Dooley wants immediate assistance
By Austin Ward
February 4, 2011
Derek Dooley doesn't sell playing time.
For one thing, that's a fairly common pitch on the recruiting trail and certainly wouldn't be unique to the Tennessee football coach.
For another, it doesn't take much work for anybody to figure out there are plenty of opportunities available to contribute on the UT roster right now.
And perhaps just as important, after handing out only a handful of redshirts to his first signing class a year ago, Dooley already has a track record of rolling out his young players - whether by necessity or not.
So many of the 28 signatures he collected on National Signing Day could soon become familiar names, because Dooley clearly still has a need for some instant help.
"Take this statistic," Dooley said Wednesday. "Next year's team, probably 70 percent of our roster will be freshmen and sophomores. We're going to be one of the youngest teams in the country next year. And I know that probably shocks everybody, but that's the deal.
"So this class is very important. And probably, who knows, but there will probably be a good opportunity for these guys to get on the field early."
There may be no other option for the Vols as they continue to restock the depth chart, and Dooley's second class could easily match the first in terms of early playing time.
Only two teams in the nation used more true freshmen than UT employed a year ago, a stat Dooley would ideally prefer not to become a staple of his program.
He didn't offer a specific quota for redshirts he'd like to fill down the road, but certainly the goal in his risk-managing approach to recruiting is to ensure that upperclassmen are making it more difficult for players to see the field as soon as they arrive on campus.
"When I was at Louisiana Tech, we played about 10 (true freshmen) a year," Dooley said. "If you're playing 10, it means you're probably pretty stout on upper-level starters. It doesn't mean you're a bad team.
"Now, what we do is we don't make decisions on redshirting guys. I never do, really, until about the eighth, ninth game of the season. So, we structure practice in a way that if they come here the first couple of weeks and they're not doing well, we don't panic. . . . I don't really project it. Generally, every time I try and do that I've been wrong. The guy I think is going to play redshirts and the guy I said there's no way ends up being one of the better players."
That obviously wasn't much of an issue last year since the Vols needed pretty much every available body to fill out a two-deep, with only quarterback Nash Nance, offensive lineman Marques Pair, punter Matt Darr, defensive lineman Greg Clark, linebacker Martaze Jackson and defensive back Ted Meline taking redshirt seasons.
And that was even with the benefit of a reasonably deep class of seniors a year ago, which is gone now and leaving some opportunity in the wake.
"Everybody sells it," Dooley said. "Look, every coach out there says you can play as a freshman and if the kid wants to believe he'll believe it. Is it important to the player? Yes. However, every program is selling it if they can. I don't know if that's as big a deal.
"I do think what a lot of the players saw was a lot of young guys out there performing well and they felt like the program shift in the right direction. But we have to remember we are in rigorous process and not even close to where we need to be as a program. It's a long journey ahead of us, but this is to me another positive step."
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.