KNOXVILLE - The Tennessee veterans completed their second full day of practice at Haslam Field on Saturday and head coach Derek Dooley likes what he sees so far.
"I'm really pleased with the way this team has approached these (first) two days," Dooley said. "They have a real workmanlike approach, a lot of leadership, a lot of chatter and have been really positive.
While the Vols have impressed early in camp, Dooley knows that won't mean much if they can't sustain that energy. UT will put shoulder pads on for the first time Sunday, which will be the first of many tests for the Big Orange over the next few weeks.
"I'm proud of them but, of course, the challenge is as you get deeper into camp something will be new," Dooley said. "We'll have shoulder pads on and they'll feel heavier, it will be hotter and how do we respond to that?
"The good news is that things are good as far as how we are working and how we are approaching (practice) but the test will come each day and that's when it gets tougher on the leadership. Overall, it's been a real good start and we're looking forward to putting pads on."
The veterans aren't the only ones practicing though as Dooley and his staff got their first look at all of the newcomers Friday night.
"Last night was good," Dooley said. "It was about like most of the freshmen practices, so their heads are spinning and they have no idea what we're talking about. The ones that go out and play fast and don't worry about all of that always look a little better. It was good."
DA’RICK PUMPED FOR PATTERSON
The Vols could have one of the most potent receiver corps in the nation with All-SEC receiver Da'Rick Rogers joined by junior Justin Hunter and JUCO transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Rogers and Hunter have been working out in the day sessions, while Patterson is taking to the field with the newcomers in the evening. The trio has yet to officially work on the practice field together, but Rogers is anticipating the day, which is slated to be Monday -- when the team practices as one.
"I can't wait until we come together because I really am excited to see what (Patterson) does against the first team," Rogers said. "I have seen him against the other guys and he looked really good."
Many media members and fans have come to the conclusion that Patterson is a combination of both Rogers and Hunter, creating a another weapon for Tyler Bray. Rogers agrees with the concept.
"I do see that," Rogers said about the top-rated JUCO prospect coming into the 2012 season. "He has all those things so we can put him in the slot, we can put him on the outside, we can use him in a lot of places."
Rogers has also been taken by Patterson's comprehension of the game, coupled with his physical gifts making him a huge asset for the Vols.
"Really just his knowledge of the game," Rogers said in terms of what he was most impressed about with Patterson. "His speed is really good. He is my size so he is a big receiver. He just adds to our core.
"When you have so many weapons you have to respect every weapons so it opens up so many opportunities for our offense, even in the run game."
3-4 SCHEME IM-PRESSES COLEMAN
Sophomore defensive back Justin Coleman is really excited for the upcoming season. Not only will he have a year of experience under his belt, but he will also be playing in new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 defensive scheme.
"I feel like Coach Sal's more aggressive defensive style fits me because I am a more physical guy," said the Brunswick, Ga., native. "I like to play press coverage and that will help out on the blitzes. I feel pretty confident with the new scheme. Everything is coming to me fairly easy, but there are still some challenging parts that come with understanding a new defense. That being said, I still have a lot to learn."
"In the 3-4 scheme, there is a little more information that the corners have to learn. We aren't really behind any other position, but there is just a lot to learn with stuff like where to line up so we can know we have the defense set up right."
The 5-10, 182-pounder is excited for practice to start. With many of the secondary positions being wide open, Coleman is especially looking forward to the position battles this August.
"There is a ton of competition with the defensive backs. Everybody wants to start and everybody wants to play especially in a packed stadium with thousands and thousands of people screaming."
O-LINE LOOKING FOR VERSATILITY
The first two days of practice have brought with them some change on the offensive line with James Stone working at center and Alex Bullard seeing action at tackle as the Vols look to increase their versatility up front.
Bullard, who started six games at guard and six at center last season, has embraced the challenge of playing yet another position.
"If somebody goes down I will probably be the person who they move and fill in the void," Bullard said. "I just have to work to know every position, tackle or center, and do that to the best of my ability."
Dooley sees the move with Bullard as adding value to his squad in terms of increased flexibility and depth all across the front five.
"He's a little bit like James (Stone) as far as his body type," Dooley said. "We've worked James at all three (positions) and we've worked Alex at center and guard. We're going to work him a little bit at tackle, which we have the last couple of days to see if he could be that guy. The more guys you have like that the better."
As a unit, Bullard and the rest of the offensive line are clearly confident in their abilities and want to prove their naysayers wrong.
"We are a lot older and we are more mature," Bullard said. "We have a chip on our shoulder. They say we were one of the worst offensive lines in the country last year and I disagree with that. Statistically we were one of the worst, but we have a chip on our shoulder and we have something to prove this year. We want to go out and do it."
COUCH STUDIES UP ON 3-4 DEFENSE
Redshirt junior Maurice Couch and his fellow defensive linemen have had their hands full learning the 3-4 defense this offseason and in practice.
The Orlando, Fla., native has been practicing mainly at nose tackle, the anchor position of the 3-4, and said working in the offseason with new UT strength and conditioning intern Nick Gentry, who starred in the interior defensive line of Alabama's 3-4 the past five seasons, has helped him adjust to the new defensive scheme.
"Working with Nick Gentry and Coach Mac, as a group we did really great in the offseason," Couch said. "A lot of us got stronger and faster. All over the board, we had a really good offseason."
That work has not gone unnoticed, with head coach Derek Dooley commenting on Couch's improvement after Saturday's practice.
"Mo is doing really well," Dooley said. "He really struggled when he first got here just even getting through practice so he has worked hard on his conditioning and is showing a lot of mental toughness giving effort. He has some good fast-twitch body fibers in there and just goes all out."
Studying game film of Alabama, the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins (teams that run the 3-4) has played a big role in the defensive line's learning process. Couch said the toughest thing about the 3-4 defense is its mental aspect - knowing gap assignments and making adjustments on the fly. Despite the challenge, he thinks the complexity of the scheme will benefit the Vols.
"You definitely get to see different adjustments, like as far as your opponents and what they're doing," he said. "It's just crazy. It's a very tough defensive scheme. At the end of it, for us it definitely will help our team win."
LANE LIKING NEW MENTOR
There were many new additions to the coaching staff during the offseason, none as important to Marlin Lane as Jay Graham, the new running backs coach. Graham brings veteran leadership to the university that the running back corps can respect.
"It feels a lot different now because we have someone that we can look at now that played both here at Tennessee and at the next level," said Lane. "Learning from him has given us a head start [to the season]."
Graham was a letterwinner at Tennessee from 1993-96 who rushed for 2,609 yards during that time, seventh most in school history. In 1995, he rushed for 1,438 yards on 272 carries (second on the single-season list).
"He hasn't popped the game tapes in," Lane continued, "but he always says he has no idea what we are talking about when we ask him how many yards he ran. I know a little bit about him though."
Lane is happy with his new mentor, showing up to meetings early and leaving late only to head to the field and work on some plays.
"It feels natural [with Graham]" said Lane. "There are some ups-and-downs because we have more meeting times now than we had in the spring. We are getting to know a lot about each other. He stays on me though and we keep moving forward."
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On Daniel McCullers)
“He’s huge. He’s got a lot of work to do in understanding technique, understanding that he has more to cover than this area and effort and all that stuff but he’s a big guy and he’s had a great attitude. Now it is just a matter of how much he can learn and how quickly he can apply it.”
(On Cordarrelle Patterson)
“He did pretty good out there. He’s big, he’s fast, he can catch and he’s obviously worked pretty hard over the last few weeks to learn the offense because he didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
(On whether Patterson will play a back-up role like Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers did their freshman year)
“It’s way too early to make a decision on that. What he has to do is get through these three days, see how much he can absorb and then get in there with the good guys against the good guys, veteran guys, and see if he can maintain that level of performance.”
(On the cornerback competition)
“There are a lot of guys out there who have skill sets and they are all getting a lot better. As you really look at it between Prentiss (Waggner), Justin Coleman, Marsalis (Teague) and Eric Gordon there is just a lot of improvement. They are engaged, working hard and practicing the right way. I’m just anxious to see what they are going to look like in about 15 practices. And you know what? They are going to be going against good wideouts, so I hope that helps them.”
(On Justin Coleman fading at the end of last season)
“I didn’t see him fade the way you guys kind of saw it. He was a true freshman and there were a lot of things we saw that you guys didn’t see when the ball wasn’t coming his way. It just happened there were a few times when they threw it that he made some of those mistakes. I didn’t really see it as him fading as much as, you know, the younger you are and the more you are out there, the more you are going to get tested. What I’ve been proud of his that he wants to be the starting cornerback. He has a lot of good position skills, excellent height, weight and speed and all the tools to be good.”
(On James Stone at center)
“He’s done well. We haven’t had many balls on the ground and his snapping has been very consistent. We want to measure it over the course of camp and see how he does in pads. It’s always a little different with blitzes coming, making calls and pressure, but he has done a good job. All the positions are kind of there for the taking. It’s just what the guys in there want to do with it.”
(On Maurice Couch)
“Mo is doing really well. He really struggled when he first got here just even getting through practice so he has worked hard on his conditioning and is showing a lot of mental toughness giving effort. He has some good fast-twitch body fibers in there and just goes all out.”
(On using Marlin Lane in the Wildcat)
“We’re working on it. He’s going to be repping it with some other guys, just searching really to see who is going to emerge. I don’t know how much that is going to be a part of our offense but who knows. It’s just finding different ways when what you believe in isn’t working or to supplement what you do.”
(On competition at multiple positions)
“I think it helps their ability to push themselves in practice. They know every rep is important and when they are getting tired or hurting, that kind of competition is what helps push you through it.”
(On Omari Phillips)
“He’s a little bigger and his body composition is something we are going to have to work on. So what his muscle weight, fat percentage, water weight, all that stuff is what we’ll go to work on. He’s probably a little heavier than what he should be on but we’ll trim him up and tone him back. He’s done a good job out here. I thought he would really struggle more than he has because he didn’t do much this summer given all that happened to him.”
JUNIOR WR DA’RICK ROGERS
(On his excitement to be on the field with Justin Hunter and CP)
“I can’t wait until we come together because I really am excited to see what he does against the first team and what not. I have seen him against the other guys and he looked really good.”
(On taking on a leadership role)
“You kind of have to because if you don’t nobody will learn in that situation. Being at all the positions, I played the most and I have to teach a lot of people. So it helps me come into that composure of being a leader. So it is training.”
(On Tyler Bray)
“I have seen Tyler grow from where I used to what he is now. It is big. The composure and the maturity level, his leadership, and even him off the field. He has really grown.”
(On how fun it is playing fast)
“It is so much more fun because you don’t have to think as much. You can just come out and run the plays and really work on getting open and trying to make plays rather than worrying about where I have to be, its ball snap now what do I do. Now it is just everybody is moving fast and we are getting better.”
SOPHOMORE TB MARLIN LANE
(On the wildcat offense)
“I am just getting back used to it and seeing how it works. I’m not sure if we are going to use it but to be safe we are just going to work with it and hopefully have progress. It is just getting into the mindset of being comfortable with everything and the play calling.”
(On the running backs pushing each other)
“We get with each other every day and talk. We motivate each other to come out and focus on doing the job for themselves and the team. We put a grade up in the running back room every day and see if we can meet that every day as a team together.”
(On coming back from his knee injury)
“I feel 100 percent now. I had surgery my junior year in high school and I missed half of the season my senior year and I just had another surgery in December to fix everything. I feel a whole lot better and feel that burst that I hadn’t felt since I had that first surgery.”
RS JUNIOR DL MO COUCH
(On if he likes opening the season against a tough opponent like North Carolina State)
“Yes. A lot of schools have a big game at the beginning just to test their guys and see where they are at and kind of get an opponent that is going to match their conference games. I’m definitely looking forward to it and so are the guys.”
(On how he is dealing with his asthma conditions in practice)
“It will still flare up here and there, but I manage it very well and I feel that I’m more in shape than where I was last year.”
(On if his strong finish to last season is fueling him during the offseason and practice)
“I kind of use it as motivation because I don’t want to wait until five games down the stretch. I’m just learning how to get under things and learning the speed of the game. I want to use that at practice to get my body prepared, so soon as I get on the field, I can just tear it up.”
JUNIOR OL JAMES STONE
(On playing center)
“I’m at an athletic position, and I have a feel for making calls. I’m out here getting more snaps and experience. I feel more comfortable than I have ever felt.”
(On his physicality)
“I’m about where I need to be. I feel like I’m getting stronger in my lower body. That is something we really focus on, especially as a whole offensive line. We have to get our lower body and core strength together.”
(On being the starting center)
“I feel like this whole season I’ll have the starting center job, and someone is going to really have to take it from me.”
RS JUNIOR ALEX BULLARD
(On how it feels being back at practice)
“Pretty good. It is good to be back out there on the field. It has been fun. It is a little hot out there and we all have to get back into football shape. I like who we are right now as a team.”
(On how he improved in the off-season.)
“A lot. I am in better condition. I am better technically with my technique and I obviously I am more mature from playing last year. The game slowed down quite a bit.”
(On the improvement of the offensive line)
“We are a lot older and we are more mature. We have a chip on our shoulder. They say we were one of the worst offensive lines in the country last year and I disagree with that. Statistically, we were one of the worst. But we have a chip on our shoulder and we have something to prove this year. We want to go out and do.”
SOPHOMORE DB JUSTIN COLEMAN
(On the offseason)
"My summer offseason program was pretty good. There are still a lot of areas for me to improve in, but overall I feel good heading into the season and competing for the starting corner spot."
(On his progression)
"I really credit Coach Derrick Ansley with a lot of my progression. I can honestly say I've learned a lot from him. He has taught me how to finish plays, play harder and give more effort."
(On finishing each play)
"My biggest focus heading into the season is finishing every play. Whether it be knocking down a pass or guarding a receiver, I feel like if I finish each play I'll be in good position."
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)