Vols Want More Leadership
Johnson City, Tenn. – When Tennessee hit the practice field at Milligan College for the first time on Monday, head coach Derek Dooley was looking for a different kind of leadership than he has been getting out of his squad.
Although the Vols have clearly become a tightly-knit unit, thanks in part to a variety of team-bonding activities including a hike to the top of Mt. LeConte and whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River over the summer and a karaoke session on Sunday night, that is only one part of the equation.
Now, Dooley wants that unity to carry over to the gridiron as the initial excitement for the start of training camp has slowly waned and the soreness from Saturday’s scrimmage has quickly sunk in.
“This is when leadership starts getting tested,” Dooley said. “We have great team chemistry, a lot of good camaraderie going on, but we don’t need leadership when it is open mic night and we’re up there singing and rapping. We need leadership when it hurts and some guys are struggling.
“Part of that is when you are struggling and you need a little leadership to talk to your buddy and have him help pull you through. It is continuing to try to coach and teach how to pull our way through together.”
One of Dooley’s primary focuses throughout training camp has been on teaching the players how to be comfortable when they are uncomfortable. Those lessons are starting to come into play as the days until the first game continue to wind down.
“Learning how to control your mind to refuse to go out there and have a bad practice is very important,” Dooley said. “That’s what we are doing. We are trying to learn how to be comfortable in a real uncomfortable setting.
“There are so many games out there where you get in a real uncomfortable situation and if you don’t train your mind to learn how to overcome it when you do get uncomfortable then you will never be able to play your way out of it. That’s what we are really working on right now.”
SUNDAY: DAY OF REST (AND KARAOKE)
Sunday marked the first day off for the Vols since fall camp started on August 3. The team was treated to a little rest, some film breakdown … and karaoke.
Ja’Wuan James was pleased with the day off, but felt as though it went by a little too fast.
“Yesterday we walked through the things that we messed up on in the scrimmage,” said James. “The guys that messed up walked through the plays they messed up on or went to the wrong people on. And there was just a bunch of meetings about the scrimmage.”
It was the night time entertainment that had the team talking.
James believes that the coaches have done a great job of letting the team relax at night during the meetings with some lighthearted activities.
“They let us do talent shows with the freshmen,” said James, “the night before we played a `Name that Vol’ trivia night and last night we had karaoke.”
As to not completely embarrass their athletes, the coaches proposed face-offs between different units. The O-line took on the D-line, the linebackers faced off against the running backs, etc.
James was unsure of what each team sang but his recollection emitted laughs from the media.
“We sang I will survive,” said James. “The D Line got MC Hammer, I Like Big Butts.”
After being told that Baby Got Back was indeed rapped by Sir Mix-A-Lot, James just laughed and proclaimed victory for his defensive counterpart.
Devrin Young was a part of the running back corps that took on the linebackers in a good-old-fashioned dance off.
“Every position had something to do,” said Young. “The running backs, we did a dance competition against the linebackers, so that was Rajion [Neal] and A.J. [Johnson] all day.”
COULD COUCH END UP AT END?
Junior Maurice Couch has played various spots on the Vols’ defensive line in his short stay in Knoxville after transferring from Garden City Community College prior to the 2011 season. With the Vols’ adjustment from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under Sal Sunseri this season, Couch was slotted as a defensive tackle on the pre-camp depth chart. Now, Couch is also working as a defensive end.
“This is a week where we can keep moving guys around for a lot of reasons, either evaluation purposes or contingency plans,” said Dooley. “Mo (Couch) we put in the five-technique and Dan Hood we put back at nose, so we’ll see how he does there.”
Couch, who started four games at nose tackle last season, is trying to pick up the end position.
“I got moved to end on Friday,” said Couch, who sees pluses and minuses to the move. “You are not going have to worry about three guys crashing down on you. It feels kind of awkward because you have more freedom and you are always used to someone crashing down on you. That is something I have to adjust to because I tend to make mistakes because I am worried about someone hitting me from the side.”
With a 6-2, 299-pound frame, Couch gives Dooley plenty of options on the defensive line.
“He has a body type that has a lot of flexibility,” said Dooley. “He can play nose, he can play three-technique and he can play five. He’s not a tall guy so he doesn’t have the range but he has a lot of good quick-twitch and power which allows him to play a lot of positions.”
YOUNG AND IMPROVING
Although pleased with his own and his teammates work with the time they’ve spent at Milligan College, sophomore tailback Devrin Young says he is still striving to improve. After watching Saturday’s scrimmage film, Young pinpointed some improvements that need to be made.
“It looked really good on tape,” Young said. “Obviously there were a few things that we messed up on here and there, but every day we’re striving for perfection. This last scrimmage, everybody showed that they could play. I feel like I played my role pretty well [at the scrimmage] – I ran a little bit, caught a little bit, did a little bit of special teams, so it looked like a pretty live game out there for me.”
From the scrimmage, Young was the third leading rusher only behind Rajion Neal (134 yards) and Quenshaun Watson (61 yards). Young carried the ball seven times for 36 yards and an 11-yard touchdown.
“I need to work on my whole game,” Young said. “But my biggest thing is my pass protection. Obviously I’m a smaller back, so I need to be more sound technique wise. [Pass protection] is one of the most important parts of the game, especially for a running back, so we work that every day as well.”
Coming into this fall’s season, the Knoxville native is optimistic after his first season as a Vol.
“I feel like it’s safe to say we’ve made strides compared to last year,” he said. “Rajion [Neal] did good, Tom [Smith] did good, Quenshaun [Watson], Marlin [Lane], everybody did good. We’re very productive in the backfield.”
Young spoke well of his teammates on the wide receiving end, not worried at all for the passing game.
“You don’t want to be one-sided out there, you want to be able to run as much as throw. Obviously, we have enough talent on the wide receiving stance, so defense is going to be anticipating that especially with how the running game has been in the past, but we’re really going to work on balancing it like we did during spring.”
GORDON LOOKS TO SHINE AT STAR
A number of players have changed positions with Tennessee’s switch to a new defensive scheme, but few have fit more naturally than Eric Gordon at the STAR position, UT’s variation of the nickel.
“I love the physical style of playing the star position,” Gordon said. “It is a very versatile position, filing in the run, covering for some guys, so I feel like it fits me perfectly. I’ve been playing for that for a while now, so it’s a comfortable fit for me.”
Gordon has always had the ability to make game-changing plays, as evidenced by his game-winning interception in overtime against Vanderbilt last season, but has had trouble balancing the risk of going for those plays against playing his assignment.
“I’ve had a few picks, but I feel like I need to lock down on my technique a little better,” Gordon said. “The [coaches] want me to know when to take the risk is the biggest thing. Knowing when I can do stuff, like when I can jump across, but other than that, they want me in line.”
Head coach Derek Dooley agreed with Gordon’s assessment of his performance to this point in training camp.
“Eric is doing good playing that Star spot,” Dooley said. “He’s on all of our special teams. He’s the same guy, he is active, he is disruptive and he makes plays. Of course, his challenge is consistency. I think [this defense] is going to maybe help him create a little more disruptiveness against the offense.”
BYNUM UNDERGOES SURGERY
Freshman linebacker Kenny Bynum underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Dr. Greg Mathien performed the surgery at UT Medical Center. Bynum is expected to miss the 2012 season and return in January for winter conditioning drills.
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On how much installation they still have to put in)
“We’re pretty much done but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things. For example, we have to put in our two-minute [offense] before the half, we have to put in last plays, those kinds of things. The bulk of what we are doing is in and now it is learning how to execute and where do put who where.”
(On watching the scrimmage tape)
“I felt the same way after the scrimmage. I was really proud of how the team competed. I felt like their attitude was right, they were ready to go, didn’t get affected in the game when our offense made a play or our defense made a play, they kept playing. There was a lot of toughness and effort that was demonstrated and I thought we managed the situation part of it better than we ever have. Now, having said that we had a ton of administrative problems, penalties and that sort of thing, that we need to work on. We have a lot of young players that need to elevate their play a little bit. Most of the older guys are looking good. Same thing on special teams, the older guys who have been around are looking good and the young guys look not as good. That’s just part of being young.”
(On the run game)
“We did a good job in the run game, no matter who they were going against. We didn’t have, of course, the big plays against the ones like we had with the twos, but we really ran the ball very efficiently and met all of our goals running the football. That was a good step.”
(On Marsalis Teague)
“Marsalis had a really good scrimmage. It was probably his best scrimmage since he’s been here and I was proud of him for that. He started making some plays in the deep part of the field that historically he hadn’t made. He’s doing it because he is playing with a little more confidence and he is trusting his technique. It showed on the film so I hope he continues. We need him to.”
(On the experience at Milligan College)
“It’s been great, it really has. It’s been an awesome experience. I don’t think there is anybody in this organization that isn’t saying this is a pretty good deal. I texted (vice chancellor of athletics) Dave Hart to see if he would let us stay up here for six months, but he didn’t text back.”
RS JUNIOR DL MAURICE COUCH
(On what stood out from Saturday’s scrimmage and what does the defense need to do better)
“We did good as far as coming out and being tough and mentally prepared. We have got to get better at substations and we had a lot of missed assignments because of a fast tempo. It is hard to get out there real fast and line up. That is something we have to work on.”
(On what caused the missed assignments)
“There were a lot of guys lining up and when you are switching guys in and out in a fast tempo offense it is hard situation in getting in and doing your assignment.”
(On defending the run)
“I think we did really good in the scrimmage. We had a hard time defending the run. Rajion had a good day. Today I think we came out and wanted to defend the run. I think we did a good job.”
(On talk of how much the offense has been running the ball)
“Our receiving core has opened up the running game and that is going to benefit our offense once we start playing. Coach Sal or none of us like for them to run on us. That is our first priority to defend the run.”
JUNIOR OL JA’WUAN JAMES
(On what he took away from the scrimmage)
“We played with a great effort for four quarters through the whole scrimmage and that we ran the ball very well.”
(On Rajion Neal’s big running day)
“It is a lot of motivation it makes you feel proud like you did your job and you are helping him. He is helping us look good and we just want to open up the holes for him.”
(On the hiccups in the scrimmage)
There was an emphasis on the running game but you can’t blame it on that. You have to be able to be balanced. If you have to pass the ball or run the ball you just have to do what coach Chaney wants. I think there was just a miscommunication.
SOPHOMORE TB DEVRIN YOUNG
(On Daniel McCullers)
“After this practice I’m going to go tell him thank you because he had a clean shot on me and he just wrapped me up. He’s hit me a few times but he’s showed some love, too. [When he had a clean shot at me], I felt my heart drop. He definitely showed me some love today.”
RS JUNIOR DB ERIC GORDON
(On being at Milligan)
“First we were at another field and now we’re here [at Milligan] closer to where our dorms are at, just wherever we go we’re locked in just doing what we’re supposed to be doing and practicing hard. “It was great having a day off [yesterday]. We’ve been going hard for a long time so it was good to just be around the guys and have a good time.”
(On Saturday’s scrimmage)
“[The defense] played pretty good. I think we got off the field a couple times, but I feel like we got a lot better as a defense. We really got to the quarterback a lot more than the offense thinks we did. I feel like we did a good job, but we could have stopped the run a little better.”
RS JUNIOR DB NAZ OLIVER
(On being back on the field healthy)
“I have been here a couple of years now but I haven’t been healthy. I have a bad stream of luck. I am just happy to be out here with my teammates and happy to be competing. I am ready to play a season; I haven’t played a season since I have been here. I stuck with it; I grew up to never be a quitter so I am just happy to still be here Dooley and my teammates.”
(On his opportunity to compete at corner)
“I definitely feel like if I got a chance to go out there and compete, I feel like I could do some things with my team out there. Whenever I get the opportunity, I am just patiently waiting for my opportunity.”
(On his string of injuries)
“Coming out of my first spring when Dooley first got here I was starting. I had a freak accident in the spring game. I didn’t think it was a torn ACL at first, and then they gave me the news. It just crushed me. Then the next year I hurt my wrist. It was a bad string of luck.”
(On the change from receiver to corner slowing his development)
“I don’t think it slowed my development at corner I think it kind of helped me to understand the routes and to understand the routes I might get at corner. So I think that really helped me.”
JUNIOR LB CHANNING FUGATE
(On his role in the linebacking corps)
“I am working on the inside, Mike and Will. I played a little bit of safety in high school. But I always wanted to be a linebacker. But they moved me to safety because I was one of the fastest guys on the team. Now that’s not the case so I am inside and I like it.”
(On learning the position)
“I am getting more comfortable with it. At first it was a little bit harder but I’m glad I’m learning Mike and Will so I can know both inside linebacker roles and help out the defense more.”
(On his role on the special teams)
“I want to be a real big teams guy, if you are on teams you are helping the team out a lot and I just want to help out as much as I can.”
(On Herman Lather’s help)
“Herman [Lathers] has been really helpful. If any of the linebackers have questions you can ask Herm. He will help you with anything. He really is smooth. He knows the playbook in and out and he knows a lot so we look to him if we have a question on the field.”
RS SENIOR OL DALLAS THOMAS
(On what they saw on film from the scrimmage)
“We did a really good job. We still have a lot of work to do. We really messed up on identifying the linebackers when they are doing those stunts that they are doing. We worked on it today and we picked it all up today. We did real good today.”
(On the rewarding numbers from the run game at the scrimmage)
“Yeah it was. That is what we expect out of ourselves. We expect it out of each other and that is one thing we are really working on.”
(On Rajion Neal’s performance at the scrimmage)
“I am proud of him. He has come a long way since freshman year. I am so happy he is running the ball hard for us, and we will keep blocking hard for him. Whatever it takes, we have his back no matter what.”
(On the offense’s performance at the scrimmage)
“It is a little comfort to our defense, but we know our defense is going to come back even harder at the next scrimmage because they feel embarrassed. They have to get us back and we are going to be ready for it.”