Knoxville, Tenn. - After getting a day off from practice for the annual media and photo day on Saturday, the Vols returned to Haslam Field with renewed energy on Sunday.
With just one more practice and the mock game left on the training camp schedule, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is looking for his team to “lock in” for a strong finish and he came out pleased with the result after Sunday’s effort.
“We had a real good practice today, high energy,” Dooley said. “We got a little rain out there so we got some wet ball work and that was good. This is the hardest part of camp. You finish two scrimmages and they are sick of it, the coaches are sick of it, but we have a couple of more days to work that we have to get something out of.
“It is so important, when you get to this point, to lock in on one or two specific areas that we have to improve on, individually, as a unit, as a group, whatever it is. If you keep that focus on how can I value my self-improvement the next two days, then you will get something good out of it. And we did today, so I was pleased.”
The strong practice was a good sign for Dooley and his staff as the Vols had been trying to get the energy level back up after an emotional ending to a successful week of camp at Milligan College.
“I think we really hit that dip when we got back from Milligan and it was like Milligan and we’re done,” Dooley said. “Then we get back and we’re not done. Those first couple of practices after Milligan, it was hard. It was tough emotionally, but I think we’ve pulled out of that and now we have our energy back.”
TIGHT ENDS LOO-KING TO BOLSTER DEPTH
As seen at yesterday’s media day, the tight end corps is running a little thin these days as three of Tennessee’s tight ends were on crutches.
Enter Greg King and Ben Bartholomew.
Bartholomew, who has been practicing at both fullback and tight end this fall camp, was confused yesterday as to which unit group he should take a picture with.
Bartholomew chose to go with the latter option, and it appears his intuition was correct.
“I have worked a lot of tight end lately but I have been doing that pretty much through my whole career,” Bartholomew said. “So it is pretty natural. I am just trying to get better at everything I can do.”
Greg King on the other hand hasn’t been on the offensive side of the ball since high school. It appears as though he talked his way into the switch.
“I was excited [when I found out],” King said, “but I kind of jinxed myself talking to the coaches saying ‘coach I can play a little fullback if you want me to come over there and play for you.’ And then it happened the next day.”
As King mentioned, head coach Derek Dooley took that conversation and ran with it, looking for any possible way to bolster the depth at that position.
“We’re depleted at tight end and he’s got that tight end body type,” Dooley said. “He’s not in the two-deep over there (on defense) but he’s got some good qualities about him. He’s got a good attitude so we are going to see how he does.
“We have to get in and just evaluate him a couple of days to see if he’s got the skills set to help us and then we have to, obviously, keep it real simple and get him functioning. I’ve been in this position in the NFL. They bring a tight end in and you have to get him game ready in five days. There are ways you can get a guy to function out there, but it is still a long haul to help you win.”
The redshirt junior out of Memphis is excited to fill in where he can for his team, even if he only has one career catch on his resume, a seven yard grab during his high school career.
“I dropped my first one but it felt good to have the ball thrown to me, like exactly to you and not away from you,” King said. “I am hoping I can [be ready]. I am hoping that I can be that big factor. Our team needs it and I want to give it my all.”
Bartholomew, one of a handful of seniors on this team, feels like he has the experience to help the newcomers learn the position in time for the season to begin.
“Hard times call for leaders to step up,” Bartholomew said. “Mychal Rivera and I have done a good job leading in our group and I think we have to continuing doing that throughout the year.”
King will need that expertise, but is willing to listen to his teammates and learn as much as he can as camp winds down.
When asked if he was worried about the ‘tight end curse’ and whether he might get injured himself King laughed.
“Look at me,” King said. “I have had what, six or seven surgeries since I have been here. It is natural to me. I want to help the team the team the best way I can. I want a national championship, that is what I want. It is an opening, it is a shot, we need it and I think I can do it.”
NEW BEGINNINGS FOR NAZ
For the first time in four years, Naz Oliver is healthy in training camp and has a chance to make an impact with the Vols. It has been a long road for the New Jersey native, who came to Tennessee in 2009 after a standout career at Saint Peter's Prep.
After redshirting his true freshman year, Oliver has been plagued by an torn ACL and a right wrist injury, which respectively caused him to miss the 2010 and 2011 season. Oliver has yet to be on the playing field for a regular-season game despite being on the roster for 38 games.
“I came out of camp and this is my first time being at camp being healthy in while so I’m just happy to be out here with my team again," Oliver said. I’m like a little kid in a candy shop out here so I’m just excited.
“I was just trying to suck up [the injuries] and not quit. I was just trying to keep my mind right, to see that everything was going to be alright - the light at the end of the tunnel. I stuck with it and here we are today.”
Oliver was a star tailback in high school, gaining more than 1,400 yards as a junior. He came to Tennessee as an "Athlete" and has been shuttled between the secondary and wide receiver over the last few years. Oliver has returned to cornerback and has settled in nicely.
“There’s definitely opportunity," Oliver said. "I’m two-deep right now. I’m just playing, following guys like Prentiss Wagner and Marsalis Teague and just trying to follow in their footsteps, just trying to get the season rolling because we’re going to need everyone, so I’m just going with my opportunity.”
Oliver is also part of the Vols special teams units and hopes to make a contribution.
“I’m going to be on some special teams – punt return - this year,” Oliver said. “I’m ready for the season to start. I just told Coach Dooley to put me on anything. I pulled him aside at practice and just said to get me on some special teams because I just want to play. He said he was going to look at some film and evaluate me and put me on some special teams.
“It’s just exciting for me right now. I’m just going to keep praying that I don’t get hurt again and no one else on the team has to go through what I had to.”
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On Herman Lathers)
“He was moving. He was limited but he went through everything so that was good.”
(On Channing Fugate)
“Channing is doing great. He’s just a real tough, hard-nosed dependable player and I’m glad we switched him to defense. He’s going to play a lot for us.”
RS SENIOR FB/TE BEN BARTHOLOMEW
(On how camp has been for him and the team)
“I think the team has had a rally great camp. We see this as the fourth quarter in camp and we are finishing off strong. It is one of our focus points – finishing the games. We have been really pushing on that and our team is coming together and having really good chemistry. I am excited to see what is going to happen.”
(On his role on the team)
“I am a fullback and I also play tight end, so I have duel rolls there. My experience as a full back blocker is definitely going to help out. The offensive line has done a great job, being a lot more physical and getting the run game going. I think having a strong run game is definitely help out the pass and all the deep threats we have.”
(On Greg King at tight end)
“Greg is a great player and I think he has a lot of potential at the position. He is guy with heavy hands and he likes to hit so he works well with our tight ends and fullbacks.”
RS JUNIOR LB GREG KING
(On the difference between linebacker, fullback and tight end)
“Linebacker, fullback and tight end are almost the same. You just are either catching the ball and running the route or trying to knock the ball down. I look at it just like that.”
(On what positions he played in high school)
“I was a linebacker that played on offense. They actually threw the ball to me a couple times. Little pop passes like if we were on the goal line or something. I caught one, it wasn’t a touchdown. It was like seven yards. Just one good one. I was mostly a blocker. Cracking people.”
(On the new opportunities for trash talking)
“We all talk smack, we always have fun. We just compete, man. It was never nothing serious. Everybody talks trash a little bit, just to keep the momentum going. I think I am going to have fun [talking trash to the linebackers]. We already started this morning so I think I am going to have fun.”
JUNIOR DB NAZ OLIVER
(On the new defensive coaching staff):
“I’m getting good opportunities. The new defensive coaching staff gave me the opportunity to come back and play cornerback, so I just want to show them what all I can do and I’m excelling at it right now, so hopefully I can keep it up.”
(On the various coaches he has played for at UT):
“Willie Mack (Garza) was my coach my freshman year here. I have picked up a lot [from having different defensive coaches]. Being with a defensive guru like Monte Kiffin and (Justin) Wilcox and now Coach Sunseri, you see types of schemes it’s all about learning the defensive language and learning what everybody is talking about and just grasping the concepts.”
(On defensive coordinator Sal Suneri):
“Sal has a pretty complex defense coming in here and we just have to be sponges and soak up everything he’s teaching us. We have to just come in and work it because if we can play it right, then we’re going to be a successful defense and we’re going to create a lot of turnovers and confusion for the quarterback.”
(On competition at cornerback):
“There’s definitely a lot of completion [at cornerback]. We come out every day and depth charts aren’t set yet, so we just come out here and compete every day. If feel like I’m faster and stronger. Just being in the weight room and work through the injury – not caring about how my knee is going to feel. I just come out here and give it all I’ve got.”