Nov. 8, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In an effort to assist with the Vols' continued search for solutions on the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley switched meeting rooms and mindsets this week.
Instead of taking his normal seat among the offensive staff, Dooley moved over to help prepare and install the defensive game plan for UT's upcoming contest against Missouri.
Even though it has only been a few days, Tennessee safeties coach Josh Conklin has already seen a positive impact from Dooley's presence.
"The way we presented it to our guys and what they have to understand is that what we are doing right now is not the way to continue to go," Conklin said. "One answer right now is that [Dooley] is going to put another set of eyes on it, [he is] going to get more involved in it, [he] wants to make you guys understand that the defensive side matters to him, which it does, and he has been active all season long.
"Our guys understand that, they know that, and I think they have found a little bit new energy because he brings a fresh way of teaching it at times and a fresh way of getting our guys to respond to an adverse situation, which we find ourselves in right now."
Although Dooley's background is primarily on offense, looking at the UT defense from that perspective has allowed him to see some things in the film room that the defensive staff might have overlooked before.
"Bringing Coach Dooley over and having him be another set of eyes on it and say, `Offensively, here is what we are looking at and here is what might give you issues and what might not give you issues,' has helped us I think," Conklin said. "It has given us maybe a different perspective. You get into that day-to-day grind and you lose perspective sometimes. I think we maybe have a little better perspective on it and we'll just keep working through it."
The Vols hope that fresh look at the defense helps provide some answers as they know there is still a lot of football left to be played and want to finish strong.
"I think Coach Dooley coming over to the defensive side, which he talked about, has been really beneficial for us and we are making steps in the right direction," Conklin said. "I really do think that and this thing is not over for three more weeks and our goal right now is to go out and continue to put the best product on the field that we can. It's hard, you can't deny that. It is tough and you get frustrated, you get aggravated and you don't understand why things are going the way they are, but you just keep looking and keep finding the solutions."
FAMILIARITY WITH MIZZOUWith Missouri being a newcomer to the SEC, there are not many connections between the Vols and Tigers.
One member of the UT staff that does have intimate knowledge of Mizzou both recent and in the past, however, is offensive line coach Sam Pittman.
Pittman coached against the Tigers in the teams' 2011 season finale in the Independence Bowl while at North Carolina. Mizzou opened an early lead and went on to a 41-24 victory in what was Pittman's final game with UNC.
In preparing for this week's UT-Mizzou game, Pittman shared his thoughts on the Tigers' defense.
"All those guys that I had watched last year are back this year, and they're really good at defensive end," said Pittman, who joined the Vols in January 2012. "They have three guys who have really good moves and high motors."
Pittman was quick to point out Sheldon Richardson, who leads all SEC interior lineman in tackles with 63.
"Obviously, Richardson is one of the best in the country, let alone the SEC," Pittman said. "The thing that separates him is his athleticism. He can really run and he has a high motor. Missouri's whole defense is high motor guys."
In addition to his recent action against the Tigers, Pittman himself used to be a Tiger, as he spent the 2000 season as Mizzou's line coach.
"I was really fortunate to work with Larry Smith at Missouri," said Pittman of that 3-8 season, Smith's last before current coach Gary Pinkel was hired. "Of course, it was just a one-year stint. They love their football there. I was a high-school coach in the state of Missouri, also, at a couple of schools. I have fond memories of Missouri and obviously, I'd like to have really fond memories after the game and see some of the guys, but we certainly want to win."
MAKING PICKSAfter recording just nine interceptions in the 2011 season, the Vols matched that total in the first five games of the season thanks to a four interception effort in the season opener against NC State and a three interception day vs. Akron.
However, in the last four games, Tennessee has only managed one interception, a Herman Lathers pick near the end of the South Carolina game.
Last time out, Missouri quarterback James Franklin threw four interceptions against Florida in a 14-7 loss to the Gators. The Vols hope to take advantage of Franklin, who has battled injuries in 2012, this week when the Tigers come to Neyland.
"I think he is a good quarterback," said safeties coach Josh Conklin. "But every week you want to go in and get some picks, and I think the guys understand maybe where his weaknesses are at or where his strengths are at a little bit better when they see him go against a team like Florida which is similar scheme-wise with what we do."
There are many factors that go into the process of an interception.
"To get an interception a lot of things have to happen right," said cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley. "The D-Line has to pressure the quarterback, the quarterback has to throw to the wrong guy, and the receiver has to run not the exact route that they are supposed to run. We have to be in position to make the plays."
Every week, Tennessee has kept the mentality that they are going to be in position to make those game changing plays.
"We go into every game thinking we are going to make plays," said Ansley. "Every week we go into the game wanting to get three interceptions, sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. We feel good about going into this game and playing our style of defense and getting the ball out there."
GRAY'S ANATOMYAgainst Troy, freshman Daniel Gray was thrust into the spotlight earning the start at right cornerback over redshirt senior Prentiss Waggner.
The Trojans went right after the rookie and early in the game Gray was called for a pass interference, followed by a personal foul in the second quarter, both 15-yard penalties and both blows to the confidence of most young cornerbacks.
But not Dan Gray.
When asked about whether he was worried about what that game would do to Gray's confidence, his coach Derrick Ansley shook the question off.
"I do [get worried] when it is somebody that is not Dan Gray," said Ansley. "Dan Gray has no problem with confidence. He wanted to get back in there and we had to calm him down a little bit."
"He is not down on himself, he is just a little under the weather this week and we are trying to manage him a little bit," continued Ansley. "He wanted to get back in there and he got back in there in the third quarter and he did well. He gave up some plays but he is a freshman and he's going to be good."
Waggner will likely return to the starting role, where he was for 32 straight games before last week, but Gray will be back out there gaining experience and making plays.