Sept. 28, 2011
KNOXVILLE - For most college students, fall break means getting to sleep in. So what does it mean for the Tennessee football team, which practices at 9 a.m. in the mornings?
"We have fall break (Thursday) and Friday so we have to manage that the right way," head coach Derek Dooley said. "We're going to push our practice back a couple of hours, get them to sleep a little bit and take advantage of it. We've had a good week. I feel like our spirit is back. Our energy is back and I think these guys are ready to play. We just have to go out there and do it."
It's no secret that the Vols are a young team relying heavily on freshmen. Tennessee has played 12 true freshmen this season, including four that started the season opener.
Following three games and an open date, the Vols are looking for signs of progress from their rookies Saturday against Buffalo.
"Obviously, we want to see improvement," Dooley said. "We're not going to expect them to go out there and light it up. It's not going to happen because it takes time. I've seen it in practice, a little more comfort at some things and some guys are playing a little faster. You just hope over time it goes. You reflect back to last year at this time, our freshmen were all swimming."
Improvement isn't just expected from the freshman class. It's demanded across the board, including from those responsible for UT's success on the ground.
"I never think things are as bad as everybody else does and I never think they are as good as everybody else does," Dooley said of the worry surrounding the Vols' running game. "I wasn't in the mode of panicking.
"What I hope is we'll block a little bit better. Tauren has a good week running. Marlin Lane has had a lot better week. He's playing faster and he looks more confident. Tom Smith is back off the shelf, not injured. I hope they'll run better."
Tennessee will put its open date work to test against a Bulls' defense that has yielded less than four yards per carry.
"We're going to have our work cut out this week," Dooley said. "These guys are very good against the run. They're very physical up front. They have an elite player on the edge (linebacker Khalil Mack) who is going to be a high-round draft pick. It's going to be a good challenge."
Freshman specialist Devrin Young, known for his explosive speed and elusiveness down the road at Bearden High School, is slated to make his Tennessee debut Saturday against Buffalo.
"We're going to play Devrin," Dooley said. "He's going to get an opportunity to get out there. We'll see how he looks, how he feels and how he does depends on how much (he'll play)."
Young's practiced the week leading up to UT's trip to Gainesville, Fla., but the coaching staff didn't feel that was the right environment for him to start his college career.
"That was really the first week that he was back," Dooley said. "He hadn't been hit. He hadn't practiced a lot of catching. He doesn't know our stuff.
"It sounds good to just throw him in there and see what happens, but it's not fair to the player to put him out there before I think he's ready. He's had the benefit of that week, an open week where we worked him very hard and then a good week this week. I feel like he's got enough work in to go do the things we're asking him to do."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney knows the Vols have to improve their run game and he made no secret that has been the most important aspect of UT's training since the loss at Florida, nearly two weeks ago. Tennessee is averaging just 81.7 yards per game on the ground, 12th in the SEC and 112th in the NCAA.
"We need to run the ball better," Chaney said. "It's that simple. At the end of the day, we need to line up, snap the ball, block the man in front of us and run the ball better, reading our keys. That's what we have to do. So, we have to get Tauren (Poole) doing that better. We have to get the O-Line doing that better, we have to get the tight ends doing that better, get the wideouts and quarterbacks involved better. We are not running the ball well enough from every aspect of it.
"My expectation is that this week has been better. We are looking forward to getting on to the game to see the results of a good practice week."
Poole ranks 11th in the SEC in rushing per game with 72.3 per game.
The loss of receiver Justin Hunter didn't change Chaney's thought process either.
"Our whole mindset prior to the injury, or post-injury is that we need to be more physical running the football. So that is where there has been an emphasis for us since the last ball game," Chaney said. "Whether his injury is here or not, that was something we have to work on as an offense."
VOLS USE BYE WEEK TO WORK, NOT REST
Just because Tennessee didn't have a game last Saturday doesn't mean that the team was home playing video games all day. Instead the Vols were hard at work, practicing all week at Haslam Field. The bye week came at an opportune time as well, because it allowed the squad to focus solely on itself for a week as it prepared to enter the home stretch of its grueling schedule.
"(The bye week) was huge," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "Really it's like having a couple days of fall-camp type practices and all those count. It's really not about regrouping or catching our breath, it's `go to work,' and that really what last week was. I thought they did a good job for the most part, we had one day that wasn't really good, but they did a good job of going back to work. We really don't go back to fundamentals because we do the fundamentals all the time. We're really just continuing to get reps in and get some experience as a player. That's helping, especially the young guys."
While the bye week came immediately after Tennessee's first loss of the season, the Vols didn't use the time to lament that fact, but rather use it as an opportunity to learn and improve as a football team.
"You go back to work," Wilcox said. "The next day, you go back to work. Here are the reasons we didn't win the game. Here is what we have to improve on and you go back to work. That's really the only way, no matter what sport you play.
"When you come off a loss, nobody likes to lose and you take that time right after the game to talk about `you coulda-shoulda-woulda,' but after that it is about fixing the problem and moving forward. You can't afford to sit and wallow, because nobody feels sorry for you. Our job is to fix it, move forward and play better football this week."
SEC TOGETHER WE CAN FOOD DRIVE
This is the final weekend for the annual SEC Together We CAN Food Drive! Every fall, the 12 SEC schools and the surrounding communities collect canned food to help fight hunger. Saturday, Oct. 1, from 9 a.m.-Noon, there will be collection bins at three or four locations throughout the Vol Village where UT fans can make donations. UT student-athletes will be collecting and happy to sign autographs and take pictures. All of the food donated goes to the Second Harvest Food Bank here in Knoxville. The first 500 donors will receive a coupon for a free appetizer with the purchase of any entrée at the Texas Roadhouse during Vol Calls with Dooley on Wednesday nights from 7-9 p.m.