KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley stressed the importance of the Vols’ play inside the red zone, both offensively and defensively, as he addressed the media following Wednesday’s practice.
The Vols worked their way into the red zone twice Saturday versus Oregon and managed a touchdown on the second trip, a Tauren Poole run from one yard out.
“One is OK,” Dooley said. “Our goal is two out of three times down there, we want touchdowns. It’s the difference between 17 points or nine or six. You start feeling a little heat when you’re not punching it in and the defense gets energized a little bit. You can frustrate an offense when you’re keeping them out of the end zone.”
On defense, the Vols held the Ducks to two field goals in their three red zone appearances. The Vols will have to do much of the same Saturday when they host No. 10/7 Florida to open up their SEC slate.
“Defensively, we have to get them to kick field goals and get off the field on third down,” Dooley said. “We have to stay on the field on offense. Those are the defining moments of the game in that third-down red area.”
The Vols are still working to improve on special teams but have limited depth. Oregon’s Cliff Harris returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and the Gators pose a similar threat with speedy talents at their skill positions.
“Our depth hurts us on special teams,” Dooley said. “I’ve always played a lot of starters but I try not to play them on a lot of (special) teams. I try to sprinkle in a lot of second-team guys around them. That’s hurt us I think a little bit, not having more core guys, especially being so thin in the secondary. Those safeties are good body types and running backs we’re a little thin. We wish we had a little more.
On the flip side, defensive back Eric Gordon is still set to be the deep man returning punts for UT Saturday. Gordon didn’t have the opportunity to advance the Vols’ field position but caught every punt that came his way.
“Eric did a fine job the other night with fielding the punts,” Dooley said. “He didn’t have much of a chance (to return). Their punter was pretty good. He was hanging them up high and it was hard to get a return.”
Senior defensive back Tyler Wolf, who was second on the team with a career-best five tackles in the season opener against UT Martin, has continued to stand out with a hard work ethic. Wolf also led the Vols with two pass deflections against the Skyhawks and nearly came up with an interception.
“You love having a bunch of guys like him,” Dooley said. “He’s tough, hard-nosed, committed and playing to his capacity. He’s doing a good job. He went into the game the other night and did a good job. That’s two games in a row and we’re going to need Tyler to keep getting better and better.”
PATIENCE IN THE PASSING GAME
Senior tight end Luke Stocker, who leads the team with 27 consecutive starts, has been limited to three receptions in 2010 but Dooley remains confident he will be a key fixture in the passing game as the season progresses.
“I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Dooley said. “First of all, we threw him the ball a lot the first game and he didn’t play well. Last game, we had him in the plan but we just didn’t get the right opportunities. I think the important thing is just keep sawing wood and eventually it will happen. I think when you come in your senior year; it’s the same old deal. There are high expectations and you want a lot of success. ‘Uh-oh, I’m not getting it.’ You press. It’s the same old deal. We just have to relax, go play, and it will work out.”
The Berea, Ky. native came on strong towards the end of 2009, catching 10 passes for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Vols’ final two regular season games.