Nov. 10, 2010
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley liked what he saw from the Vols during their two-hour practice Wednesday at Haslam Field.
"It was good today; not a lot of mental errors," Dooley said. "It's getting competitive. I feel like we're practicing better here down the stretch and hopefully it's going to carry over to the game."
UT (3-6, 0-5 SEC) hosts Mississippi on Saturday looking for its initial conference victory of 2010. Kickoff is set for noon Eastern time, with the Vol Network and CBS carrying the action.
The Vols are coming off a 50-14 win at Memphis that, unfortunately, left a pair of offensive starters injured. True freshman offensive guard Zach Fulton turned his ankle, while senior tight end Luke Stocker went down with a concussion. Fulton has made the first three starts of his career in the last three games, while Stocker leads the team with 34 career starts (all consecutive).
"Zach did practice; he's getting better," Dooley said. "He's still doubtful and I don't expect him to play.
"Luke went today in a red (jersey); he should be fine. Luke had a little staph (infection) too, which set him back but he should be fine. We were more worried about that than the concussion, but we put a bunch of antibiotics in him and it worked."
Stocker is third on the team with 24 receptions and fourth in receiving yards with 266. His season highs in those categories came last year when he had 29 catches for 389 yards in 13 games.
Dooley wasn't sure about the status of defensive back Marsalis Teague, who has missed two games since injuring his toe against Alabama. Teague is practicing but obviously remains below 100 percent.
"I'm still worried about Marsalis (Teague). It's just hard to get 100 percent on a toe without getting on the shelf for awhile. He's going to have to play through it and I hope we're not setting him back."
ROGERS MAKING STRIDES
First-year receiver Da'Rick Rogers caught his first touchdown pass Saturday at Memphis, a 22-yarder during Tennessee's 27-point second quarter.
Dooley says his rookie from Calhoun, Ga., is coming around and may finally be coming into his own.
"Learning to be a good route-runner takes time. It's one thing to know what to do; the trick is how do you do it well because there are so many different looks. It's not like you just run straight 10 yards and take a right. There's so much to learn about leverage of a defender, the depth of a defender, speed of a defender and how to work and then get open.
"It's one of the things that make Gerald Jones a really good receiver; you can see the experience."
Rogers has seven catches for 63 yards but has gotten his hands on the ball in other ways as well. He's carried the ball nine times for 66 yards and was UT's leading rusher at South Carolina, with 49 yards on five attempts. And in the last two games, Rogers has returned five kickoffs for a 19.2-yard average.
"It takes time and Da'Rick's gotten a lot better," Dooley said. "When you have young guys, you've got to create ways to get it to them. Very few of them are really polished route-runners. It's really no different than any other position. It's just another level of play that you have to learn."
RIVERA TAKING ADVANTAGE
Sophomore Mychal Rivera appears to be making the most this week of Luke Stocker not being 100 percent. Then again, Rivera has been working hard to be noticed all season since arriving from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif.
"We've repped Mike a lot, even with the ones," Dooley said. "We've played him a lot and repped him a lot. Mike's another one of those guys getting better and better. He's got good ability. He's made a couple of plays in the passing game for us. But, yeah, anytime the starter's down, you get a lot more reps than normal."
Rivera has appeared in all nine games and has eight catches for 62 yards.
"The thing that's held him back is his knowledge of the offense and understanding the concepts," Dooley added. "There's a real difference between memorizing what to do and then really understanding the concepts so you can play plays on principle. Minimizing his mental errors has been the biggest challenge.
"But he's got good size; he's got good athleticism and very good hands. He's a tough guy; works hard. So he's got a lot of good qualities to start with."