KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Head coach Derek Dooley is making the most of Tennessee’s bye week, putting the Vols through a sort of mini-camp Tuesday to start the week’s three consecutive days of practice.
“We had a good, spirited practice,” Dooley said from Haslam Field. “We got a lot of work. We worked a lot on tackling, perimeter blocking, blitz pickup, space coverage -- just a lot of good work and we needed it. We could use about a hundred of those.
“We’ll come out here tomorrow and try to do the same thing, work on some different areas of the field. But I was really pleased with the spirit, the energy and the competitiveness today.
Fundamentals are the chief order of business, but Dooley says it’s really no different than any other practice week except that the upcoming game plan is shifted slightly to the back-burner.
“It’s really not back to basics. This is a team that it’s basics every day. It’s always basics, but this allows us to kind of put all that scout team on the shelf and you can go basics all day. We can’t get enough of it.”
Dooley said that despite the team’s 2-4 record at mid-season, there are still plenty of goals to be reached and accomplishments to be met.
“I told the team, ‘We have a lot of improvement to do, but the good news is there’s a lot of improvement that can get done during the course of the year.’ The way we structure practice and the way we train, it allows for improvement over the season. What you did the first few games doesn’t mean that’s what you’re going to do the rest of the year.”
Much has been made of the contributions this season from -- and the burden placed on -- Tennessee’s freshman class. The Vols lost 41-14 at Georgia last Saturday, but 17 freshmen saw the field including seven true freshmen on offense at the same time when the Vols drove 77 yards in 12 plays before stalling at the Georgia 3-yard line.
Now, Dooley expects that game experience to make an impact on the rest of his team.
“A lot of the young guys are active and hungry, physical and playing after the whistle,” he said of Tuesday’s practice atmosphere. “It was good. I think it brings a little spirit to the practice. It’s like going out there in the yard; that’s the beauty of it.”
Dooley believes quality performance on special teams is a way to find the field in other areas, and that’s proving true for a number of current Vols.
“The guys who are doing well on special teams, that’s kind of a starting point,” he said. “Like we activated to the defense (Raiques) Crump, (Dontavis) Sapp and (John) Propst, and those three guys have been doing pretty well on special teams. And, of course, the young guys on offense already are out there, so they’ve just got to continue to improve.”
Another area that Dooley wants to see get better is his secondary. The Vols head coach says confidence is running low on that area of the field.
“I think it’s not very good, and I think it’s something we need to work on. We’re not playing aggressively; we’re not challenging the way you need to challenge. And I think that comes with confidence, which comes with practicing well, working hard and challenging them in practice.
“We’re struggling there, as we should be. When you give up a lot of yards and you get beat, it starts affecting you. So you’ve got to work your way back through it to earn confidence.”
While giving up 227.5 yards per game through the air, Tennessee is allowing only a 55.8 percent pass completion rate -- fifth-best in the SEC -- and ranks seventh in the league and 46th nationally in pass defense efficiency.