Vols ready to return focus back to football field

Tennessee has gotten plenty of attention in the past eight
months for off-the-field news. The Volunteers are hoping to prove
that none of it will keep them from being successful on the
field.

”We know how hard we worked this summer, so I think it’s going
to be a good time for us to get out there and show everybody how
hard we’ve been working and how dedicated we are to Tennessee,”
senior defensive end Chris Walker said.

The Vols have been eagerly awaiting Saturday’s season opener
against Tennessee-Martin because it means the fans’ focus will be
back on football. All the talk surrounding the Vols from January
through August has been about former coach Lane Kiffin’s hasty
departure from Tennessee – the Vols’ second coaching change in as
many seasons – and the July bar brawl that led to one player’s
dismissal and two others’ suspensions.

If anything, the program’s offseason turmoil has helped foster
more team chemistry for the 2010 season, senior linebacker Nick
Reveiz said.

”I feel like it’s brought us closer as a team,” Reveiz said.
”We’ve had so much turnover and change, the only guys we could
really look at or rely on were the players … therefore we bonded
closer as a team, and I really feel like we’ve created a team
chemistry.”

The coaching turnover and player arrests could have done just
the opposite by tearing the team apart, first-year coach Derek
Dooley said. But the Vols have shown resiliency after every bit of
adversity they’ve faced in recent years, from following up a 5-7
season and coach Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008 with a 7-6 season
in 2009 to being completely dedicated to fall camp after the
embarrassment of the bar brawl.

Dooley’s hope is that his players’ resiliency will continue to
translate to good things on the field.

”I hope that what it does prepare them for is when it gets a
little tough out there – which it will – that we stay together and
we support each other and we play out of it, just like the kids
have done with every little piece of adversity that’s hit them in
the past couple of years,” the coach said.

The Vols didn’t immediately warm to Dooley’s leadership when he
was hired in January, having just been jilted by Kiffin, Reveiz
said. But Dooley has earned their respect over the course of the
offseason, especially thanks to the way he handled the discipline
problems and prepared the team, despite major depth issues.

”He’s really taken care of us as far as off-the-field issues
and as far as on-the-field issues. He’s really been there for us,”
Reveiz said. ”We’re going to stay together as a team, and we’re
going to support coach Dooley.”

A number of players opted to leave Tennessee after both Fulmer’s
firing and Kiffin’s departure, leaving only 76 scholarship players
on the team after Dooley awarded scholarships to a couple of
walk-on players.

Dooley and his players have acknowledged many times that the
lack of depth could cause Tennessee to struggle. Still, Reveiz says
he wouldn’t trade in the team’s difficult times of late just to
have a full roster.

”It’s hard not to say you’re not worried, but you realize that
you’d rather do it with a smaller group of guys who are doing it
the right way than a bigger group of guys that are doing it the
wrong way,” he said. ”I really believe we’re doing it the right
way as far as off the field and on the field.

”I can make a commitment to the community that we’re trying to
make Vol nation proud and we’re working as hard as we extremely
can. I wouldn’t trade these guys for anybody.”