KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (team release) -- Tennessee continued its week one preparations for Montana on Tuesday morning at Haslam Field with another solid day of practice, specifically working with third-down and red area situations. While the Vols got bigger physically throughout the off-season, the focus has shifted to training the brain as well.
“It’s something that you have to condition your mind,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “We train our bodies all the time. I tell our guys that. We lift weight and work our muscles, and our muscles grow. But if you don’t work your mind and your brian, it doesn’t grow. Your brain will grow. You get more mental stamina. You learn more. You have to go condition it. What they don’t understand is when their muscles get tired, they know how to push through it. But when their brain gets tired, they shut it down. You shouldn’t. You have to keep pushing and keep grinding.”
As with every season opener, the Vols are anxious to see what they have.
“I wouldn’t use the word comfortable because there’s so much unknown and unexpected with every first game,” Dooley said. “In many ways, there’s even more unknown going into this game than we had last year because we had more guys that had played last year. We don’t have very many guys that played so there’s a lot of concern about how we’re going to handle the first time running through the ‘T.’”
While Tennessee has been cautiously optimistic this fall, the Vols expect to be able to run the ball efficiently this season.
“I’m hoping it’s improved and it should be because number one, we have more guys that have played on the offensive line who we feel like are going to be really good players for us,” Dooley said. “Number two, we have a guy who ran for more than 1,000 yards last year. Going into the season last year, we hadn’t. Number three, we feel like we have a little better stable of backups to help him. Given all of that, we should be running the ball better. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t.”
BRAY BRACING FOR MONTANA
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray will start his sixth collegiate game Saturday. The signal caller has a lot of respect for the Grizzlies and has been paying attention to their defense. Last season, Montana had the third-best pass defense in FCS, allowing just 140.0 yards per game through the air.
“They have No. 2 Trumaine Johnson, a cornerback,” Bray said. “He’s quick, really fast. Their linebackers are really disciplined. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Aside from a win against Montana, Bray has a another goal for the game on Saturday.
“The completion percentage, keeping that up (is a goal). It’s been a little low in the past. Keeping that up would be good,” said Bray, who added 70-75 percent as his target.
Last season, Montana allowed opponents to complete 50.7 percent of their passes. Tennessee had no starting experience at quarterback entering last season.
“Certainly, we’re more comfortable at the quarterback position because we have five games under the belt, which last year we didn’t have any,” Dooley said. “Tyler is doing a good job. He’s really working hard and I’m hoping the results will show.”
RESPONSIBILITES, NOT SACKS FOCUS FOR SMITH
With Tennessee set to open the 2011 campaign against Montana on Saturday, the Vols have spent the past few days studying film and preparing game strategy. For sophomore defensive lineman Jacques Smith, what he has seen so far looks familiar.
“They are a spread team,” Smith said. “That’s basically what we are going to see this year. Cincinnati is a spread team, Florida is a spread team. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before, but they are a good team. I can’t wait to play them and it’s going to be a good game.
While Smith sees Montana’s spread scheme as an opportunity to wreak havoc in the backfield, he also understands that his role on the defensive line is an important one because the zone read is a key play in the Grizzly offense.
“(The spread) gives me the opportunity to rush the passer. That’s a good thing, but at the same time I have to play responsibilities and not get too much of my momentum up field because there are a lot of things that can happen.
“They basically read the defensive ends, therefore there are times where I can’t be full go on getting the quarterback. I have to sit back on my haunches, read the quarterback and play my responsibilities. It’s really tough, especially when you get into the two-minute and you are thinking pass, pass, pass and next thing you know they hit a draw. It’s really tough but we practice it day-in and day-out. It is something that we have really been emphasizing in our practices so I think I will be prepared for it.”
NEAL BACK IN ACTION, FOCUSED ON TEAM
While some Vols adjust from orange to white jerseys when they change positions, sophomore Rajion Neal was happy for a color change Tuesday, as he ditched the no-contact red top for white.
“It’s a little negative because you kind of lose the speed of it,” Neal said of missing time during fall camp. “But the positive of it is I had time to learn and gain mental reps. I came back out eager to work and I’m not shying away from anything. I’m happy to be back out here, I love the game, I’m love back out here with these guys and I’m ready to roll.”
While Neal spent his freshman season at tailback, his speed and vestaility has allowed him to split time between the backfield and wide out this fall. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 14.3 yards per reception as a rookie.
“It’s fun,” Neal said. “I can say I’m comfortable. Once again, it’s just helping the team, helping everybody out and we’re having fun. It’s just more ways to help this team. I’m just happy to be a part of it and be in this position.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On the effort level he expects Saturday after a strong fall camp)
“I expect that every Saturday, even if camp is bad. That’s one thing that we can’t compromise is to go out there and lay it on the line.”
(On Devrin Young getting healthier)
“It was good to see him catch punts. Now, he’s not going to be able to get hit for a while. He still has a couple of weeks before he can get hit. At least what it allows us to do now is go practice one of the things that we signed him before to go back there and catch some punts.”
(On Montana’s strengths)
“They have a lot of guys. What stands out really is their togetherness, how they play as a unit, their scheme discipline and the effort that they play with. They have some really good players at every level and it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Jacques Smith
(On getting ready to play Saturday)
“It’s game week and everybody is fired up. Coach Dooley has been fired up, I’ve been fired up. It’s football time in Tennessee, finally.”
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray
(On team camaraderie)
“We are almost like a big family. Everyone knows everyone, everyone can hang out with everyone. We are a big family-type team.”
(On the running game)
“We can run the ball, pretty much whenever we want on any down. Tauren (Poole) is a strong, fast back. Marlin (Lane) is quick. Rajion (Neal) is quick. And, our line has been blocking well.”
Junior defensive end Willie Bohannon
(On his personal improvements)
“I have been real detailed this year and have been trying to be consistent every day. It’s been working out for me, just thinking that way every day. (I have been) telling myself what I need to do better and been into my playbook more. I need to be consistent, I have to be consistent.”
Junior defensive back Marsalis Teague
“We definitely have to come with our ‘A’ game, as we do every week. We are not going to overlook any team, especially Montana, which has a rich tradition of winning.”