Dec. 16, 2010
Tennessee's players received a pretty decent first-day grade from their head coach after opening bowl practice Thursday inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
The Vols worked for better than two hours in their first full session since the regular season ended nearly three weeks ago. And Thursday's practice concluded almost exactly two weeks shy of kickoff against North Carolina in the Franklin American Mortgage Co. Music City Bowl.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Dooley said of his team's effort. "I thought the conditioning part got them; a lot of them were getting winded. As far as the polish on the football part, we picked it up pretty well.
"It was good to get back on the grass. We had good spirit out there, but that's to be expected. They did a good job today, but the real test is going to be when they wake up tomorrow, because their bodies will be sorer than they are used to. We've got to get back in hitting shape, and the only way to do that is keep hitting."
Dooley is giving the team two chances to catch up Friday, with a pair of practices scheduled during this "fall camp" portion of Tennessee's bowl preparation. Tennessee is practicing again Saturday morning before taking the rest of the weekend off. The Vols then have four straight days of practice next week before breaking for Christmas.
"We're going to work them pretty good because you have to push yourself," Dooley said. "They are not in the same playing shape as they were a month ago. We've got to push them, take them to the edge a little bit, and then we will back it down and get in game prep."
The team is scheduled to arrive in Nashville to begin bowl practices Dec. 26. This year's game at LP Field is set for Dec. 30 at 5:40 p.m. Central time.
RUNNING GAME GETS ATTENTION
Dooley said blame for Tennessee's shortcomings in the running game, highlighted by the team's 76 rushing yards on 26 attempts against Kentucky, doesn't rest solely on the players' shoulders.
"We fell off a little bit because we emphasized throwing it," Dooley said. "We were throwing it really well. I do want to point out that in both the Ole Miss and Kentucky games, in the fourth quarter we were running that ball well -- and that's when you need it."
Tennessee gained 65 of its 118 rushing yards in the final period against Mississippi, and then the Vols closed out the last 4:55 against the Wildcats all on the ground. The Vols, meanwhile, threw for 1,288 yards during their 4-0 November sweep to a bowl game.
"Do we need more consistency running it in the first three (quarters), off course we do," Dooley said. "And we're working hard on that here. But also, we shifted our emphasis to throwing the football."
Tennessee's first bowl practice also was the first practice in a Big Orange uniform for center Mack Crowder and tight end Brendan Downs. Those two graduates of Bristol's Tennessee High School have joined UT for on-campus bowl workouts and plan to enroll in January.