Day 3, the first day in pads, came Tuesday and the Vols and their coaches were glad. “The real guys are going to show up when you’re in pads,” offensive lineman Cody Pope said. As practice continues the Vols continue to improve. One area of legitimate concern would seem to be Running Back after the high profile departure of Bryce Brown. Should Vol fans be concerned? Check it out as well as details about practice and recruiting after the jump.
Practice is a learning experience. Especially when your learning an entirely new playbook. Dooley put it well saying, “It was a typical first day in pads. There is a lot of excitement early on, but there is also an adjustment to getting use to carrying the pads. Everything is heavier. You get fatigued quicker so getting your body adjusted to the pads is important and that only takes time.” Dooley then made sure to say, “Nobody is performing to their capacity right now and it’s because they don’t know everything to do. It’s not natural. Its not instinct. Until we get to that point, we don’t know how good they are.”
Dooley did note however that there have not been a lot of mental mistakes just players being hesitant in executing new plays. Coach went on to talk about how you find leaders for your program and who is excelling in practice.
“The first thing you do is see who show shows dramatic differences between pads and shorts. You hope there is not much difference and aren’t many surprises. You hope the surprises are more the guys who didn’t flash in shorts but are now showing up because of their toughness, their explosive power and they show up more in pads especially up front in the trenches. So that is really what you are looking at. It’s too early [to say who might have excelled]. I have to go watch the film. I kind of like to say, ‘Show up over time because everyone is going to have some good days and everyone is going to have some bad days.’ I don’t think you want to panic either way. You don’t want to get too excited when a guy flashes or don’t get too down when he has a bad day. We will see over time.”
Practice intensity is high as ever though as players are trying to impress their coaches while improving their skills. Defensive Tackle Montori Hughes said, “Intensity, you’ve got to keep it up. That doesn’t change with coaches. The players have to keep bringing it. It isn’t the same as the last coaches. They’ve got different ways of doing things, different ways of getting to the players and different ways of pumping the players up. I think the intensity is high, the same. We all want to win. That’s the thing we have in common.”
David Oku likes the new coaches style but does admit that it will take time for everyone to buy into it. “These coaches don’t try to win us over. The funniest thing Coach Dooley said yet was ‘I don’t want you all to trust me. I have to earn that from you guys.” I think most guys are o board now, but I think it’s also a process that will take a while. I don’t think it’s going to get done real quick because I think it’s being done in the right way, not so much of an out loud way like it was done last year.”
Defensive tackle Marlon Walls said of yesterday’s practice, “The intensity was up. The offense got the best of us today. When you are not getting lined up and are messing up things it’s hard to have the intensity you need. We just have to get better. We have to go back into the meeting rooms and listen to what the coaches are telling us and learn the defense.” In the defense’s defense they are learning another new system but the offense basically has the same offense under Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.
Marlon talked about going back to the fundamentals in practice and how that is going to help the defense out in the long run. “It’s just back to the basics, like I’m in middle school or something. But we need it, we need this. They’re really pushing the fact that we have to make tackles. We have a lot of drills set up for just straight up tackling. It’s very basic, but a the same time it’s what we need. We need to go back to fundamentals and just work on form tackling. I think in that area, it’s pretty good. We need to do that. We need to learn how to tackle again and knock the rust off of it.”
This focus on tackling should comfort us as Vols fans who have had to endure countless missed tackles and lazy tackles. Dooley addressed this by saying, ” I don’t know what the assignments were (on film), so I’m not here to really evaluate the missed assignments and missed tackles from last year. What’s important to me is that we become a good tackling team, and that takes a lot of work. It doesn’t matter what scheme you put in defensively. If your not a good tackling football team, you’ve got no chance. So we’re going to work on tackling a lot.”
Walls wasn’t the only one singing the offense’s praises after Tuesday’s practice. Austin Johnson, linebacker, says the offense is doing good but the offensive line stands out to him. “I think they’re looking strong, especially Victor Thomas. He’s looking really good. I think the guys are going to come around. Coach Chaney is a good coach, and I know he’ll push them as an offensive coordinator and they’ll come around.” Vol fans should be encouraged if Thomas is looking good, because he has never played a down of offense on the line ever. He is competing for the starting center spot this year.
The coaching history of Coach Chaney and new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand bode well for these Vols. Hiestand demands 100% from his players and won’t take any tentativeness. Cody Pope for one likes the way Coach Hiestand runs his line. “Coach is telling us if you go out there and go 100 percent and make the wrong block, it’s going to be on him if we don’t do the right thing. He said he’ll raise his hand and say ‘That was my bad.’ He said he’ll stick up for us 100 percent. It’s really cool to have a coach that comes and tells you that immediately.
With rising sophomore guard Aaron Douglas, the only returning starter from last season, taking time off to deal with personal issues the competition to compete for starting spots is as hot as ever. Pope said, “I think there’s an open spot right now for anybody. We don’t have a starting offensive line. As of right now, there are four or five spots wide open.” Pope is taking this seriously. “I’m a junior so it’s kind of now or never kind of thing. For me, I’m going into spring just knowing that I have to do the best i can do, not only for me but for Tennessee. They’re depending on me.”
The Vols offensive line is going to be charged with protecting their quarterback during the season but for now Dooley has said publicly that he will keep his quarterbacks in green non-contact jerseys through out spring practice. “I like to keep the green on. The quarterbacks won’t be live all spring and won’t be live in the training game. What’s important is when there is a break down, how do the react? You can practice that two different ways. You can stand back there and everyone runs by the quarterback, he throws it and everyone cheers or he understands he has to play like he is live. I would rather not get the quarterbacks hurt.” So for spring practice the quarterbacks are going to be playing like they are live.
The line will also be charged for opening wholes up for the stable of running backs. Poole leads in my mind for the starting position but we also have highly touted David Oku and Toney Williams, and they will be joined by Rajaan Neal in August. Toney was a stand out last spring but blew out his knee, tearing his acl, during summer conditioning. He is coming along from the injury and puts himself at about 90 percent.
Toney on his acl and on practice: “Oh I was real eager. I didn’t know where I was at (physically) doing the other stuff. When youg et touched, you can’t really tell where you’re at, but when you get tackled and you’ve got to get up and feel the pressure on your knee, it’s a different level. So it felt good today. I already know I’m going to be sore when I wake up. I’m going to be sore tonight. It’s not any question about it. But we’ve got another practice on Thursday and all I can do is get better.
Toney on getting hit for first time: “I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the hit was going to feel like. But once I got hit and got back up it was like, ‘Hey, it’s football again. The same thing I’m used to.’ It feels good to know that I can take the hit and I’ve got the confidence back. Come back on Thursday and have a good practice.”
Another key component of the offense will be the TE’s this season. Derek Dooley loves tight ends and wants to play multiple per play when we can get enough recruited. Stocker, who caught 29 passes for 389 yds and 5 td’s last season, is poised to be a star this year in the offense. “I have a lot of confidence right now. That’s a good feeling,” said Stocker.
Derek Dooley likes Stocker’s ability also. “I think there’s no question, 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 that have shown good production. So I think he’s going to play an important role in our offense.”
Senior wider receiver D. Moore said that the secondary is working hard coming in replacing Berry and Rogan. This will be a rebuilding project though as they will need in game experience and time to develop. Moore specifically mentioned Myles, Gordon, Anderson, and Raines as people who are trying hard to improve. Janzen Jackson is proven and ready to get better but he will need help back there so that is good. Moore said, “We see a lot of folks are gone. Then we see a lot of young guys trying to step up. It should be pretty straight back there in the secondary.”
However Moore notes that this group of receivers is special and is taking advantage of the new secondary kids. Cornerback Anthony Anderson knows that the defense is still learning though and likes the simplicity in the learning process. “You’ve got to learn more of the defense because Eric knew the whole defense by the time the coaches were here. Now we all have to learn the defense so we’ll all be on the same page.” Anderson likes his new coaches philosophy and the opportunity he has been given.
“It’s actually easier than coach Kiffin’s defense. He makes it more simple (referring to Terry Joseph). Just knowing I have the chance to start a whole year, I’ll be ready,” Anderson said.
Helping the secondary out some will be the linebacker corp who is riddled with injuries. So many injuries have occured that Dooley has moved Austin Johnson, fb last season who caught 6 passes for 68 yds and a td, to middle linebacker. Because of Reveiz and Frazier’s injuries Johnson is co-starting with Nigel Mitchell Thorton on the first team defense.
Some quotes by Johnson on the move:
- “My first response was I’ll do what the team needs, and that’s what I’ll do. To be honest, I was not upset at all. God has a plan for me and that’s His plan. I was willing to move and I’m loving the move right now.”
- “I feel like I get to play a lot more and get to be more of a player. I don’t have a certain assignment. I mean, I have a job to do and a gap to fill. But I don’t have to be focused on my block and my technique. I’m getting there and trying to shed the block and make the tackle, which I like a lot.”
- “It’s definitely just learning the system. I didn’t have too much of a system in high school and when I got here I only learned a little bit of Chavis’s stuff. coming in here just learning a new system, not learning the offense, but I’ll eventually get it.”
Johnson is getting help from Nick Reveiz though. Reveiz watches film with Johnson and walks him through stuff mentally. Johnson said,”I just try to get on Nick all the time to come watch film with me and help me out because with him there, he really pushes me & helps me learn it quickly. That’s my main focus.”
Finally Dooley is focused on Special Teams this offseason. He even held the unit over after practice because he felt like they weren’t giving enough effort. “I think we really need to pick up the tempo on special teams. Special teams is a critical component to winning. We probably didn’t perform the way we needed to in that phase and we have a lot of work to do in finding the right guys and understanding how to work at it and be good at it.” Finally some one who cares about special teams and improving them.
- Several visitors came to practice Tuesday including former QB Jonathon Crompton and Montario Hardesty, both of whom were sporting name tags. They were joined by signees Nash Nance and Da’Rick Rogers. Finally OL recruit for this coming class Alan Posey visited and was here today as well buying UT gear in the bookstore. He will declare in early May so could be a good sign?
- Justin Worley, Jeoffry Pagan, are two other names to keep an eye on.
- Berry and Dan Williams have been invited to NYC for the NFL draft. Only the top 18-20 players expected are invited.
- Nyshier Oliver pleaded guilty to last November’s shoplifting scandal. One year of no trouble and it will get erased.
- Walker back into practice full contact today. Ben Martin and Dan adderly still being held out.
- Conditioning is paying off for Matt Milton, Tyler Bray, Jarod Askew, among others.