KNOXVILLE – Much like its first four days on Haslam Field, Tennessee spent its fifth installing specific situational phases.
After working on third-down and red-zone situations in previous practices, the focus was on short-yardage plays on Tuesday. Although it is necessary to work on each of those phases of the game, UT head coach Derek Dooley has not lost sight of the bigger picture.
“Those are a lot of small, statistical things that we look at to measure ourselves but the primary indicators of winning and losing are three things: turnover ratio, big play ratio and winning the fourth quarter,” Dooley said. “The data over the last four years of college football is unbelievable on those three things.
“Everything we have adjusted a little bit offensively, defensively or on special teams is to either make big plays or create more turnovers and some of what we are doing every day in camp is working on trying to win it in the fourth quarter which takes a lot of grit.”
Although most of the team’s systems have been put in place, there is still a lot of work left to be done to master them.
“I don’t have a percentage (for how much is installed), but the first four or five days is the bulk of what you are doing, so most of it – 80 percent or so,” Dooley said. “The second part is whether they feel comfortable doing it and I would say zero percent. We have to close that gap quickly.”
Another factor in play on Tuesday was the end of the second session of summer school, as both Da’Rick Rogers and Eric Gordon missed practice to finish up their classwork.
That is something the Vols have emphasized greatly since the start of training camp after losing Steven Fowlkes for the season due to grades at the same time last year.
Although Fowlkes took the challenge head on and has returned to become a standout early in camp, the Big Orange would like to avoid a similar situation this year and his example has been a good one for the team’s young players.
“We have more guys to try to set the example,” Dooley said. “(Fowlkes is) also a great example for all these guys who have to pass their classes. We talked a lot about when camp started not going to sleep at the wheel in school.
“We had a week left in summer school and that is what (Fowlkes) did (last year). It’s easy to shut it down and that’s what he did. We have several guys who have a lot of work to do to finish it out here and that’s been a good example.”
MORE THAN A HAIRCUT AND 20 POUNDS…
According to Tyler Bray, the only personal differences between this year and last year for the junior quarterback are about 20 pounds and a haircut.
However, he does recognize that he has one of the most veteran offensive lines in the nation. The bonding that the offensive line has done in the offseason has translated to the field, to the point of silence.
"The [offensive line] is great," said Bray. "It is getting to the point where they don't even have to say anything to each other because they already know what they are doing. Coach is yelling at them because they aren't talking but they got it and know what the other person is going to do."
Bray has also developed as a leader on the field and feels more comfortable in that position.
"[Leadership] is becoming second nature to me," said Bray. "It is kind of hard at first because you don't want to be screaming at the guys because they are about 100 pounds bigger than me. But, they are starting to listen to me a little more and working a lot harder."
Bray is pleased with their hard work and is excited to be under center in 2012.
"This offensive line, I am not really scared of anyone getting to me," said Bray. "They are a great offensive line and you can't ask for a better group of guys."
LATHERS’ LONG ROAD TO LEADERSHIP
Since joining the Vols in 2008, redshirt senior Herman Lathers has certainly faced his fair share of adversity. Now -- as he participates in his final preseason camp with the Orange & White -- Lathers is one of few that can say he came out on the other side.
"Through it all we stuck together, we leaned on each other and picked each other up when we needed to be," said Lathers. "It has been a struggle, but if we had to go back and change anything, we wouldn't change a thing. It's made us who we are today and we've learned to work through adversity to handle a situation like this. It has been a good group so I'm proud to say I came in with them."
Over the past seven months, Lathers has experienced loads of change within the program. With new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri joining the Vols and implementing a new defensive system, the 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker knew his role would change.
"It [being a leader] became clear in January once the new coaches got here," Lathers said. "They evaluated me and knew I had a lot of playing experience and injuries, so I took the job to step up and be a leader of this team. I'm going to step up and lead this team where we need to go."
Lathers returns to action in 2012 after missing all of last season with a fractured ankle. He started 12 games in 2010, compiling 75 total tackles, including 10-tackle performances against Vanderbilt and LSU. As the mike linebacker Lathers knows he's responsible for the entire defensive unit, and with a new system, he's shown a selfless attitude throughout camp to help his teammates adjust.
"They're adjusting well. Some of them like Willie Bohannon have to learn two or three positions so I'm also learning them. I don't have to, but as the mike linebacker, I took it upon myself to learn the positions and help those guys. Once I know it, I'll know they know it and I'm able to help them and they can help me so it works out for all of us."
SENTIMORE SURGES UP DL DEPTH CHART
Redshirt junior defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore has worked his way onto the first-team defensive line after the first few days of practice. The JUCO transfer from Gulf Coast C.C. (and Alabama before that) is weighing in at a fit 280 pounds and said a summer chat with new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri convinced him to improve his conditioning.
"Coach Sunseri sat me down in his office and told me that I wasn't playing like he wanted me to, like he knew that I could play," said Sentimore, who knew Sunseri from their time together at Alabama. "So, I had to go out there and work on it. I knew what it was. It was me not in shape. So, this summer I went out there and busted my tail on the football field to get in shape. Now, Coach Sal is pleased with me."
Sentimore said that being in better shape has made him a better combo defensive lineman - equally effective stopping the run as he is when adjusting to the pass. That versatility has allowed him to pass Steven Fowlkes, who thrives mainly as a pass rusher, for a spot on the first team.
In addition the getting more fit, Sentimore attacks practice with a more aggressive and focused mindset.
"It was very hot out there," he said. "I prayed before I went out there to try to get the heat off my mind and just focus and try to get my other teammates to focus so we can just play hard, so we can compete for a championship."
AYRES SWITCHES SIDES
The Vols knew they were thin at tight end already and a minor knee injury to Mychal Rivera only reinforced that on Tuesday.
In order to lessen that concern, UT pulled from an area of depth when it moved redshirt junior Joseph Ayres over from the defensive line. At 6-3, 273 pounds, Dooley is intrigued by what he could bring to his new position.
"With Rivera out, we are thin at that position," Dooley said. "We have a lot of defensive lineman and we were looking on the board to see us in that area. Just like Justin King, I think Joe Ayers can give us a little value, especially as a bigger, physical guy to help us block."
Ayres will now wear number 88 for the Big Orange.
FULTON FOCUSED ON RUN GAME
Junior offensive lineman Zach Fulton, along with the rest of the Volunteer offensive linemen, have been putting some serious work in this offseason. The line is determined this year to have success, especially in the run game. While talking with the media, Fulton had a big smile on when he discussed how much fun he has had working on run blocking drills in practice.
"I just love working on the run blocking," said Fulton. "It's just something that's fun to do. We stress it each and every single day and we do it consistently, over and over again until we have it.
"The offensive line's progress has been really good so far. We are achieving well in the run game and making positive strides every day in team run. We are just getting better and better."
The 6-5, 326-pound native of Homewood, Illinois knows how important the offensive line is to an offense. If the offensive line can't establish a presence, the offense does not have much of a chance to even get started or get in a rhythm. The offensive line is the foundation of a good offense.
"The team basically follows the offensive line's play," said Fulton. "For instance if we do bad in practice, it basically means the whole team isn't going to have a good practice. As the offensive line, we have to set the tempo. And we know the whole receiving corps is great. So if we can give Tyler [Bray] the time, we know he is going to get the ball to somebody."
CALL HIM WILLIE BO: LINEBACKER
After four years at defensive end, Willie Bohannon is transitioning into a new role. The redshirt senior has spent the past five days transferring between JACK and SAM linebacker positions.
"It's actually going pretty good, better than I thought by this time," Bohannon said. "I've been picking it up.
"It was totally new. When I was playing JACK, it was like I was still playing defensive end, but when I play SAM, it's not out of my comfort zone anymore, I became more comfortable with it, but at the beginning it was kind of awkward."
The Mobile, Ala., product says learning formations has been the most difficult task, but praises defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri for his guidance in the process.
"He's really helpful to me," Bohannon said. "I'm not afraid to ask him a question. He's not the type of person that if you ask him a bad question he's going to be like `oh you're on the bench' or anything like that. It's really been helpful in transitioning."
In his last season as a Volunteer, Bohannon's maturity shines through his transition with the confidence he emits and his passion for contributing to the team.
"I never had doubts," Bohannon said. "Ever since he (Coach Sunseri) told me to learn it, I just locked in and was like, this is going to be good for me. No matter what I do in the future, if I ever become an NFL player or want to coach someday, it's going to be helpful in some kind of way.
"I feel like we can really, really turn it around this year. And we can be the first senior group to start it off. We really have a chance to be the senior group that started the University of Tennessee's comeback. That makes me feel really good about playing and no matter if I never come off the bench or no matter if I never start this whole season but play, but just to be a part of that is just good for me."
KING KEEPS COMING BACK
Coming back from multiple injuries the past three years he's spent at UT, redshirt junior linebacker Greg King is keeping his head up coming into the 2012 season.
"It's wonderful being back," said King, who has been felled by knee injuries. "I can look back on [the injuries] now and just use it as momentum. It's been a while since I've been out there, so I'm just taking it one day at a time."
King laughed at how frustrating the injuries have been.
"You can't be mad about them," he said. "But, you just have to keep pushing now - with the mental reps and just trying to learn the defense."
King is optimistic about the upcoming season's 3-4 defense. With this defense, he said you can "make plays and open up gaps. There's more room for you to just roam and be a linebacker."
With what he's currently focusing on, King said, "right now, I'm just trying to pick up everything, because you never know what might happen and you have to be prepared for whatever comes."
According to King, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri has the approval of his defense because he goes after the mindset of his players.
"I love his game," King said. "He's an honest coach. He's not scared to bring you out on the field and he loves to have fun out there, but he does mean business.
"We still have a long way to go [before kickoff]. It's some of both [reviewing old plays and installing new plays], but there's definitely a lot of the new stuff. It's a whole new package with about 30 more schemes. You've got to be prepared, with mental rest, too. You have to watch as much film as you can and become the best players you can be on the field."
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On the status of players not at Tuesday’s practice)
“Da’Rick was in class and Eric Gordon was in class. This was the last day of summer school. (Mychal) Rivera tweaked his knee, sprained his knee a little bit but it’s nothing serious. He’ll be out probably about a week or so. (Davante) Bourque got a neck. It’s not really a stinger, I think it is a whiplash deal.”
(On the difference in Tyler Bray from last season)
“Just with the experience of going through it, understanding the expectations and the maturity from that standpoint, but he is the same guy. He is. He is still Tyler Bray. He still does the same things on the field, but I just feel he is a lot more engaged with what he is doing and that really comes from experience.”
(On Greg King)
“He hasn’t gotten hurt which is good. I’m not saying that jokingly because that has always been a concern. We’re trying to see where he can fit in and help us. We are thin at inside backer and special teams.”
(On whether Herman Lathers’ leadership has helped the linebackers improve more quickly)
“I think that is part of it, but he also has two young guys who have incredible competitive character and leadership ability in Curt (Maggitt) and A.J. (Johnson). When you have three guys in that room that set that kind of tune, it is hard for the young guys not to follow suit.”
(On competitive character)
“Competitive character is a very, very important quality in what we call their make-up. Every recruiter will evaluate their make-up which is their passion for the game, their discipline, their toughness, their effort, their competitive character. That is a component of it. It’s not easy. It’s good to watch them live to see how they respond to adversity, how they respond to the tough stuff. It’s something, certainly, that we would like to have a great bead on but I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said we definitely know what their competitive make-up is. It’s hard because that’s the human element.”
(On Steven Fowlkes sudden emergence)
“You see it more with big guys. Offensive linemen, there are a million of them. They will go three years in the program and you think they are never going to play and then they come in and everything starts happening. You see it on the defensive line when a guy just plugs away and plugs away. It happens all the time. That’s why not having a lot of attrition is so important because guys get better as they get older.”
(On why Steven Fowlkes has improved)
“He has matured a lot over the last year. I think what happened to him last fall was a real blow to him personally. To his credit, he responded the right way. I’ll tell you, the most telling thing about Steven Fowlkes was watching him every day in practice last year. It was unbelievable, the effort he gave, his attitude and he was on scout team and knew he couldn’t play. He was the best scout team guy we had. I knew right then that he was going to be fine. That’s a guy who made a mental commitment that he was going to change and do it right and he hasn’t flinched.”
(On the offensive line setting the tone for practice)
“I would be crushed if they didn’t set the tone. These guys have been in the program three years. At some point they have to take ownership of the team and take ownership of the practice. They’ve done a good job of that.”
(On fifth-year seniors)
“Those guys obviously believe in Tennessee and appreciate what all Tennessee has given to them despite all of the change that has happened. That’s a tribute to them.”
JUNIOR QB TYLER BRAY
(On Cordarrelle Patterson)
“CP is everything that everyone has hyped him up to be. He can go up and get the ball, he is a big, strong receiver, he is going to do very well in the SEC. His role will be very big this year. He is pretty much a starter already so he is going to play a big role. Between the three of them we should have a very good season.”
(On the veteran feel of camp)
“It is a lot easier in practice this year. You don’t have to describe to the young guys what to do, you just call a play and snap the ball real quick. I feel a lot more comfortable. Last year I was still trying to learn it, still young trying to figure everything out, this year I am much more comfortable.”
(On the offensive line)
“The first two years, the offensive line was just trying to feel each other out and see what they were going to do. This year they are starting to gel, if they aren’t already gelled. They are looking pretty good right now and we are running the ball great.”
JUNIOR OL ZACH FULTON
(On what he has seen out of Tyler Bray at practice)
"Bray has shown a lot more leadership. He is making sure we hustle down the field when the ball is thrown. He is just doing all the little things that a quarterback, and a leader, should be doing."
(On being a veteran on the offensive line)
"I remember coming in as a first time starter and now I'm considered a veteran. It's kind of cool. But all of us that came in together have grown a lot and now we look to bring along all the young guys now."
RS SENIOR LB HERMAN LATHERS
(On the potential of the linebacker corps)
“We’ll be real good. We’ve got a lot of guys that are big, strong and can run. We have a lot of guys that know the scheme. Our main job is to get our d-line to trust us. Trust that we’re going to be in our gaps, trust that we’re going to run behind them and play well behind them. We’re going to be a good defense.”
(On his relationship with A.J. Johnson)
“It’s been good. We spend a lot of time off the field together, a lot of time on the weekends. As far as football goes, A.J. has improved a lot since the spring. He’s gotten a lot better and he asks me a lot of questions. He really improved today and showed that he can handle the mike just in case we have to switch positions. It’s going to be good for us and we’re ready for it.”
(On the depth at linebacker)
“We’ve got a lot of guys banged up right now with hamstring and quads so we’re just trying to get guys healthy and get them back. The main thing about camp is it’s a strain and grind so a lot of guys are going to get injured. You just got to treat your body like a pro. Cold tub, ice, stretch and things like that. Once we do all that and get guys healthy back on the field, we’ll have guys that can step up and play behind us.”
(On being one of the few seniors remaining)
“I definitely take pride in it. I remember all of us coming in together and we’ve been through our struggles with coaching changes. Through it all we stuck together, we leaned on each other and picked each other up when we needed to be. It has been a struggle, but if we had to go back and change anything, we wouldn’t change a thing. It’s made us who we are today and we’ve learned to work through adversity to handle a situation like this. It has been a good group so I’m proud to say I came in with them.”
RS JUNIOR LB GREG KING
(On players doing multiple jobs on the field)
“[With the depth chart], we’re all still learning. Everybody has their own positions, but no one has a specific job right now, we’re just trying to help each other out the best way we can.”
(On the size he’s gained)
“I’ve just been lifting a lot and eating well. Out on the field, you’re more physical and you’ve got more balance in your steps and in your pace, so I think you’re able to come down with harder hits. Coach says to be the hammer, not the nail.”
RS JUNIOR DL DARRINGTON SENTIMORE
(On if he adjusted his mindset at the beginning of camp to be more mentally sharp)
“Yes. I had lacked that at the beginning because I was out of shape. But now, I’m in shape. I worked hard this summer. Coach McKeefery put us through a hard summer session and I’ve been working hard, all day, every day.”
(On how much more comfortable he is with the defense)
“I’m very comfortable because now I know what to do. I can help my teammates a lot better. On and off the field, when the young guys need help with the plays, they can ask me because I know. I know what it takes. I know how the defense and the schemes are set up and how it’s supposed to be run.”
(On how Nick Gentry has helped him)
“Nick Gentry, he’d been at Alabama and he played in the defense. He’s been helping me on the stance and recognizing different types of schemes, the offensive running and he’s giving me little points that I need to know for defense.”
RS SENIOR LB WILLIE BOHANNON
(On it being his last camp)
““When you think of it as the last camp, it’s kind of happy because it’s camp because who wants to go to camp five times. But camp being over and never having to do it again at the University of Tennessee, it’s happy. But when it comes to the last season at Tennessee, it’s kind of like man this is it, everybody looking up at you, everybody is going to look at you when it’s that last game of the season. You’re going to give a speech as a senior rand you’ve watched everyone do it in the past years and now it’s you.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at firstname.lastname@example.org)