Dec. 20, 2010
Tennessee transitioned into the next phase of its Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl preparations with a 90-minute workout Monday inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
The Vols began focusing specifically on North Carolina, their Dec. 30 opponent at Nashville's LP Field.
"Today we started our game prep for UNC," head coach Derek Dooley said. "It was like a normal Monday practice and we're cranked up and ready to go. Now, the players are locked into the game and it gives them a little mental transition."
After working mainly on fundamentals last week, Dooley said the most important part of this practice week is preparing like the game is this Saturday instead of one week from Thursday.
"This is where it gets challenging. It's very easy to be sitting there and you go, `Well, we'll do this tomorrow but we'll keep looking at it.' No. We've got to make decisions and we've got to prep. Because when you get to the bowl site, if you don't have it tight, it gets really hard.
"So we've got to have a lot of self-discipline as coaches to push ourselves to make decisions, and the players have to prepare like they are going to play on Saturday. You can't get it back at the bowl site."
Tennessee practices again Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning before breaking for the Christmas holiday. The team reconvenes for its first practice in Nashville on Dec. 26.
MUSIC CITY BOUND
Scott Ramsey, president and CEO of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, was on hand for Monday's practice to officially welcome the Vols to next week's game in Nashville.
Ramsey presented Dooley and UT captains Tauren Poole, Nick Reveiz and Luke Stocker with a ceremonial guitar commemorating the Dec. 30 contest in Music City against North Carolina. Kickoff is set for Dec. 30 at 5:30 p.m. Central time.
"We look forward to having the Tennessee Volunteers and all your fans in our city next week," Ramsey said. "It should be a great game on the field and a great time off the field."
STONE SOLID AT CENTER
Dooley's decision to trust the offensive reins in the hands of a true freshman down the stretch wasn't simply a complex problem. It was twice the degree of difficulty.
Because not only did Tyler Bray move into the quarterback role to begin November, but James Stone also took over at center the same week as leader of the offensive line. Both moves paid immediate dividends, sparking the Vols to a 4-0 finish and berth in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
Last week for his efforts, Stone was named Freshman All-America by the Sporting News.
Dooley says it was Stone's intellect and physical abilities that went a long way toward his late-season success.
"I would argue center, next to the quarterback, is the most difficult position to play on offense. It's hard, because you're the quarterback up front. You've got to make the calls and the other guys are depending on you. If you don't have intelligence, it's hard to play that position.
"It says a lot about his mental capacity, emotional maturity level, and about his physical skills. But he's got a long way to go."
Dooley also says no changes have been made to compensate for Stone's unique trait -- he's left-handed.
"I haven't tried to change anything. I'm still trying to win the game. I don't want to disrupt anything. I think that's something we will revisit after this game."
The snaps haven't always been perfect, but Stone-to-Bray has become one of Tennessee's top offensive connections.
"It's better, but it's not where I don't worry about it," Dooley said of the snap success rate. "The fact of the matter is he's still snapping it in an unorthodox way and that won't change. I'm always worried about it, but it is better than it was a month ago."
Since the switch, the Vols have allowed just six sacks and averaged 435 yards of offense during that span.
Dooley answered media questions Monday about possible job changes by members of his assistant coaching staff.
"Nobody on our staff has been offered any job. I don't anticipate any staff changes, and I'm going to reiterate exactly what I said in the (Dec. 15) press conference: It's a fluid industry; it always is. But I don't anticipate any changes and nobody on our staff has been offered a job.
"I don't view it as a negative that there's chatter about it, about our coaches. I hope there's chatter every year about our coaches because if there's not, we're probably not doing a very good job."
Dooley said it's not unusual for there to be a lot of coaching discussion when the regular season ends.
"Everybody knows a lot of people in the profession. We go about 15 weeks where we don't talk to our friends, because we're surviving. And then the season's over and it's call time -- `Hey, what's going on out there?' That's reality, and that's OK. I called Nick (Saban), I've called Will (Muschamp), I've talked to those guys and I'm not going to Alabama and I'm not going to Florida. Coaches talk to everybody.
"All I know is we've got a great situation here. Our coaches are always going to be well-compensated because of this kind of place, we have a great healthy work environment and I don't worry about coaches leaving. I think they like it here. But if they leave, I'm not going to lose sleep over any coaches who leave. That's how I feel about it.
"We have a staff, we have an organization. I believe this is a phenomenal job and I believe our coaches are happy. Because it's a great job, they are well-compensated, we've got some great talent here and we've got a chance to do some special things."
Dooley says Tennessee fans should be prepared for these kinds of conversations and rumors to pop up every offseason.
"Every year there is going to be talk about our coaches going somewhere because we have a good staff and that's a good thing. Every year I talk to all of our coaches about other opportunities, where they want to head professionally, what they are thinking long-term, how can I help them.
"We all are in it for Tennessee, but everybody's got their personal goals."