KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (team release) -- Tennessee began ‘depositing’ its preparations Monday at Haslam Field for the 2011 season opener Saturday against Montana. Much like a bank account, the Vols are trying to invest enough to shop -- for a win.
“We have a lot of new guys,” head coach Derek Dooley. “We have to teach them what it means to prepare. I equated it to every day depositing money in your bank account. Every day, the investment that you put in physically and the investment you put in mentally is a deposit. On game day, you withdraw it all. The more you deposit during the week, the more money you’re going to have on game day to play well. Today, we put a pretty good deposit in and we’ll see if we can keep going all week.”
The Vols will need to continue to make deposits like the one they did Monday to be ready for the Grizzlies, an opponent they’re not taking lightly.
“They’re the winningest program in the last decade in Division I,” said Dooley, who is entering his second season in Knoxville. “If you take all Division I teams, A and AA, nobody has had more wins in the last decade. They’ve won about 15 out of 17 conference championships, three national championships in the last 10 years and so, it’s a program that we have a lot of respect for. It’s a prideful program.
“They have a lot of good football players. You can’t win that much if you don’t. They’re incredibly coached. They’re tough. They’re disciplined. They’re smart. They play with great effort. When you watch the film, it’s no secret why they’ve had so much success. They believe in their systems. They play their tails off and they have a lot of good football players. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
The excitement surrounding the Vols’ first official game week of the 2011 season was evident, but Tennessee is taking things one day at a time.
“My big thing is let’s go to work today,” Dooley said. “You want to kind of build-up emotionally but I wish I could predict it. I’ve had weeks where we had a terrible practice, I think we’re going to get our tails whipped and we go play great. I have weeks where we look great and ready and we go play terrible. I think there is a preparation component. What you’re just trying to do is have a lot of consistency in your approach and know that the last 24 to 48 hours, it’s time to really amp it up mentally. If you learn how to start managing that during the week, you’ll usually have a lot more consistent play.”
BIG RETURNERS, BIG RETURNS
At 215 pounds each, Tauren Poole and Da’Rick Rogers are no lightweights in regards to kick returners. They’ll be awaiting the football when Montana kicks off Saturday and 102,455 collectively “whoosh.”
“They’re both heavier guys,” Dooley said. “I always like a little heavier guy in kickoff returns because these guys are coming at you full speed and you can take some big hits. They bring good size. They’re good runners with the ball and they’re just good, dependable players.”
Poole has yet to field a kickoff at Tennessee, while Rogers returned 12 for 298 yards as a freshman. His 78-yard return vs. Kentucky was UT’s longest since 2007 and was the 14th-longest in school history.
LEADER IN THE MIDDLE
The middle linebacker is generally viewed as the leader of the defense, especially as one of just four starting seniors and playing inside of two freshman linebackers in Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson.
“They definitely look to me,” senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. “They don’t necessarily come to me about everything, but when we’re on the field I’m supposed to be there helping and guiding them. I take that responsibility.”
The elder Johnson doesn’t view his outer counterparts as rookies, though.
“You see these two guys play. They don’t act like freshmen and they don’t play like freshmen. They’re going to come out here and show people what they have and I’m excited to see what they’re going to bring.”
Being the lone senior starter on the offense could be a daunting task, but tailback Tauren Poole has confidence in himself and his teammates.
“Everybody had the right mindset,” Poole said. “Youth can’t come into play. You can’t make any excuses. The game is going to be here no matter how young or old we are. It starts with the leadership. A lot of the guys came out here focused and ready to go, I’m just excited to see (them).”
The long road to his senior year as seen its share of ups and downs for the Toccoa, Ga., native, but the fact that his final college season opener is upon him has hit the very introspective Poole.
“Someone brought to my attention that I have 11 weeks,” said Poole, who is on the preseason watch lists for the Walker, Maxwell and Lowe’s Senior CLASS Awards. “I have gotten to the point, that this is it. I have to cherish each and every moment. Cherish each and every day. Take it one day at a time and just get ready to have a great season.”
Poole says his four years have gone by quick.
“It has gone by fast. You don’t really think about it until it’s almost over, but you have to take it for what it’s worth and give it your all.”
MARTIN READY TO GO
Fifth-year senior Ben Martin is chomping at the bit to get back on the field after suffering a pair of torn Achilles injuries over the last year. For Martin, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter as Saturday is just five days away. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native is slated to start at right defensive end.
“You get nervous about every game,” said Martin, who has played in 33 games for UT between 2007-09. “This is a big game and I’m just ready for it.”
Martin will be one of the elder statesman on the defensive side of the ball with three true freshmen drawing starting nods. He sees himself as one of the leaders on the defense along with Malik Jackson and Austin Johnson.
“There is always going to be learning, but I think the (freshmen) are pretty comfortable,” Martin said. “If they weren’t comfortable, I don’t think the coaches would have them out there.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On how many guys will play Saturday)
“Our objective is to win the game so I’m not going to go out there like it’s a preseason game and evaluate guys. We’re going to go out there and try to win the football game. If that means playing a lot of guys, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t, then we won’t.”
(On Monday’s practice)
“I felt like they came ready to go. They were locked in and we had a good practice today. I was pleased with it.”
(On freshman cornerback Justin Coleman)
“Justin has done well. He’s made progress. He’s not near where he needs to be to be a good, dependable starter in this league, but the only thing that is going to get him there is time and experience. We have confidence in him, but he’s going to have some growing pains out there. He’s been doing good.”
(On freshman safety Brian Randolph)
“Brian Randolph is one of those guys a little bit like Coleman, who I think is going to get better and better through the course of the season. He’s just brand new so he’s not playing as fast as you’d like him to because he’s thinking. The more he gets in, the better he’ll play. He’s a really smart, intelligent player and he’s a physical player. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
Senior tailback Tauren Poole
(On game week arriving)
“Guys are more excited now. To face a different opponent, they are excited to play Montana. The tempo (at practice) was great. Guys were very enthusiastic. The tempo was fast, flying in and out of the huddle. We have it, but we have four more days of practice to get prepared, mentally.”
(On the offensive line)
“(The line) is a lot different from last year. They are moving fast and they are communicating. They have shown a lot of maturity. They just told me to run. I’m excited about what those guys are going to do. I know they are going to do great things. We just have to continue to believe in ourselves and have the confidence that we need.”
Junior safety Rod Wilks
(On being ready to sub for Prentiss Waggner and Brent Brewer)
“We have to stay focused. We have to be ready to go in at all times. You get tired playing this game. They play 94, 95 reps per game. You have to take a break sometime. I just have to be ready, focused and be ready when I need to.”
Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson
(On the amount of youth on the depth chart)
“Once you see the depth chart, you don’t see age. You just see which guys are in there and if they are that means they have a lot of talent and know what they are doing. When I see Corey Miller’s name, I don’t see age. I don’t see Jacques (Smith) as a sophomore. I just see them as the best guy at that position.”
Senior defensive end Ben Martin
(On the defensive line)
“We have come together a lot. We have come a long way since the first day of camp. We are always hanging out and doing things together. We feel pretty confident in eachothers’ abilities.”
Senior linebacker Austin Johnson
(On entering his final season)
“It feels a little bit different. I just know this is my last week one preparation and I’m just going to keep going. I have 11 (more) weeks, hopefully more. I just have to make sure I take every opportunity I can and enjoy it while it’s here.”
“They’re a fast zone-read team. They run a lot like Oregon. They’re high-tempo. We just have to make sure we’re ready for them and bring our A-game.”