Vols return to practice with clear expectations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
The returning Tennessee players won't just know their coaches and coordinators this season. They're heading into fall practice with a clear idea of what those coaches expect of them on the field.
''I think it will make a huge difference,'' senior tailback Tauren Poole said Monday. ''Now that coach (Derek) Dooley is in his second year, we definitely know what he wants, and we're definitely comfortable with him. He's built our trust. It's definitely going to carry over on the field, and that's especially what I'm excited about. This whole offseason we've tried to instill his principles in our work ethic and everything we do.''
When the Volunteers begin fall practice on Tuesday it will be the first time in four seasons they won't be getting used to either a new head coach or new offensive or defensive coordinator.
That means Dooley, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox won't have to spend so much time this August trying to impress on the players just how hard they're expected to work. Dooley likes to call the 2011 season - his second year at Tennessee - ''Year One'' after spending so much time in 2010 trying to build a sense of stability in a team that had seen three head coaches and six different coordinators in three seasons.
Dooley thinks the team lost a sense of what it means to be a Tennessee Volunteer in the midst of upheaval.
''We are going to continue what we started earlier in the year just about redefining the standard here and developing a sense of pride in being a Vol and understanding what it means to be a Tennessee Volunteer,'' he said.
To achieve that, the players will focus on getting faster and stronger, improving their fundamental skills like tackling and becoming more disciplined on offense, defense and special teams. Dooley said those are the kinds of things every team has to work on every season, but they're especially necessary to get the Vols back to being able to compete for the Southeastern Conference championship.
''I don't care what team you have, every year you have to start over on things such as attitude and discipline and toughness and effort - it's the same stuff,'' he said. ''We aren't reinventing the wheel. We always want to improve fundamentally and learn all of our technical aspects on offense, defense and special teams.''
The players got a jump start on that this summer working with new strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery, who last year worked as the human performance coordinator for the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell after 10 seasons as the strength coach at South Florida.
Under McKeefery's charge, many players put on several extra pounds of muscle. Dooley said that has resulted in players being stronger, faster and more explosive, which he hopes will bring better play on the field.
Dooley is also looking for continued improvement off the field after several seasons of problems with player arrests. Senior linebacker Austin Johnson was arrested and charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct on July 24 after nearly starting a fight and stumbling around a parking lot at a Knoxville bar.
Johnson's arrest was the only for the Vols this season, and Dooley said he will handle Johnson's punishment internally. The Hickory, N.C., native will still be able to participate in practice.
''I think we were all shocked and disappointed when we saw it because he's never really given any indication that he would do something like that and, also, because he probably had one of the best summers from a commitment standpoint, from a leadership standpoint,'' Dooley said. ''It's a great reminder to all of us that you can never take that for granted and you're only one bad decision away from hurting your reputation.''