KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) - It's no secret that Tennessee has relied heavily on its true freshmen this season, playing the third-most of any school in the FBS (16).
One of those freshmen, wide receiver Vincent Dallas, is starting to settle in.
"He's getting a little more in the rotation," head coach Derek Dooley said after Tuesday morning's practice at Haslam Field. "He's developing a better understanding of the offense. I think that's increased his confidence a little bit. It's allowed him to play a little faster and it's allowed him to make some plays out there. The faster he plays, the more confident he plays and the more ability he shows to make plays, the more we integrate him into the offense. He's done good."
Dallas, who went into the Vanderbilt game with a pair of catches for 15 yards, hauled in a career-long 22-yard catch against the Commodores, more than doubling his freshman receiving yardage total.
The Ellenwood, Ga., native is finding different ways to contribute as he continues to grasp his role.
"Everybody goes at a different pace when they're in their first year," Dooley said. "Everyone learns differently. Everybody has different skill sets. Everybody comes with a different background of being good. I didn't have any expectations one way or the other. I think he's done a good job for us.
"What Vincent also brings is he's a good physical presence on the perimeter. He's probably our best perimeter blocker and I think that's helped us a little bit in the run game."
Calling blocking his `biggest strength,' Dallas is well aware that part of his position doesn't show up in the final stat book.
"Growing up playing football, I was always an aggressive player," said Dallas, who spoke with the media for the first time following Tuesday's practice. "I was taught that blocking was important in the receiving game. I just try to execute that. It's tough stat-wise, but it's part of being a player."
Dallas attributes part of his development to his decision to enroll at Tennessee in January.
"It helped me a lot," Dallas said. "I got the rhythm of the game. I learned a lot of stuff. CB (Charlie Baggett) is a really good coach. He taught me a lot of stuff that I didn't know and helped me become a better player. It was real exciting (coming early) because I was still really a high school student coming to college. I watch these guys on TV and just coming to play with them was real fun."
THUMBS UP FOR BRAY
After returning to action with a win against Vanderbilt, sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray continues to feel more comfortable in his return from a broken right thumb on his throwing hand. The pain is still present, but Bray is battling through doing all he can do for Tennessee.
"It's always going to hurt," Bray said. "It's just something you have to fight through and try to contribute to the team. I think it's a comfort level, I think it's all mental, just getting used to being able to throw it like I used to, knowing it's still hurt."
Bray threw for 189 yards with two touchdowns vs. Vanderbilt just five weeks after breaking it against Georgia on Oct. 8.
"(It was) nothing where I was sitting there saying `I can't play any more' you just have to fight through it," Bray said.
Dooley knows the Vols have to keep a close on their quarterback who is 8-2 all-time in regular-season starts.
"We have to keep managing him," Dooley said. "He's not even close to 100 percent. One week doesn't get that thumb back to where it was. It showed today. He was really rusty. He doesn't throw the way he'll get to where when it's 100 percent. We have to keep managing it, keep warming it up properly stretching it and rehabbing it."
Dooley said Bray continues to make progress.
"It's a lot better than it was a week ago," Dooley said. "Today he looked like about what he looked like in the game. Not a lot happened over the weekend."
Bray said the thumb was sore after the game, but is able to deal with that.
"I figured it would be a little sore," he said. "I threw a bunch during the game and a bunch during that week. Just getting back into it, just getting the muscle back to where it was. After that I should be fine."
Bray said he will not wear a glove in Saturday's game at Kentucky, despite expected rain, making conditions slick.
"He has a good positive attitude," Dooley said of Bray. "We need him to think that way. Only time will tell." ," Dooley said of Bray. "We need him to think that way. Only time will tell."
WILLIE-BO GETTING MO' PLAYING TIME
Consistency. The Tennessee coaching staff talks about it all the time and apparently Willie Bohannon has been listening.
The redshirt junior defensive end has started at defensive end in each of the past two games, accumulating five tackles and three quarterback hurries.
"Willie Bohannon has been a really consistent performer," Dooley said. "He plays with a lot of discipline, he's where he's supposed to be and that's good."
For the season, the Mobile, Ala., native has already equaled his career tackle total entering the year with 23 stops, in addition to recording a pair of sacks and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.
The key to his increased consistency and improved play against the run is a simple one.
"Just listening to Coach Thompson," Bohannon said. "He's been teaching us how to play the run very well and has been coaching us to a `T,' so I've just been listening to what he's been telling us to do and just doing it. Nothing special.
"When you get a `good job' from (Coach Thompson), you actually did something good. He's not one of those people that is going to sugarcoat anything. After the Montana game, I played really bad and he sat down and talked to (me and) some of the other guys that played bad and questioned whether it was important to us or not. I've always thought it was important to me, so there was obviously something I wasn't doing right."
Another factor in his success this season has been the result of him physically growing into the position. Up to 254 pounds now, the 6-2 Bohannon says he can definitely tell a difference on the field.
"(Being bigger) helps out a lot, just as far as double teams," Bohannon said. "We haven't really been getting double-teamed a lot lately, but I can tell it has been working out. It gives you that confidence. At 225, you aren't really thinking about power rushing anybody, but when you are bigger than you are like, `I can do anything.' It helps out a lot."
Listed as a backup on the depth chart all year until this week, Bohannon used that as motivation to get better every day in practice.
"You have to want to be that man," Bohannon said. "I didn't want to be the second guy at all. I just told myself every day that I have to work and my opportunity was going to come. It came in the LSU game and Coach Thompson told me I played well. Everything just started going from there.
"I've seen a lot of guys who weren't even thought of at one point become a starter or have a chance to become a starter. I looked at that and I just kept working. I knew my opportunity was going to come, it was just what I did with that opportunity."