Dec. 21, 2010
Tennessee's practice mentality this week is to prepare as if the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl kicks off Saturday.
The Vols, in fact, face North Carolina on Thursday, Dec. 30, at Nashville's LP Field (5:30 p.m. Central time).
But UT head coach Derek Dooley keeps stressing the importance of having his game plan in place before the team transfers to Nashville the day after Christmas.
"I'm looking to see if we were playing on Saturday, how would we be," Dooley said after Tuesday's practice at Haslam Field. "It's so easy to have that, `Well, we've got next week to prepare.' So then you do a half to three-quarter effort and your execution goes bad. You can't get it back.
"You've got to prepare like we are playing this Saturday. It takes a lot of discipline to do that, and the coaches have to do the same thing."
ESPN and the Vol Network are carrying the broadcast, with a sellout crowd of 67,000 expected.
NEAL NEARLY BACK
Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal appears to be taking advantage of the Vols' extra bowl week practices.
"Rajion has been good," Dooley said. "He hit that little dip and then he had a really good mini-camp. He's getting better, so hopefully he will be back to form and be ready to back (Tauren Poole) up."
Neal finished third on the team with 180 rushing yards. His best effort was a nine-carry, 79-yard showing in the opener against UT Martin, and he added 36 yards on the ground against Alabama. Neal also caught three passes for 70 yards at Georgia.
"He's a freshman and he doesn't quite grasp the expectation of how to do it." Dooley said. "Everybody gets it at a different pace, but he's coming on."
BREWER BETTER EVERY WEEK
Another true freshman, although one with a little more experience, is defensive back Brent Brewer.
The former minor league baseballer started the last five games and finished his first collegiate season with 27 tackles, all since mid-October.
"He's a guy who got better every week and doesn't make the same mistakes," Dooley said. "I think Brent's going to be a good player for us. He's got good stature, he's smart, mature -- as he grows his strength, speed and his experience, I think he will be better and better."
Brewer signed with the Vols after five seasons in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Despite being away from football for so long, Brewer's attention to detail and ability to make adjustments over the course of the season have paid dividends.
"We don't expect everybody to come in and be perfect, but as long as they are showing improvement, listening to coaching, taking to coaching and then working to get better, that's all I've every demanded out of players," Dooley said.