Aug. 27, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Vols moved practice indoors and cranked up the noise on Monday as they tried their best to replicate the environment they will face this Friday when they line up across from NC State in the Georgia Dome.
In addition to preparing for the exciting atmosphere, Tennessee has upped the intensity in practice because it also knows it will be going up against a talented team when it hits the gridiron for the first time this season.
After getting the day off to rest and recover on Saturday, the Vols began installing the game plan for the Wolfpack on Sunday before their indoor practice on Monday. With just three days of work left, UT will spend the rest of its time fine-tuning everything before heading south on I-75.
"We just finished two tough practices to get them back into it and we'll try to polish it up these next couple of days before we head down to Atlanta," UT head coach Derek Dooley said.
Friday's game will end nearly nine months of anticipation for the Vols as they have looked forward to the opportunity to prove themselves on the field since the moment last season ended.
"We have been watching film on [NC State] all offseason," junior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said. "It felt good to get out here and work against the scout team, but they are going to give us a lot of blitzes and we just have to be ready."
Front and center on everyone's mind going into Friday's contest is NC State cornerback David Amerson, who led the NCAA with 13 interceptions a year ago.
"He is long, athletic and instinctive with a play-making attitude," Dooley said. "He's as good as there is out there at corner. It starts with height, weight, speed and position skills, which he obviously has, but there is also an intangible dynamic play-making attitude that usually the great ones in the back-end have, and he's got it."
Easily the most intriguing match-up of the contest will pit Amerson against Tennessee wideout Justin Hunter who returns to the field for the first time since tearing his ACL against Florida last year.
Based on how NC State has utilized Amerson in the past, however, Dooley isn't quite sure how often the two will get to battle it out on Friday, however.
"He's been playing to the field, but I'm sure they will adjust their game plan accordingly," Dooley said. "He's not the only guy back there, so I'm sure they aren't fearing any of our guys. Those two safeties [seniors Brandon Bishop and Earl Wolff| have a lot of experience and a lot of production. I don't expect them to change what they do because of us."
It isn't just the defense that the Vols are worried about though as the Wolfpack offense isn't exactly devoid of talent either.
"They have an experienced offensive line and an extremely productive, tall, accurate quarterback," Dooley said. "When you throw for 3,000 yards and complete 63 percent, it is pretty good. Then they have some special teams guys, their receiver and their runner, who can really hurt you. I'm sure they feel very confident going into this game and they should. They have all their guys back up front, have the quarterback back and they have some weapons on the perimeter."
Another factor the Vols will have to overcome is the team's recent history in the so-called "Dome of Doom." After winning its first two games in the Georgia Dome - the 1997 SEC Championship against Auburn (30-29) and the 1998 SEC Championship game against Mississippi State (24-14) - UT has lost its last six contests in Atlanta.
Although that may be a well-known point of contention among the Vol fan base, the current players haven't even let it cross their minds as they prepare for NC State.
"I wasn't even aware of that," James said. "We aren't thinking about the past. We are just trying to focus on this game and getting the outcome we want."
THEY'RE 100 PERCENT. AND READY.
"Are you 100 percent?"
Hunter, because of return from the ACL tear. Patterson, because of the shoulder injury which occurred during the first week of training camp.
Their answer was the same.
The wide receiver tandem will play together for the first time when the Vols head to the Georgia Dome for a meeting with NC State Friday. It will be their first time ever in the Dome, but they are both ready, even if there are some nerves.
"I think I'll get nervous," said Patterson. "I try not to think about it, but I have been getting nervous this week just thinking about it. I haven't played in anything like this. I try not to let it cross my mind.
"There isn't a lot of pressure. It is just like another game, but it is a big week. I haven't played since the Florida game. Coming out there in a game like this I'm gonna get the jitters out of me in the first quarter."
The duo will go up against of the toughest secondaries in the NCAA who, in 2011, combined for 27 interceptions, including 13 alone by potential first round draft pick David Amerson.
Both athletes know they have a tough test ahead of them, but are fully prepared.
"I am going to go out there like it's a real big game and focus hard," said Hunter. "We are up against a really talented secondary. All seniors, first rounders. Last year they had a lot of good balls, but some of them just gave them to them. We just can't make any mistakes out there."
"I have the playbook down," said Patterson. "I have everything down, it is just the fast pace and the tempo of getting everything set. I have just tried to take a lot of time to study and learn their coverage and I think they are a pretty good defense, but I feel like if we go out there and execute what we have been practicing we will have a good shot at it."
The pair also agrees that Friday can't come soon enough.
"I am ready to be out there as soon as possible," said Patterson. "When gameday gets here we will see what happens. I don't think I ever get too amped up. I just be ready to play."
"I am just saying," added Hunter, "I am going to be happy when they call my name and I go back out on the field because sitting on the sideline was really hard. Nervous? Not really. It is gonna be cool. After the first play I know I'll be straight."
REALLY BIG MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Starting nose guard Daniel McCullers - a now-slimmer 360-pound presence in the middle of the Vols new 3-4 defensive scheme - was born and raised in Raleigh, N.C., the home of North Carolina State University. McCullers may call Raleigh home, but North Carolina has always been the Tar Heel State for the big man in the middle.
"I really liked the Tar Heels when I was younger. I never liked N.C. State," said McCullers. "I'm excited about facing them since it's my hometown and I probably know a couple of guys on the team. I'm ready for it."
It's not always glorious to plug holes, take on the double team and free up his teammates, but being a nose guard has its upsides and is a role McCullers is used to and fully embraces.
"It's big to take on the double team or triple team in order to free up your linebackers," McCullers said. "I also get to hit people and sack the quarterback. It's fun and it's what I like to do. I came here for that and we're going to do our thing this year. We're ready."
Dooley knows that McCullers can be a major asset for the Vols' defense.
"[Someone with his size] is really essential when you are running the 3-4 and they are trying to hammer the ball," Dooley said. "I think he has shown improvement every day and I mean that. That's not just coach speak, he really has. Every day we say you have to do better at this or do better at that, and he is conscientious and works at it. He shows that he's trying. He's got a great attitude, demeanor and is really a humble guy. If he just continues this pace, he is going to be a good, solid player for us."
SENTIMORE CONFIDENT IN D-LINERedshirt junior Darrington Sentimore is feeling very confident about UT's starting 3-4 defensive line of himself and Maurice Couch on the ends and big Daniel McCullers at nose tackle.
Sentimore feels that Couch's switch from tackle to end makes the unit more dynamic.
"I think we stop the run great," Sentimore said. "Mo moving to end, I think it helps. We can play double team blocks on each end and now we don't have to switch. Mo can play on that side and I can play on the other. We can play left and right. I think it's been great."
The size of Tennessee's front three is impressive as the 288-pound Sentimore and the 299-pound Couch are featherweights compared to the mammoth, 377-pound McCullers lining up on the center.
"(McCullers) is taking on two blockers," Sentimore said. "He's been freeing up me and Mo."
For the season opener against NC State, the Norco, La., native is excited to unleash what the D-line has been working on all summer.
"I think we're good," he said. "I think we get a lot of pressure on our offense and our offense is pretty good. Coach JP (defensive line coach John Palermo) has been teaching us how to convert the pass rush. He even gave us some pass rush moves we can use against them. I think we're ready for them."
DALLAS' NEW, OLD POSITION
Following spring practice earlier this year, sophomore Vincent Dallas moved from wide receiver to defensive back. But after DaRick Rogers' suspension last week, Dallas has found himself on the offensive side of the ball yet again.
"I'm very excited," Dallas said. "I just want to do whatever to help my team. It was a decision I made, a big decision. I'm just coming to make plays."
Dallas sat down with Coach Dooley this past Friday to talk about his position change, and spent the weekend digesting the offensive playbook.
Even though the Ellenwood, Ga., native said the transition back was smooth, his time on defense has benefitted him.
"It's like I never missed anything," Dallas said. "I'm ready to execute and come out and compete. But it helped me a lot. Reading coverages and just learning the game."
"I just want to play, get out on the field and compete and do what I can to help my team."