KNOXVILLE – It may have been the first practice, but the Tennessee football team was already focusing on finishing when the veterans hit Haslam Field on Friday afternoon.
Head Coach Derek Dooley took an example from the Olympic Games currently taking place in London and used it as a source of inspiration for his team.
“The biggest thing that I want to emphasize to them is that this is when you begin to develop habits,” Dooley said. “There was a great story on Michael Phelps when he (got caught and) won the silver right at the end there. Bob Costas asked him what happened and he had an amazing answer when he said, `I wasn’t finishing when I was training and it caught up to me in the final.’
“If you don’t train the right way, train to finish and develop that habit, when it gets to crunch time you aren’t going to be able to finish it off. That is our starting point right now.”
That starting point is at a higher level than Dooley’s first two years at Rocky Top, but he was quick to point out that the team still has a long way to go. One of the biggest hurdles is getting everyone in “football shape” after a summer spent focusing on strength training.
“It was a good first day, but a typical first day,” Dooley said. “There is no way, I don’t care how much you train, that you will be ready for the first day when you put the helmet on and are running the plays. These first three practices are always a little more taxing because of the split squads so they are getting a lot of reps.”
The biggest strength for the Vols this year lies in its experience as it returns 10 starters on the offense and seven on the defensive side of the ball. That experience makes a difference from day one and helped the squad get off to a strong start on Friday.
“The biggest thing you notice is the administration of practice,” Dooley said. “You can actually coach technique and what you are supposed to coach instead of how to get into a stance, where to lineup, don’t jump offsides, get the snap. You are coaching the right things. It looked like practice 10 from an administration standpoint and that’s good. That’s what it should be.”
FIRST DAY FROM BRAY
With practice back in session, Vols quarterback Tyler Bray felt good about the team’s showing on a humid afternoon.
“It went well, the offensive line blocked great, we ran the ball pretty good,” said Bray. “The receivers did what they normally do and caught the ball.”
Bray talked about what he and his mates hoped to get out of the first day.
“It’s the start to the season,” he said. “New guys are learning the plays. Old guys are just trying to remember what’s going on. You move on through practice. It’s the first day, so it’s all installs, it’s what we have been doing for a couple of years now.”
With more than two years under his belt in college, Bray feels he has a better knowledge of what is expected.
“Just an understanding of what is going on and what the coaches want from me,” said Bray, who has played 16 college games. “Before I was just let’s run the plays and see what happens. Now it is let’s run the offense and move the ball down the field.”
Heading into his third year with the Vols, Bray has a good base to carry him into his junior year.
“The comfort level is the same. I have trust in my line and they are going to block like they normally do and the receivers are going to catch the ball. So I just have to go out there and execute.”
NEAL BONDS WITH OFFENSIVE LINE
Junior tailback Rajion Neal spent a better part of the summer in the weight room, with the offensive line. The Fayetteville, Ga. native felt that working out with the offensive front would help him to push himself to get bigger and stronger.
“It was a big push working with the offensive line,” said Neal. “They didn’t want to see a little guy come in and out-lift them. It was a competition and I think he helped both them and myself. I feel the numbers improved, the stats show it in there and hopefully it will show on the field.”
The work out sessions also proved well for bonding both offensive fronts.
“I thought working with them would give me a push and allow me to bond with them,” he added. “I want to prove to my teammates that I am dependable and reliable and I want to show them that I am ready to work for them and help them out in the best way that I can.”
YOUNG READY TO IMPRESS
Sophomore tailback and return man Devrin Young looks to bounce back from a broken collarbone injury last season and build off a solid offseason. The Bearden High School product feels extremely confident heading into the new season.
Physically, the 5-8, 172-pound Young says he is in fantastic shape, thanks in large part to strength coach Ron McKeefery. Heading into the season, he looks to really focus on the mental aspect of his game.
“I’m try to grind hard every day,” Young said. “Everybody is pushing everybody and no one wants to get left behind so I put a big emphasis on my work ethic this offseason. I feel like my speed is obviously my biggest strength. Coach Ron McKeefery really pushed my body to the max. I think I’ve put on 10 pounds. I feel like physically I’m well prepared and it is all just a mental game from here on out.”
Young is using the upcoming season to really show what he can do and hopes to contribute wherever he can to help the team.
“I am going to produce as much as I can,” Young said. “My goal is to get as many reps as I can. I know I’m not an every down back and I’m not going to be running too much power, but at the same time, if I’m doing well, coach is going to give me the rock.”
Tennessee Head Coach Derek Dooley
(On the offense)
“(Tyler Bray’s) not where we want him to be but nothing that would alarm you on day one. He was out there upbeat, played some good balls. It was good to see Justin (Hunter) back and not out there in a limited capacity. That helps bring a little juice. Da’Rick (Rogers) looked good. They all kind of picked up where we thought they would.”
(On the difference between the first practice his first year and this year)
“The first year, even if you have a veteran squad, it is always hard. It is a big-time contrast from last year because we had so many new faces and first-timers. (This year) is a big difference.”
(On receiving three votes in the coaches poll)
“The preseason poll is two things: what you did last year and who you have coming back. That’s generally what it is. We obviously didn’t do much last year but we have some guys coming back and I’m sure that’s what the three votes were.”
(On the pace of the first practice)
“These three days are always harder because you have half the numbers out there. These guys are going and going and going a lot more. They went the pace I expected. It’s never good but what you saw was we didn’t have the disasters where we couldn’t line up, balls fumbled everywhere couldn’t get a snap. We ran plays on offense and we ran the plays on defense. We looked like we’d been practicing and that kind of experience showed.”
(On Daniel Hood)
“It was his first day. He missed all of spring. I know I am anxious, I told Sal (Sunseri) and JP (John Palermo) they don’t know much about Dan. All they can go off of is what went on. I think Dan is going to surprise them. He is big and he is tough. He is strong and he gives good effort. I am anxious to see how he does over the course of camp.”
(On Milligan College’s nice facilities)
“We wouldn’t have chosen it if it wasn’t like that. That is one of the reasons we are going there. The field space is good. Our crew, Darren Seybold, has done a great job of going up there and kind of helping them get the fields ready. That is one of the good things about being at a place like this, so that has helped. The meeting room space is good. So it is pretty good. And it is pretty.”
Junior QB Tyler Bray
(On the shock to his body during camp)
“Yeah, having the helmet on I sweat a little more. I probably lost five pounds just for this practice. So it is a little different.”
(On Justin Hunter having his explosiveness back)
“Yeah, he has had that for a while now. He is looking better than ever.”
(On not checking down to Mychal Rivera now that there are a lot of targets at wide receiver:)
“I am still going to give him the ball, I have to show the tight ends some love. He blocks for me and keeps me safe so I have to throw him some love.”
Junior TB Rajion Neal
(On the all-in attitude of the team)
“Investing more comes with age and maturity and being around these guys. You know it’s time for a change and we need to change things that we were doing in the past, we thought it was something new and something that we should try and we really pushed each other, it worked out well and it should translate over.”
(On summer drills)
“We didn’t work so much on ball security, it was more my choices and my pad leverage. We worked on keeping it low, my hand strength and football drills. Focusing and paying attention to the minor details.”
(On the running back competition)
“I feel we are going to work hard and continue to push each other and keep this friendly competition going. As far as it being wide open, we are all working for it. We are going to compete.”
(On working with Coach Graham)
“It helped a lot [having Coach Graham here] because he has been through it all. It gave me something to look forward to. He stayed in my ear and has stayed on me as far as paying attention to little details and tweaking little things from the spring. It is great having a former tailback as your coach, guiding you through everything he already went through.”
Sophomore TB Devrin Young
(On the first practice of the 2012 season)
“I thought it was pretty crisp to be the first day of practice. Everybody was ready. Everybody was going full speed. And everybody had a good idea of what they were doing. So overall, it was a pretty good first day.”
(On what he needs to prove in 2012)
“I don’t feel established at all. There is a lot I need to prove and I know it, the team knows it, and the coaches know it. I feel more comfortable, but not established.”
(On the passing getting so much attention)
“It does motivate us because we don’t want to be in anyone’s shadow. And during the game when the coverage is deep and backed off we want to be able to help out and take advantage of that.”
(On his goals for 2012)
“My goal is to get as many reps as I can. I know I’m not an every down back and I’m not going to be running too much power. But at the same time, if I’m doing well, coach is going to give me the rock.”
RS Junior DL Daniel Hood
(On the new defensive scheme)
“It’s about being able to read the offense. They don’t know if we are going to blitz from an angle, in the middle or outside. That helps up to be more efficient in what we’re doing. I don’t think we are going to sit back on our heels and out-talent any team in the SEC. We are going to throw different schemes in there and be more aggressive.”
(On Tennesee’s defense compared to the offense)
“The offense is pretty, but the defense is what wins championships. That is what we hang our hat on, and we want to go out every day to beat them. It’s great to have an offense that talented, and to go against the caliber of players that good, it makes us better.”
(On blocking against the Tennessee offensive line)
“Big Zach [Fulton] is pretty good at pass rushing, and his fundamentals are good. So, I like to go against him in the pass rush. Alex [Bullard] will try to outwork you every play until the whistle, and he will probably even go until after the play. Ja’Waun [James] is basically one of the best all-around players on the offensive-line. If they hit you, you know it. If my technique is not right, I will end up on my back.”