have. And after four full seasons at Tennessee he feels prepared heading into his final season.
"Camp is going good," said Fowlkes. "As a defense we are just trying to make the finishing touches. I feel right now I am at a good position where I am starting to get deep inside my playbook. I am starting to make plays. Coach Sal always talks about making more plays. Now that I understand the defense, understand where I am supposed to be, understand where I go, I can start making plays."
Fowlkes had a lot of time last season to build up his game. After some academic issues, Fowlkes didn't see any playing time on the field, but had the good fortune to go against the first team every day in practice as a member of the scout team. One of the best, according to Dooley.
"It was a bad situation but my mom and dad always said to me that bad things are going to come and good things are going to come," said Fowlkes. "I am just blessed. I appreciate my teammates being behind me and sticking with me. I feel like even though I sat out a lot, I also got a lot of chances to work against good tacklers like Ja'Wuan James and Dallas Thomas. So I feel like they helped me to get better. This year I feel like it is good competition every day. Hopefully I will be able to get into the game and make some changes to the defense."
Fowlkes is ready for the first game of the season against NC State in Atlanta on August 31 at the Georgia Dome.
"I have been through a lot but at the end of the day I am just happy to be here and happy to have a good role in this defense. I am ready to see how go out there and play ball."
DOUBLE-SIDED STONEUnlike baseball, left-handed players are not quite as coveted on the football field, especially at center.
After two seasons of snapping with his naturally dominant left hand, junior center James Stone has made a smooth transition to snapping with his right hand when the quarterback is under center.
"[Snapping with both hands] has been going pretty good," Stone said. "I haven't had that many mishaps with it and if [Bray is] under center, then I know I just give it to him with my right [hand] and if it's gun, then I'm looking in between my legs, so it's not really an issue. I feel more comfortable every day with it. I'm going to keep working with it and continue to get better and get reps at full speed in practice."
The Nashville native says he is getting more comfortable with every practice is prepared for the upcoming season which is less than 15 days away.
"I feel like the [extra work I put in this summer] is really paying off," Stone said. "It let me be able to get a base comfort level so I wouldn't just be going in like a freshman in there at full speed."
Looking ahead to Friday's team scrimmage, Stone is excited about the opportunity to show exactly how much both he and the entire offense have improved since last season.
"I feel like [tomorrow's scrimmage] is going to be a chance again for us to go out there again and establish our goals on offense and be able to establish them on a consistent basis," Stone said. "There's always competition between the offense and defense and that's going to continue on into tomorrow's scrimmage. I know something that [the defense] is going to be focusing on is stopping [the offense] so we just have to go out there and continue to do well no matter what."
An object of every offensive player's thoughts these days is their 6-6, 377-pound teammate across the line, junior defensive tackle Daniel McCullers.
"Going up against [McCullers] is a new experience for me," Stone said. "I've never been up against somebody that big. I feel like it's great work, because you really have to be technically sound when I'm going against somebody as big as McCullers. He has a difficult block but it's because he can move for his size, and then just his size itself. For how big he is, he's really quick."
MAGGITT GETS MIND RIGHTVols linebacker Curt Maggitt heads into Friday's scrimmage knowing how important the glorified practice will be. Just two weeks from when the Vols will be on the field at Neyland Stadium, they will be playing their first game of the 2012 season at the Georgia Dome.
"It is very important to us," said Maggitt. "Last scrimmage didn't go as well as we would have liked. This scrimmage we are coming out and trying to make a statement and get better."
Maggitt said its more than just execution of plays that will determine the team's success.
"It always gets back to the mindset," said Maggitt. "If you want to be in your right gap I feel like you will and you will make a play. Just coming out, wanting to do better and trying to do better. I feel like we will."
Just a sophomore, Maggitt has taken on a leadership role and has been charged with calling the plays as the MIKE linebacker at times with senior Herman Lathers as his mentor.
"I am making the calls more," said Maggitt. "Herman is always there to help me out if I made a call wrong on the field, I get to the sideline and he will talk to me about it. He is still there helping to lead us. Herman has helped me out a lot understanding it. Coach Staley and Coach Sal have helped me out a lot. I am understand the defense a lot more."
With fellow sophomore A.J. Johnson and Lathers at his sides, Maggitt has good feelings about the linebackers from the first-team and down the line.
"It is a lot better than last year," said Maggitt. "I feel like from 1s, 2s and 3s everybody is getting together, getting closer, competing, there is a lot of love for each other."