Nov. 1, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - As a player at Troy from 2001-04, current Tennessee cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley helped the Trojans engineer upsets over current SEC programs Mississippi State and Missouri. This Saturday, his job is to help prevent another.
In his four seasons at Troy, Ansley started 40 consecutive games, snagged 19 career interceptions, including two which he returned for touchdowns, and had 305 career tackles, placing him 13th in the school record book.
With the Vols celebrating Homecoming this weekend, it only seems appropriate to Ansley that they will face a foe with which he is so familiar.
"It's a good chance to see these guys," Ansley said. "I haven't seen them in a year or so now. Coach Blakeney was obviously my head coach for five years and he was one of the guys that grounded me and created me as far as the way I am now. He gave me a lot of foundation when I was down there. When I played there, we were in transition to going to [NCAA Division] I-A. My first year we were still I-AA and then my last four years we transitioned into I-A. I think our class laid the foundation for the success they have now."
As Ansley knows as well as anyone, players that end up at Troy often times have a chip on their shoulder because they weren't recruited by the traditional SEC powers. That doesn't mean they aren't talented though.
"SEC schools can only sign so many," Ansley said. "In state and in the South, there are a lot of guys who kind of fall between the cracks and we had a lot of good players that weren't highly recruited coming out of high school. For example, Osi Umenyiora, him and DeMarcus Ware are both Auburn High School products in Auburn's back yard and they didn't recruit them.
"They came to Troy and bought in and both of those guys are Pro-Bowlers, DeMarcus Ware is probably going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. There is a lot of talent like that which is why you have to do your research in recruiting and not go by what a guy is ranked. You have to evaluate the talent and make sure he is a guy that fits your program."
McKENZIE VISITS PRACTICEFormer Tennessee linebacker and Knoxville native Reggie McKenzie was at practice on Thursday serving in a dual capacity. The Vol for Life is in his first year as the general manager of the Oakland Raiders. McKenzie spoke to the team after practice with words of wisdom from his various perspectives.
McKenzie recounted his story of rising from a his prep career at Austin-East High School to his time with the Vols to his playing career in the NFL with the Raiders, Cardinals and 49ers. Following his playing days, McKenzie spent 18 years in the front office with the Green Bay Packers before landing the GM job with the Raiders.
He relayed to the 2012 Vols that they need to work hard in every aspect of their lives. He spoked of how committing to a solid work ethic makes a difference when it comes to your future. McKenzie will be honored prior to Saturday's game with Troy as the Legend of the Game.
A CONFIDENT LINEThe Vols offensive line has been the most consistent unit for Tennessee in 2012. Under the leadership of a new coach, Sam Pittman, the group has thrived to rank among the nation's elite.
Tennessee has allowed just four sacks, the third-fewest in the nation. For nearly all of the season, quarterback Tyler Bray has been 'clean,' meaning his uniform has not been dirtied by being taken down. Much of the success can be attributed to the growing confidence and experience of the linemen.
Among the most impressive linemen is sophomore Antonio Richardson, who has grown in leaps and bounds in his first year as a starter at left tackle.
"You watch Tiny just like I have and the great thing about sports is that you see what I do," said Pittman. "Tiny has come so far. Tiny wouldn't have been able to play Jadeveon Clowney the first two or three weeks this year, but he was on Saturday. I think Tiny graded out 80 percent. When you grade out 80 percent against a great player you are doing something well."
The man in the middle of the line has been major component of the unit's success. James Stone re-earned the starting job as the center in preseason camp and has continued to flourish in the role.
"(James) does a nice job and he is very confident and the guys are confident in him," said Pittman. "The whole game is about confidence and when he came in there and started making all those calls the fellas started playing a little faster."
Until the South Carolina game, the Vols started the same five-man front for the first seven games of the season until Zach Fulton was sidelined with an ankle injury. But the Vols didn't miss a beat with Alex Bullard and Marcus Jackson moving into the rotation with Fulton out of the game. Again, Pittman pointed to the group's confidence as a factor for their success.
"I am proud of Alex," said Pittman of Bullard, who started on the line for the first time in 2012 against the Gamecocks. "He has done a really nice job with his attitude, number one. You can't play well if you don't have a great attitude. Marcus Jackson played 20 snaps for us and we are pretty high on Zach Fulton, I think he is a good player and obviously we didn't want to lose him but when you have those guys playing like that, it is a confident group. It is a close group and they are confident and they should be right now."
MORE OF GRAY, WILKS ON THE WAY?With the Vols struggles on defense well documented, some changes in the secondary could be on the way. Two players on different ends of the spectrum in their careers are making a push for playing time.
As a fifth-year senior, Wilks is fighting for playing time in what could be his final games on the football field.
"Rod has been a real light for our group, he has been a real light for our defense," Safeties coach Josh Conklin said of the former receiver, who moved to defense in 2010. "He is an upperclassman who hasn't been able to play as much as he probably had hope for and expected, but he has really kept after it and he has gotten better every week."
Wilks has been a contributor on special teams throughout his career playing in 37 career games and has gotten the attention of defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"Rod Wilks did some good things," said Sunseri. "Rod is out there and he is doing good. He had a good week of practice, he had a very good practice today, so the more people we can get involved with guys who are going to go out there and make plays, we are going to give them a chance."
Gray is a raw product, who played just two seasons of high school football in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., before coming to Knoxville this fall. He is a talented athlete who possesses top-flight speed.
"Dan Gray did a good job when he got in there," said Sunseri. "With these younger guys we are going to look at everybody to see who is going to give us an opportunity to have speed on the field and make some plays."
SUNSERI IMPRESSED WITH ANSLEYA lifetime defensive coach, it can take a lot to impress Sal Sunseri, especially when it comes to coaching his own son. Derrick Ansley passed that test with flying colors though.
"When my son came to Alabama, he is the one that tutored my son and my son's play speaks for itself," Sunseri said. "That is what I think of Derrick Ansley. We can say whatever we believe in all that, that guy right there took my kid and developed him in the system and now he is playing on almost every down and he is making plays."
Ansley's work with Sunseri's son, Vinnie, left such an impression that he was one of Tennessee's first hires after Sunseri was named the team's defensive coordinator last offseason.
"What he did with my son coming into Alabama was unbelievable and the bottom line is the guy is a [heck] of a football coach who is going to have a heck of a future and I believe in him and his players believe in him," Sunseri said. "I know he played at Troy and this is a big game for him and all that and he has been coaching his heart out, but his future in this profession will be really high."