Aug. 29, 2011
KNOXVILLE - Tennessee began `depositing' its preparations Monday at Haslam Field for the 2011 season opener Saturday against Montana. Much like a bank account, the Vols are trying to invest enough to shop -- for a win.
"We have a lot of new guys," head coach Derek Dooley. "We have to teach them what it means to prepare. I equated it to every day depositing money in your bank account. Every day, the investment that you put in physically and the investment you put in mentally is a deposit. On game day, you withdraw it all. The more you deposit during the week, the more money you're going to have on game day to play well. Today, we put a pretty good deposit in and we'll see if we can keep going all week."
The Vols will need to continue to make deposits like the one they did Monday to be ready for the Grizzlies, an opponent they're not taking lightly.
"They're the winningest program in the last decade in Division I," said Dooley, who is entering his second season in Knoxville. "If you take all Division I teams, A and AA, nobody has had more wins in the last decade. They've won about 15 out of 17 conference championships, three national championships in the last 10 years and so, it's a program that we have a lot of respect for. It's a prideful program.
"They have a lot of good football players. You can't win that much if you don't. They're incredibly coached. They're tough. They're disciplined. They're smart. They play with great effort. When you watch the film, it's no secret why they've had so much success. They believe in their systems. They play their tails off and they have a lot of good football players. We're going to have our work cut out for us."
The excitement surrounding the Vols' first official game week of the 2011 season was evident, but Tennessee is taking things one day at a time.
"My big thing is let's go to work today," Dooley said. "You want to kind of build-up emotionally but I wish I could predict it. I've had weeks where we had a terrible practice, I think we're going to get our tails whipped and we go play great. I have weeks where we look great and ready and we go play terrible. I think there is a preparation component. What you're just trying to do is have a lot of consistency in your approach and know that the last 24 to 48 hours, it's time to really amp it up mentally. If you learn how to start managing that during the week, you'll usually have a lot more consistent play."
BIG RETURNERS, BIG RETURNS
At 215 pounds each, Tauren Poole and Da'Rick Rogers are no lightweights in regards to kick returners. They'll be awaiting the football when Montana kicks off Saturday and 102,455 collectively "whoosh."
"They're both heavier guys," Dooley said. "I always like a little heavier guy in kickoff returns because these guys are coming at you full speed and you can take some big hits. They bring good size. They're good runners with the ball and they're just good, dependable players."
Poole has yet to field a kickoff at Tennessee, while Rogers returned 12 for 298 yards as a freshman. His 78-yard return vs. Kentucky was UT's longest since 2007 and was the 14th-longest in school history.
LEADER IN THE MIDDLE
The middle linebacker is generally viewed as the leader of the defense, especially as one of just four starting seniors and playing inside of two freshman linebackers in Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson.
"They definitely look to me," senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. "They don't necessarily come to me about everything, but when we're on the field I'm supposed to be there helping and guiding them. I take that responsibility."
The elder Johnson doesn't view his outer counterparts as rookies, though.
"You see these two guys play. They don't act like freshmen and they don't play like freshmen. They're going to come out here and show people what they have and I'm excited to see what they're going to bring."
Being the lone senior starter on the offense could be a daunting task, but tailback Tauren Poole has confidence in himself and his teammates.
"Everybody had the right mindset," Poole said. "Youth can't come into play. You can't make any excuses. The game is going to be here no matter how young or old we are. It starts with the leadership. A lot of the guys came out here focused and ready to go, I'm just excited to see (them)."
The long road to his senior year as seen its share of ups and downs for the Toccoa, Ga., native, but the fact that his final college season opener is upon him has hit the very introspective Poole.
"Someone brought to my attention that I have 11 weeks," said Poole, who is on the preseason watch lists for the Walker, Maxwell and Lowe's Senior CLASS Awards. "I have gotten to the point, that this is it. I have to cherish each and every moment. Cherish each and every day. Take it one day at a time and just get ready to have a great season."
Poole says his four years have gone by quick.
"It has gone by fast. You don't really think about it until it's almost over, but you have to take it for what its worth and give it your all."
MARTIN READY TO GO
Fifth-year senior Ben Martin is chomping at the bit to get back on the field after suffering a pair of torn Achilles injuries over the last year. For Martin, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter as Saturday is just five days away. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native is slated to start at right defensive end.
"You get nervous about every game," said Martin, who has played in 33 games for UT between 2007-09. "This is a big game and I'm just ready for it."
Martin will be one of the elder statesman on the defensive side of the ball with three true freshmen drawing starting nods. He sees himself as one of the leaders on the defense along with Malik Jackson and Austin Johnson.
"There is always going to be learning, but I think the (freshmen) are pretty comfortable," Martin said. "If they weren't comfortable, I don't think the coaches would have them out there."