KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Despite being bit with the injury bug, Tennessee football head coach Derek Dooley was pleased with Tuesday’s two-hour practice session at Haslam Field.
“It was hot today,” Dooley said. “We had a lot of new faces out there who got more reps than they’re used to so they had to push through it and learn to push through it. It was a good practice.”
The Vols have played 15 true freshmen in their first three games, which ranks third in the country in most true freshman played. It’s important for the Vols’ development that the line of communication between the coaches and players is open and that the players receive proper feedback regarding their performance, especially with their youth.
“I’m just trying to be honest with them,” Dooley said. “I think it’s important that a player knows. Sometimes a player thinks he played good, the coaches think he didn’t play good and then they go on to the next week. There’s no communication. It’s just important to me if we don’t play well, we tell them, ‘You didn’t play well. This is what you did wrong and we have to correct it.’ I don’t really see it as calling them out as much as telling the truth of where we are and where we need to go.”
While struggling with depth issues, it’s increasingly important that the Vols force turnovers and create more opportunities. Likewise, it’s just as important that they limit their giveaways.
“We need some turnovers,” Dooley said. “Turnovers are so big to me. We had a couple (versus Florida). We only had one fumble but we stopped them on downs so the defense had two. Special teams had one. Had we not turned the ball over, we would’ve been in pretty good shape. We try to get about three a game. That’s what we want to get.”
One player the Vols need to assist in forcing those takeaways is sophomore safety Janzen Jackson. Jackson, who tallied a career-best nine tackles against Florida, is third on the team in the tackle department with 17 and is credited with one pass defended.
“He did a lot better (against Florida),” Dooley said. “He didn’t play very well in that Oregon game. That tempo really got him. He played better. He got the call (and) he lined up. He didn’t have any pre-snap mental errors which is important. He tackled a little bit better.”
“He still has a lot of things he needs to work on. He functioned well but now we have to get him to make some impact plays in the game and that’s the next thing.”
While Dooley has emphasized the importance of turnovers, he also touched on the kick return game as well. Sophomore David Oku, who broke a UT single-season record with 863 kickoff return yards in 2009, has been limited to 19.7 yards per carry so far this season. Oku knows what he needs to improve upon, however.
“What’s good is he acknowledges it,” Dooley said. “I think his biggest thing is just committing to the return, trusting that the blocks are going to get made and hitting the hole with conviction. I think it’s very much mental but it’s something you can work on in practice. It’s a mindset. You have to train your mind. There’s a courage factor. Those guys are running. They’re running fast and you’re running fast. Either you’re going to slip by them or there’s going to be a collision so it’s not for the timid.”
JAMES STANDS OUT
One of the bright spots on the offensive line thus far in 2010 has been the play and work ethic of freshman offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. The Vols’ offensive line, which was already young coming into the season, has been hampered by a couple of injuries. James, while also young, has a couple of things working in his favor.
“I think Ja’Wuan has less of the ‘kaleidoscope’ because he’s been here for nine months but also because he plays tackle,” Dooley said. “There’s less stuff happening. Guard and center, there’s a lot more going on in the interior. Those two factors have really allowed him to be a little calmer out there. The improvements that he needs to make are all technical, strength and experience. Those are going to come with time but he’s playing good.”
What’s impressed Dooley the most has been James’ demeanor. While it’s easy to come in starry-eyed as a freshman, especially as an offensive lineman, James has never wavered.
“I think what’s special about Ja’Wuan is his demeanor is steady,” Dooley said. “I’ve never seen him get excited and I’ve never seen him get down. If he’s doing it, he’s hiding it well. That steady approach is what I love because that’s how I am. It’s every day, just go to work and perform. If you don’t do well, you correct it and go do well tomorrow. If you do well, see why you did well and go do it again tomorrow. He has that demeanor. He has that approach to work. It’s like he’s never phased and I hope he maintains that because I think that’s what has allowed him to get in there and blossom.”
Tickets for the 2010 football season remain available for all six home games left on the schedule.
Tickets for the UAB contest are available for $40 and can be purchased via UTtix.com, over the phone at 865/656-1200 or 800/332-VOLS (8657), or at the ticket counter. Because of construction at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Athletics Department Ticket Office is temporarily located on the northwest concourse level of the arena directly above the old ticket office location. Office hours Monday through Friday are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Other games on this year’s slate are Alabama on Oct. 23, Mississippi for Homecoming on Nov. 13 and Kentucky on Nov. 27. Prices are $60 each for Ole Miss, and $50 for Kentucky.
Single seats with no adjacent seating are all that remain for the Alabama contest, and those tickets cost $70.