Aug. 20, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee wrapped up its final full practice of training camp on Monday but the end of one chapter is only the beginning of another as classes start on Wednesday.
After a mock game walkthrough Tuesday night, the Vols will return to the classroom for the start of fall session the next day. When they reconvene as a team Thursday morning, the Orange and White will turn its sole focus on the field to North Carolina State, something everyone is looking forward to.
"(The dynamic) will change come Wednesday when classes start, of course," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "We have to get prepared for all of that. I think this is a good time for classes to start. You don't want it on your game week and you don't want it too early in camp. We'll always go through a couple of days of issues there. Other than that, I think they are just ready to play somebody."
With training camp nearing completion, junior tailback Rajion Neal deemed it a success.
"A lot of guys had a big chip on their shoulder," Neal said. "Nobody is dwelling on the past, but we all still had in the back of our minds how last season ended. A lot of guys came out ready to play. We had a great sense of urgency to be out there and want to learn and want to get this turned around quickly."
Although it was a long grind, Neal said the head coach's mentality made training camp easier to get through.
"You just embrace it because Dooley does," Neal said. "He never lets you forget that one day this will come to end. Like always, you will wish you had one more day. He tries to keep it fun, not so predictable, but we're just embracing it. We're out there ready to work. We have a lot that we want to do and accomplish this year."
In addition to returning to the practice field on Thursday, the Vols will also release the first depth chart since the spring that day, although it will be subject to quite a bit of change over the upcoming weeks.
"I don't think a lot of these positions will get settled until deep into the season, especially defensive line and secondary because we don't really know who is going to be productive on gameday," Dooley said. "All we can do is suspect. We'll set a starting lineup based on what we suspect but ultimately they have to go out there and prove it. If they do, they'll get settled in and if they don't, we'll put the other guy in."
A CHANGE IS GONNA COMEThe Tennessee sports staff and media were treated to some music today during the open practice period. There was some Lynyrd Skynyrd, your typical southern rap and one surprise.
The unexpected song began during the stretching period. Its name, `A Change Is Gonna Come', by Sam Cooke.
The song has been dubbed the unofficial song of the team this season and was brought to light by redshirt senior Herman Lathers.
"The song is to remind the guys that we are not going back to the way things used to be," said Lathers. "There is going to be a change this year and we're putting Tennessee back where Tennessee needs to be."
Lathers, who has had to make many big changes in his life through his career as a Vol, uses the song as a pseudo crutch when he is down.
"I always listen to it," said Lathers. "It is what I listen to on some of my down moments and some of my injuries. It always brings me back to spirits. I know it helps our guys out and through the offseason to work harder and train hard. It is a great song for us and we are going to play it a lot more."
Lathers has trained as hard as anyone in the offseason to recover from an ankle injury suffered last year. His competitive nature has made it hard for the defensive leader to watch from the sidelines but he feels he has grown after holding a spectator role last season.
"I think I just had a different outlook on things now," said Lathers. "The way things go, the energy on the sideline, the energy when some guys aren't in, when our playmakers aren't in. My job is just to keep the energy, keep the flow of the game going nice and smooth and just make calls and make sure guys are learning what they need to learn in case of injury. My job is to get guys prepared just as well as the coaches. It is a big role but I am ready to take it."
Lathers has given the blessing by his coaches to make calls and checks on the fly, simply because he knows what he is talking about. And when he is on the field, you better believe his teammates know it.
"My presence out there with them is enough for those guys," said Lathers, "so that means a lot to them and I am grateful to be out there. I feel like my team needs me."
NEAL CONTINUES TO GROWWith the final practice of training camp in the books, and the Vols starting to focus on NC State, tailback Rajion Neal has emerged as a leader in the backfield. After seeing time as a back and a receiver over the last two years, Neal has zeroed in on his role as one of the Vols' top runners.
"Just over time, just knowing what to expect," said Neal. "Standing under these coaches, just growing up. It's been fun, but being physical, watching film, standing up under these coaches as much as I can. Just becoming a student of the game more."
Neal ran for just 134 yards as a sophomore, in 11 games. He ran for that exact amount in the Vols' first scrimmage in training camp and added 47 more in the second scrimmage for a total of 181 yards on the ground in two outings. He continues to gain experience that comes with time.
"Just getting older. We kind of start to sew things up a little easier, you've been around, you know what to expect. Everything is kind of a little easy, it's coming to you. That's the big thing I notice. I'm just happy to be back."
Neal is competing with Devrin Young and Marlin Lane for the starting position, but knows that all three will see time taking handoffs.
"The competition between the backs is real competitive," said Neal. "It's still friendly but on the field we really compete and get after it. We try to do whatever it's going to take for us to get this running game started and open up the lanes for passing."
A major difference for the backs has been the addition of Vols legendary tailback Jay Graham as the team's mentor in the backfield.
"Coach Graham is a guy that played a position so he kind of knows what to expect," said Neal. "He knows what it takes to have a successful running game and produce a good back. It was hard, but it was what we needed and we enjoyed it. Just from him being a guy that played the position."
THE EARLY SCOUTING REPORT
With the season opener vs. NC State 11 days away, the Vols are focusing in on the Wolfpack and have starting watching film of a team that was ranked No. 25 by Sports Illustrated in its College Football Preview magazine. Here's a look at what some of the Vols have seen early on from Tom O'Brien's team.
Sophomore TB Devrin Young
"We have already started (watching) as far as their blitz scheme and where their strengths and weaknesses are. We have been on it for a couple days now. They are strong on the secondary. They are kind of young at the linebacker corps. They have a pretty good defensive line. They have their strengths and weaknesses and we are going to try and manipulate that and just win a ball game."
Junior TB Rajion Neal
"Their secondary is really nice. That's going to be exciting to see our receivers go against them. They had some great backers last year, but a lot of those guys are gone. They look like a real good, solid team."
Sophomore DB Brian Randolph
"I have seen that they have a lot of checks and a lot of motion. So for our defense, we need to get our checks down. [NC State] seems very disciplined, especially with penalties like off sides and stuff like that. They're pretty clean and smooth, so you have to be able to prepare for that."
Junior DL Corey Miller
"(NC State) is talented offensively from what I can see. We will have to prepare ourselves in order to be ready."
Junior DB Byron Moore
"Last week we started to look at some of (NC State's tape). They are a lot of motion, and shifts kind of team. They are going to do a lot of moving to get us thinking a lot. We just have to go in there knowing our assignments and just play fast lining up correctly."