Spring Football Practice Update

Day 1

The Vols took to the practice field for the first time as a team on Thursday Afternoon. One of the major concerns for this team is lack of depth as several 1st stringers last year are out for the spring with injuries. Nick Reviez, Savion Frazier, and Art Evans will be very limited during the spring. “Long term I’m not (worried),” Dooley said during his pre-spring press conference Wednesday. “Short term I’m very concerned. I do think that over the course of a couple of recruiting years we’ll start getting a lot of stability. I think the players will enjoy being a part of the program. But we have some short-term concerns that really can’t get fixed. We are extremely thin in a lot of areas, we have a lot of inexperience in a lot of areas, and that’s only going to get fixed in time.”

To Get more details on whose hurt and whats going on in practice and around the program make the jump.

Several other players are banged up but are still going through practice. Red No Contact Jerseys are in use this year unlike under Coach Kiffin and Dooley seems to have his own philosophy for dealing with injured players. “We look at it, they kind of have four objectives when they’re banged up or injured,” Dooley said. “First is rehabilitation – we want to get them back. Secondly, there’s got to be a conditioning component because when they come back they need to be in good physical condition. Third thing is some kind of positional development that they can do. If they’re limited in the arm, they can use their legs. If they’re limited with a knee, they can do some things with their hands. We’re going to keep working that. The fourth thing is we’re going to keep getting good mental reps. So we have a plan for all our injured players, and it all depends on what the extent of what their injury is.”

Defensive ends Ben Martin and Chris Walker as well as linebackers Herman Lathers and Greg King were limited at times during practice due to nagging injuries from last season.”I’m feeling all right, it’s just a thing I’m going to have to go through, you know, same old stuff,” defensive end Chris Walker said. “Our trainers are going to do a great job and get me back. I should be out here soon. Definitely I’m going to be out here. I don’t want to miss the spring, because that’s the most important time for me. It’ll be fine. It’s a little frustrating, but it’s come to be a thing for me. College football isn’t for everybody, and it kind of beats you up a little bit. You have to be ready, you have to manage your body, and that’s what the training staff is doing for me. (The trainers) aren’t really doing things that I’d say they haven’t done with me yet, but it’s just stuff to manage (injuries). There’s going to be some pain, but I just have to manage the pain as well as I can. But I’ll be out here sooner than everybody thinks.”

Our Defensive unit is seriously banged up but our new conditioning coach is the best in the business and hopefully come September we will have one of the most durable groups in College Football.

Janzen Jackson, who likely was headed for a Freshman All-SEC and perhaps rookie All-America honors last fall before suspensions cost him three games, said he’s trying to take a more mature approach this spring.  “Well, changes come in a program. Obviously before there were changes with the new coaches and now it’s some more new coaches. But you’ve got to play the game. Coaches come and go, just like players do,” Jackson said. “When Eric Berry left, everybody couldn’t just hang their heads and be kind of sad about it. They had to keep going. It’s a tradition, Tennessee football. We just have to keep going and all the coaches, they seemed to jump on board and be ‘Hoo-rah’ with everything. So everything’s good. Since (Berry) came back, he was here for pro day, I’ve been talking to him, and he likes the new coaches and stuff so everything is good. I like the new coaches, so I have a good feeling about the season.”

It had been speculated that Jackson, a former five-star recruit who switched to the Vols and former coach Lane Kiffin last year after signing day, might leave UT ? and perhaps even had to go to USC. When asked about this Jackson said, ” No. No At first I was kind of skeptical about the old staff going to USC, but (transferring) never entered my mind.”

With the breaking news of Bryce Brown (more towards the bottom) leaving the Tennessee Program, the leading replacement candidate is RB Poole, who is popular among his teammates. Poole has been very visible in the complex and has been at nearly every throwing session and any extra work. Poole, who gave serious consideration to leaving at mid-term, has certainly focused this winter on preparing for spring practice and his biggest opportunity. Poole has added seven pounds weighing 212 pounds. Another potential replacement candidate is David Oku whom it would appear has put on 5-10 pounds as well. The third candidate is redshirt freshman Toney Williams, who says he is 100-percent coming off the torn ACL is still sporting a knee brace on the practice field. Last spring Williams was very impressive and seemed to have 2nd string in the bag before tearing his acl. That was before Brown or Oku made it to campus but still its impressive if he can get back to that form again. Rajaan Neal, freshman signed in this class will be here in the fall as well.

Continuing in player development, defensive tackle Montori Hughes appeared trimmer and much better equipped to handle the rigors of college football and its practices Thursday. Hughes has dropped approximately 10 pounds from his peak weight last year around 314-315. Steven Fowlkes appeared bulked up, and it seemed obvious the college training regimen already had yielded dividends for midterm freshman Jacques Smith, Tyler Bray and Matt Milton.

Derek Dooley continued to defend his media policy and his closed program from the news aspect. “The program’s not about me. It’s not,” he said. “It’s about the players. It’s their program. Whether we succeed or fail is ultimately going to be up to them.” He is focused on his team and making it better and its apparent that for now at least he thinks talking to the media is a waste of time. “I think people get sick of reading and hearing the guy because ultimately I’m going to keep saying the same stuff — what else is there to talk about?” Dooley said. “I’m here to represent the program, not just get in front of the media and talk.”

Some of the players actually like the fact that the Vols are not in the headlines daily. “We don’t have the whole hoopla going on, us being in the news 24/7,” David Oku said. “I think it’s a good thing. I think (Kiffin) put our name out there in the wrong way.” That’s exactly how senior defensive end Chris Walker sees it. “We really didn’t like all the attention that we were getting last year,” he said. “We want to be there because we’re winning games.”

As for one of the more interesting position battles this spring the QB’s seemed to have a very good performance on the first day. “You’re almost happy if they can just spit out the huddle call the right way and hand the ball off the right way,” Dooley said Thursday. “Long way to go, but good first day.” Senior receiver Gerald Jones was more complementary of the body of work on the first day of practice done  the group, which includes senior Nick Stephens, junior college transfer Chris Simms, freshman Tyler Bray and sophomore Nick Lamaison. “All of them did pretty good today,” Jones said. “Nick Stephens did a great job. Simms actually impressed me a lot, made pretty good throws. Some of them made some mistakes but that’s dusting the rust off.” When asked about new freshman Tyler Bray Jones said, “He made some mistakes but he made some good passes too.”

Dooley on Day 1: “It was a very workman like day by all of them,” he said. “They were having some fun out there but they were focused on the job. I’ve sensed that the last couple of weeks.”

Random Tidbits

  • Poole got the starting carries of the day over Oku and Williams
  • Thomas (LT), Pope (LG), Thomas (C), Shaw (RG), and Schofield (RT) got the starting O-Line

Dooley lied in his opening press conference about Brandon Warren wanting to rejoin the team. Warren texted the News Sentinel after the press conference. “I just want the Tennessee fans to know the truth,” Warren stated. “And I apologize I wasn’t able to display my talents in Neyland Stadium because they deserve it. But the show must continue.” Dooley said he weighed several factors in determining that Warren would not be allowed to return. “Everything is case by case and you’ve got to consider everything,” he said. “I think you’ve got to consider what are some of the things you’re trying to change, what part of the culture. What were some of the things that were the problems for him? If I do this, what is going to be the consequences to the rest of the team? You’ve got to consider it all and it was just too much.”

“I’ll be honest with you; I forgot,” Dooley said after UT’s first practice of spring camp. “He came in and he did want back. We didn’t let him back because he has a record of a lot of team violations that were so great it would be unfair to let him back. It would be unfair to the rest of the team.”

Day 2

Day 2 for the Vols Spring Football Practice went well today. The pace is fast already and will continue to pick up in intensity as practice continues to move forward. “You throw it all in, throw a lot at them, see what sticks, pick up what doesn’t, throw it back out there,” Dooley said of his team’s adjustment to their new coaches. “Each day will get a little bit more like that. You start understanding personalities a little bit better and how to cach them. But the new dimension’s really going to be Tuesday when we put shoulder pads on. That’s when the real ball starts.”

So for the second year in a row spring practice will be physical. However one thing I like is that Dooley does take care of his injured a little bit more then Kiffin did. But of the Vols who are working this spring leaders are starting to emerge all ready and seniors are hoping to step up. Last year Lane Kiffin was calling plays from the huddle through out spring practice. Saturday the Vols were calling plays in from the sideline during a two minute drill. Nick Stephens estimates that 25-30% of the offense has been installed already.

“I think it was (faster to get the signals in) this year, but here’s the thing, last year we were installing a whole new offense from Day 1 and this year it’s kind of the same offense but just different terminology,” Stephens explained. ” But once they here 585, and this is what it was last year, they remember it immediately. I don’t think there’s as big of a learning curve this year, and we’ve already got some signals in. It’s more for the convenience of the plays and not having to scream it across the field. I think the coaches are doing a great job with what they’re doing, and everything they’re doing is giving us a great starting point. I feel like a lot of the guys know what’s going on already, even the younger guys. They’re doing a great job teaching us everything from the meetings to out here walking through. What they do a great job of is if you mess up, they might not tell you right then but they’re going to come back to you on the field, show you technique and teach you. I think that’s a big deal.”

Dooley was asked about running two minute drills on Day 2 and acted as if it was business as usual. “That’s the way I am. That’s me,” Dooley said. ” I think putting them in and having a two minute drill right away was a little different to Jim (Chaney). But I think you go fast and while it’s a challenge early on, when you get to practice five or practice ten, you operate better. It’s just the way I have always done it.”

The Vols quarterbacks are coming out firing this spring and are loving it. “Chaney’s philosophy is that you’re not going to get better (without throwing),” Nick Stephens said. ” To get better, you have to throw a lot of balls. It’s not more about talking, he said reps are what’s going to get us better. He’s staying on that game plan, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re throwing a lot more very day, and I think that’s going to help us a lot. This is what we like to do.”

Dooley said of this policy that,”We’ll keep modifying it and we’ll evaluate it every day and keep modifying the reps, making sure everybody gets good opportunity. It depends on the periods, but we try not to be out here too long. The only way you do that is to have a lot of reps, because you have to have a certain number of reps to have an effective practice. We try to operate at a pretty fast tempo when we can, some periods we slow it down, some we move pretty quickly.”

Stephens said form an accuracy stand point he fells like he is throwing very accurately so far. He is quick to state though that he is making mistakes but that he is also cleaning up his mistakes and not making habits out of them. “You can tell he’s a veteran guy, he’s been around, he’s got a good presence about him,” Derek Dooley said. ” He knows the players, and a lot of things on offense are carried over from last year, but then there’s some new things that are going to get him. Certainly his advantage is he’s been here awhile.”

Another senior Dooley is getting good work from is Luke Stocker. He said, “I think there is no question that Luke has a lot of ability. He’s got good size, he’s got the right competitive character and he’s produced. He’s one of those few guys who have shown good production, and I think he’s going to play an important role in our offense.” Stocker almost went pro after the coaching change but I think this season will really help him out as Dooley uses the tight ends alot and it should help Stocker get even more noticed.

Tauren Poole is really taking advantage of Bryce Brown’s departure by trying to cement himself as the leading tailback for the Vols. However one would be mistaken if you thought Poole would be happy Bryce left. “I like Bryce,” Poole said after practice. “I wish him the best. I wish he would have stayed. A lot of people have the misconception that I feel like he should have left. Not at all. I feel like depth is important at Running Back.” However Poole is definitely ready to show what he can bring. “I feel like I can do anything,” Poole said. ” That’s how confident I am in myself. In every practice and every scrimmage last year, I brought it. I brought everything I had to the table.”

He feels like he wasn’t utilized last year and details of Lane Kiffin promising Brown carries and the first rushing touchdown of the season and such have emerged. “I have a chip on my shoulder, because last year I wasn’t utilized. I was undervalued. I felt like that was disrespectful to me, because I’m that good of a back. I should play. I’m not taking anything away from Montario. I’m glad he had a great season. But I feel like I should have been in the rotation. Last year was so frustrating for me, because I felt the guys that were playing couldn’t do anything I couldn’t do. I could do everything those guys could do. I just didn’t get the opportunity. But it’s in the past, so there’s no sense dwelling on it anymore.”

His team admires Poole and his determination though:

  • When asked about who the best running back was Nick Stephens said with a smile  – “Tauren always considered himself the best running back on the team. Just ask him. He’ll tell  you.”
  • Offensive Lineman Cody Pope says – “Tauren balls out in everything he does. He balls out in practice. He balls out in the classroom. He balls out in video games. He balls out when we’re talking smack. That’s just how he is in life. He’s very competitive, and thats everything you want in your everydown back. He is going to ball out in games I have no doubt in my mind You’ll see.”
  • Asked about Poole’s work ethic Pope said – “It’s not only what Tauren does on the field; it’s also about what he does off the field, and the type of person he is. I’m telling you, he’s going to get some hype this year — a lot of hype. You’ll see. And he will live up to the hype. He’s that type of player. We believe Tauren, because he’s a good overall person and he works really hard. He’s always doing the right thing. When I have kids some day, if Tauren was my next-door neighbor, I would want Tauren to watch my kids. He’s a guy I can trust. He’s a guy we can all trust.”
  • Nick Reveiz – “I respect that guy so much. Tauren is a guy from Day 1 that I could tell was going to be good just by how he worked. Just through everything even last year, he wouldn’t say anything bad. He would just keep plugging and keep going. Even though he felt like he should be getting reps and wasn’t getting them, he would just keep working hard and go as hard as he could in practice. I respect that completely. When you can’t control something and you are frustrated by it, it is easy to fold the tent and lay it down, but Tauren kept working and kept pushing. Ever since he has been here he has deserved first team reps and he is now getting them. I am really happy for him.”

Gerald Jones is expected to be a leader in the passing game as well as for the team this season. Jones is going out on the field doing his thing and trying to get to know his coaches on the field. “I’ve had so many coaches, so I’m not really looking forward to relationships outside of football. I just want them to coach the (heck) out of me, and I’m going to play the best I can and do everything I can for them. If they’ll just be themselves, actually be here for us and try to help us get better every day, that’s all I really care about.” Could that be a hidden jab at the previous coaching staff?

Dooley agrees with Jones about getting to know the players on the field. “Really, I’m still not going to know them until we put (full) pads on. And then I’m still not going to really know them until we go play a game. And they’re not going to know us. It’s going to take a good full year. Probably the biggest time when you find out about players and coaches is when it gets tough, when the adversity comes. Everythings good right now. We haven’t lost. We haven’t played anybody. It’s all rah-rah, and we’re feeling good. That’s easy. We’ll get to know each other, but it’s going to take a good year.”

Dooley is impressed with the Vols overall workman like attitude they have adopted since January. Nick Reveiz who is injured and not allowed to have contact is the last person to leave the field these first two days. “I am biting my lip to hard during practice not being able to do anything. I tried to jump in there for a couple of drills today that I am limited form and coach Thompson was screaming to me to get out of there. I have to be smart about it. I am going to trust my trainers and my coaches. I just have to be smart about it.” Reveiz recorded an interception Thursday during seven on seven work spent Friday watching film trying to be better for Day 2.

Reveiz obviously likes the new defensive system. “They have simplified things. They have made things easier. It’s a field and boundary defense. Last year it was off the strength of formation almost every single time. This year its off what hash mark you are on. That helps the d-line not have to think as much. Which is good. Those guys don’t need to think much,” Reveiz said laughing. “It also makes it easier on us too.”

One more interesting note is that Victor Thomas seems to be improving as center and is trying to lock down the starting spot. Cody Pope said, “From day 1 to day 2 its like night and day. Just little plays left and right. I mean, him snapping the ball and getting the snaps and you can hear all the quarterbacks saying his snaps are great from yesterday. Just little things like that, you can just tell. And even him just calling the calls out. That’s a huge thing when you’re an offensive lineman that you can depend on your center because he is the middle linebacker of the offense.””

Brent Hubbs points out that Matt Simms is also doing well at QB and it will be a tough competition even with Bray who just needs to keep bulking up but has the mental part down. He pointed out Eric Gordon as looking good early at corner back noting his strength and one on one work with recievers.He also noted that warm up/stretching is different under this staff with a lot of balance drills. G. Jones actually commented that Wylie’s drills helped him with a cut he made today. Players are seemingly getting along great with new coaches and are complimentary of their coaching abilities.

Recruiting News

Tennessee continues to offer more and more prospects. The Vols have offered nearly 75 prospects as they continue their evaluation process which is a very deliberate and detailed process. Much different than the previous staff who went with the policy of offer everyone quickly and weed out as needed.

One of the latest to get an offer is Texas defensive tackle Quincy Russell. Russell, who has spoken to both Dooley and assistant coach Eric Russell and told me Thursday night that he was impressed with the Vols. It appears that Tennessee is in line to get a visit, but the biggest challenge will be distance from him. Russell’s mother has medical issues which might keep him closer to home.

In state, Lonnie Ballentine may end up being the best player in the state of Tennessee for 2011. At 6-3, 205 pounds, the defensive back is getting plenty of attention from coast to coast. Ballentine is not in any hurry to complete the recruiting process, but he is not ignoring it right now either. Ballentine has contacted a lot of coaches and has gotten a good start on what he likes and wants from a school. Ballentine recently got an offer from Alabama and he is expecting an offer from Southern Cal this month.

Other names in state to watch are Antonio Richardson and Jabriel Washington among others. Alabama and LSU seem to be the main competition at this point.

The challenge now is how many prospects can this staff get to campus over the next month to see a practice and get a better understanding of Dooley’s approach to things? Tennessee doesn’t have another former junior day set at this time, but they are trying to get various prospects to campus on Saturday’s to watch a scrimmage. They have succeeded in getting Watts Danztler to practice. Danztler is an Oline prospect out of Dalton, Georgia. DE Keensen Chambers also stopped into watch. He just left prep school last season and originally signed with UConn out of highschool.

With the possible departure of Bryce Brown, running back will be a position of need in this class. One of the top priorities on the wish list would be Isaiah Crowell from Columbus, Georgia. Another tailback that Tennessee appears to like a lot is Aaron Green from San Antonio, Texas. Green has an offer from the Vols.

A lot of discussion has been going on about this circle or radius around Knoxville that Dooley will build his recruiting base. Some have taken that to mean that Dooley won’t recruit national. But that is hardly the case, as they are heavy in Texas and Louisiana because of ties with Terry Joseph and Eric Russell; and they will spot recruit the Pacific Northwest some with Justin Wilcox. One guy that Tennessee is trying to court is athlete Colt Lyerla from Hillsboro High School in Hillsboro, Oregon. In addition to Wilcox’s ties to Oregon, graduate assistant Peter Sirmon is from there as well.

Lance Thompson, whom is an ace recruiter especially in the state of Georgia, has already found the Peach state to be fruitful with Tennessee’s first commitment of the year from linebacker Christian Harris. “Tennessee offered me a couple of days ago, and it just felt like the best place for me,” the Woodstock, Georgia native said. “I have been in contact with them and was up there for junior day and I was really impressed.”

The 6-2, 230 pound Harris, who played outside linebacker last year but will play middle linebacker his senior year at Etwoah High School, is being recruited as a middle ‘backer for the Vols. Harris said in the end everything about Tennessee made it the right place for him. “I know we can win championships there,” Harris said. “They have a great staff. I know they are new, but they are great coaches. They have great facilities. I just love coach Thompson. He really reminds me of my coach (Bill Stewart). Love the strength coach. He’s so intense and I just know that I can get a lot better being coached by those guys and with hard work, I will have a chance to play early. Plus it’s not far from home. Like I said, It’s just the right fit for me.”

Harris called the Tennessee coaches Saturday night to tell them that he was a Vol and was greeted with excitement. “They were definitely excited to hear from me,” Harris said. “It’s a real big relief to know where I am going and to have the recruiting process over with. Now, I can just focus on working to get better. The coaches up there say they like the fact that I am physical and I am bigger than most high school linebackers. They tell me they like my vision which helps me make more plays.”

It is early so we do not know what he will be rated or how many stars but it seems like a 3 or 4 star is likely.

Vols have potential good news coming their way from the Peach State yet again, this time from Dooley and Chuck Smith’s alma mater as 6’6” 310 lbs offensive lineman Alan Posey has narrowed his choice down to Clemson and UT it would seem with a May 4 decision looming ever closer.

He will decide on the fourth in memory of his grandfather’s death. Posey already has scholarship offers from Tennessee, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Mississippi State, Illinois, Louisville and East Carolina. He’s wondering a bit if Penn State will turn strong interest into an offer. But even if that happens, he doubts he’d play for the Nittany Lions. “That would be kind of cool to get an offer from them, but it’s pretty far away,” Posey said. “I’ve gotten mail from a couple of schools that I wouldn’t mind getting offers from, but I don’t think I would want to go there.”

Posey is scheduled to be in Knoxville on Tuesday for the first practice in pads. However don’t count Clemson out yet. “The town is really nice,” Posey said of Clemson. “It’s right by Lake Hartwell. It’s a small town, laid back. I’d have an early chance to play. I like all the coaches. They’ve got something good going in Clemson. I’d like to be a part of it.”

When asked about Tennessee and the ties the coaches have to his high school Posey smiled. “Coach Dooley and coach Smith are from Clark Central so it would be pretty good to get three Gladiators up there,” Posey said. “They told me they’re building a championship foundation. They told me they’d love for me to be a part of it. I’d like to be a part of it. I like Coach Hiestand a lot as well. He likes big nasty, physical linemen. As soon as I got there on junior day, he was the first person to come up and talk to me. As soon as we started talking, we hit it off.”

“It’s the SEC,” Posey said. “You’ve got 100,000 fans at your games. And you play Alabama, Florida and Georgia every year. That’s pretty cool.”

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About Steven Harris

Steven Harris is a fifth year senior at the University of Tennessee. Majoring in sports journalism, this blog provides an outlet for Harris to share his thoughts on the state of the University of Tennessee's athletic department''s Volunteer teams. View all posts by Steven Harris

2 responses to “Spring Football Practice Update

  • Rich

    Great overview for the spring season! I think with Tauren Poole we will not miss a beat. Brice Brown was good but had a lot of work to do to get better. I think this group will be explosive. Bye, bye Browny!! Great recruiting news also.

  • orangevol

    Yeah I’m thinking this will be our offense: QB-Stephens RB-Poole TE-Stocker LT-Aaron Douglas RT-Dallas Thomas LG-Cody Pope RG-Jarrod Shaw C-Victor Thomas WR-Jones, Moore, D. Rogers, Milton/Hunter

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