Sept. 28, 2010
After giving the team a couple of days off to rest and recover, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley was pleased with how his squad responded at Tuesday's practice.
"We had a good, physical practice," Dooley said. "The last period was really good. It was competitive. There were pads popping (and) helmets flying. That's what we need to do and that's what we need to develop on a consistent basis. I was real pleased how the team came out today after a little rest."
Coming off a 32-29 double-overtime victory Saturday against UAB in which they fought and competed until the very end, the Vols carried over similar qualities into their first practice of the week.
"What I was encouraged with was the last period," Dooley said. "It was competitive and they were hitting each other. They were into it. That's the biggest thing. Even when you get them a little rest, you have to get them going and we got them going early in practice. We had a good day. We got a lot done."
The Vols have to bring the same mentality into Saturday afternoon's contest at LSU. After opening the season with four games at Neyland Stadium, UT faces many tests during its first road match-up. One of those challenges is LSU running back Stevan Ridley, who is averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry and has found the end zone three times in 2010.
"He's a good player," Dooley said. "He's their star. He's elusive, he's big and he's physical. We have to be able to get a lot of guys to him and wrap him up. We're going to see good backs all year. We saw some good ones against Oregon. We saw (Florida running back Jeff) Demps. We're going to see some down the line. That's the one thing here. You're going to see good backs."
The Vols have certainly faced a dynamic group of runners a third of the way through the season, but that won't change their game plan for the more physical Ridley.
"It's important to get a lot of players to the backs no matter who they are," Dooley said. "If they're little and fast, you have to get a lot of guys there. If they're big and physical, you have to get a lot of guys there. You have to have great tackling technique. That's as important as anything and that's what we haven't had."
Despite LSU's passing offense being ranked 115th nationally, the Tigers still have an arsenal of weapons that could hurt the Vols if they aren't prepared.
"They've obviously had some inconsistencies like we have, but it doesn't mean they can't hurt you and they can't burn you," Dooley said. "They have plenty of weapons. They have two quarterbacks who can throw it. They have strong arms and they have weapons outside. Just because they've had some inconsistencies doesn't mean they can't burn you or that they're not effective. We haven't shown that we're great against defending the pass, so we'll see."
With one of the Vols' better practices behind them, Dooley says it's important to make it a reoccurring theme at Haslam Field. Like most young squads, the Vols have struggled in having consistently solid performances on the practice field.
"It's education. I always tell them, `Nobody expects you to have a perfect day every day.' Good teams and good players have great practices and they have good practices; they never have bad ones. That's important to learn. When you're hurting, it's hard to come back and do it again. It takes experience and it takes understanding what it takes to play at a high level. It's going to come with education and pushing. I think the big thing I try to do is acknowledge it when they do well and tell them when they do poorly."
JONES EXPECTED BACK
Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones is expected to return Saturday after missing the Vols' last three games with a hand injury. Jones, who led Tennessee in its season opener against UT Martin with six catches for 86 yards, is 21 receptions from breaking into the top 10 for career grabs.
The senior standout returned to practice Tuesday and didn't seem to miss a beat.
"Gerald looked good," Dooley said. "He's moving around good and catching the ball well. We'll see how the week goes. The first day is always easy. It's like that first round of golf you play in the spring when you've had about nine months off. You go out there and stroke it and go, `I got it.' Then you go out that second round and you're all over the place. We'll see how he does tomorrow."
The veteran wideout's ease into returning is helped by the fact that he's been through three years of college football and knows how to deal with playing hurt, a lesson he can pass on to some of the younger Vols.
"He's a senior and part of it is mental," Dooley said. "A lot of these young guys are learning that most of the time when you go through a season, it's very rare to play a game where you're not hurting somewhere. It's rare in football. Learning how to manage the pain is critical to performing consistently. You have to just acknowledge, `Pain is a part of it. I'm not always going to be 100 percent and I've got to go. I'm going to play and perform and it's not an excuse.'"
Defensive back Art Evans, linebacker Herman Lathers and tailback Tauren Poole all returned to practice Tuesday. Evans and Lathers didn't play Saturday versus UAB and Poole sat out after suffering an early injury.