Vol Report: Circle of life

KNOXVILLE (UT) - While the 1990s Disney classic, ‘The Lion King,’ has resurfaced in theaters across the country, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley has the circle of life taking place in his own kingdom.

Junior tight end Mychal Rivera and sophomore wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers all exploded to quick starts in 2011, largely a product of playing smaller roles behind veterans in 2010.

“He’s backing up a good player so he’s learning a lot,” Dooley said. “He gets some snaps every game and now he’s ready. That’s what you’re really trying to get at every position and then he plays well.

“We had these backup young kids learning, getting reps and going out in the game, but they’re not depended on every game. Then, boom, you turn the page and they’re ready to go. We haven’t had that, I don’t think, at any other position. I don’t think it’s any secret why that crew looked the best early.”

Ideally, the Vols will eventually be set up that way at every position.

“You want young linemen to watch the old linemen, they go play some and then it’s their turn,” Dooley said. “Then, they become the old linemen and the young ones come in and watch them. You keep cycling it through. You can learn so much from watching the guys ahead of you.”

Although simple, the process will be effective through time.

“It’s not really a secret formula,” Dooley said. “You need depth. You need experience. You need to work through the ranks and it works. There’s an occasional freshman that comes in and gets it right away.”

Dooley will travel to New York on Saturday, Sept. 24, to take part in COLLEGE FOOTBALL TODAY, CBS Sports’ pregame, halftime and postgame studio show.

“I hope I don’t embarrass the program,” Dooley said. “That’s all I can tell you. This is my first experience doing it. I’m counting on Tim (Brando) and Spencer (Tillman) to kind of hold my hand and make me look OK on TV. I think it’s good for Tennessee. That’s why I’m doing it.

“Any time we can get our program talked about nationally in a positive way, I’m all for it. I’m humbled and thankful that they asked me to do it. I told them they ran out of guys. They must be out of everybody when they get to me.”

The pregame show airs from 3:00-3:30 PM, ET prior to CBS Sports’ “SEC Game of the Week,” featuring No. 12 Arkansas taking on No. 2 Alabama.

Technique, technique, technique. That has been sophomore kicker Michael Palardy’s sole focus in practice this week. Just 2-for-4 in field-goal attempts this season, the Coral Gables, Fla., native is confident that the results will come as he returns his focus back to the basics.

“I know that I am going to be called on, but I can’t worry about kind of game it is, where we are playing, stuff like that,” Palardy said. “I have to rely on my technique and trust that everything I am going to do is right and it is going to go the way it should.”

One of his misses came last week at Florida, a 37-yarder that sailed right. Palardy was quick to own up to the miscue though and feels the solution is a simple one.

“It was just a lack of concentration,” Palardy said. “I looked up and wanted to see where the ball went before I worried about my technique and doing everything right. That shouldn’t ever happen. There are no excuses for it. Yeah, my adrenaline was going, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it. If I would have done my technique right, it would have gone in.”

Junior Ben Bartholomew says hard work in practice is what earned him the starting nod for the last two games after a redshirt season in 2010 and playing just seven total games with the Vols in 2008-09.

“I think just being very consistent and coming out to practice and getting the job done every day,” Bartholomew said in reference to what he did to claim the job. “Part of my goal is to be invisible so the running back can shine. As long as I am getting my block done and making my hole for the running back, that’s what I want to do.”

Bartholomew took over for returning starter sophomore Channing Fugate, but both players are still seeing plenty of action at fullback.

“Bart’s still doing good. Channing’s getting better,” said Dooley. “We are still going to play both of those guys. We feel we are fine at that position.”

The Vols’ rushing troubles at Florida have been well documented and Bartholomew says the team has placed an emphasis on it this week.

“We have worked a lot on the run game over the bye week,” the Nashville native said. “There are so many big plays to be made out there, that we are barely missing. We are just focusing on the details to get those better … It’s just the little things. We have all of the right players. We have all the talent we need. We just have to focus in and get our blocks.”

The third member of his family to play football for the Vols, Bartholomew has two catches for 26 yards this season.

Head coach Derek Dooley
(On tight end Mychal Rivera)
“I think he’s embracing the role as being the starting tight end. He’s had two games where he’s made some good plays in the pass game. We’re going to need him to do that. We’re going to need him to play like a veteran.”

(On having patience every day)
“I’ve told you guys from the beginning that my whole deal is, ‘Are you better today than you were yesterday?’ That’s all I’m worried about. It requires patience that doesn’t exist in athletics. I recognize that. But if I don’t have it, then we’ll never get to where we need to be. It doesn’t mean we’re happy with how we’re playing.

(On Brian Randolph’s role helping the secondary)
“It gives you flexibility. That’s what you’re always looking for. Certainly with Prentiss, he brings cover skills and instinctive ability that if you can put him in places where he can make an impact better, that’s better. Prentiss is not a physical safety. When we’re playing those big, heavy running backs and they break out of the front seven, somebody has to get him on the ground. We hope Brian can develop into that role.”

(On making up for defensive miscues)
“You put on some of the best teams that are playing defense right now, Alabama and LSU. They probably make the same number of mental errors that we make. That’s what it is with all of the formations and adjustments. But you make up for mistakes by aggressive rallying to the football and being a great tackling football team. The mistakes are always going to be a part of defensive football and really, offense. You don’t want them. You don’t accept them, but it’s a part of it. You overcome that with how you play and you’re ability to squeeze to the ball, reduce space and get the runner on the ground.”

Sophomore Fullback Channing Fugate
(On the struggles of the running game)
“It’s really frustrating. (The fullbacks) have a big part in it and we just have to clean it up.”

(On getting better)
“I just have to come out here and compete every day and get better at my technique. I need to work on that a lot, so I’ve been trying to do that. It’s just a lot of technique stuff on certain plays, getting a base under me, playing low and not playing out of control as much. I feel like I’ve been getting a little better. I still have to clean up some things, but I’ve just been trying to work on it every day. I still have a little way (to go). I just need to focus on my technique every play.”

Senior tailback Tauren Poole
(On Antonio Richardson)
“I feel like ‘Tiny,’ Antonio Richardson is playing really, really hard. I haven’t seen that out of him all camp but he is a strong dude, a physical guy.”

(On the key to improving the run game)
“Like Coach Dooley always says, ‘Simplify and play fast.’ It’s as simple as that.”

(On fighting through injury)
“I didn’t take any days off. I just have to fight through it. It’s tough because running backs will get banged up. We take hits every single play, whether it is pass blocking or running the football. I just have to continue to take care of myself. This week I have been banged up, but that’s normal for an RB, especially if you are a physical RB. I have to continue to be physical, continue to take care of my body and listen to the training staff when they are telling me what to do.”

(On the physicality of the Florida game)
“Last year, I came out of the (Florida) game with a deep tissue thigh bruise. I don’t know what it is about the Florida game, but it’s something that always happens. I’m going to continue to fight through it and work to help my football team as much as I can.”

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