KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- Tennessee practiced in the morning sunshine Thursday at Haslam Field, but was still trying to get through the darkness and ‘light a candle.’
“Every day, elements of our youth show up in different areas,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “I think the biggest challenge we’re going to have as a team is when things aren’t going our way, do we have the maturity to know how to pull out of it? Things went bad early for the offense. The defense poured it on. We just need to learn how to be a little more solution-oriented. It’s the old line, ‘Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.’ We get all the excuses out, we quit worrying about the last play, we start focusing on what our job is the next play and we’ll execute our way out of it. That’s going to be our big challenge this year.”
One of the Vols’ light-a-candle methods has been to go for the big play, which hasn’t been effective.
“It’s (the next play mentality) directed at everybody, but I’ve seen it mostly on offense. We have eight sophomores out there. There’s just not a lot of calm leadership so to speak. When things aren’t going good, because we’re young we have a tendency to want to make a big play to get us to come out of it. To me, that’s the worst thing we could do. I talked to Tyler about that today.
“That’s not the time to be shooting the ball 60 yards down the field when everybody is frustrated. That’s the time to drop it down to the checkdown. Let’s get five yards. Let’s hand the ball off and get four yards. Settle it down. Focus on execution. That to me is just a maturity thing that we have to learn. When things aren’t going good in a game, which they’re not going to go good. We’re going to go through some stretches where we look bad. We have to learn how to play out of it. That’s the mark of a real confident, mature team and we’re not even close to that right now.”
Senior tailback Tauren Poole met with the media and gave his impressions on various topics. Here’s a catch-all on what one of the Vols’ leaders had to say.
On the offensive line improvement:
“I see a lot of improvement in the offensive line as a whole. I’m just excited to run behind the whole offensive line. … They have improved and matured, it’s great to see. I know the coaches love it as well.”
On his mild injury that caused him to miss the scrimmage:
“It’s not serious, (it’s) a little ankle twist. I just have to be professional and take care of my body. I can’t slack on it or it will go down the drain. I have to be professional, I know where I want to be at. I just continue to stick with Jason (McVeigh, Director of Sports Medicine) and stick with entire training room, we have a great staff. They are going to take care of me.”
On the rigors of training camp:
“Coach Dooley always says, ‘You have to play like you are the starter, practice like you are the starter, you have to study like you are the starter.’ I know he’s talking to every single guy out here. I have to continue to take care of myself. All of us have to, all of us have little nicks and bruises. It’s going to be like that in a game. I was hurt last year in games, you just have to get used to it. You have to get your right attitude and mindset every day.”
On the inconsistent offense:
“It’s not expected. I don’t think we came out here and want to be inconsistent. We want to be consistent, we want to make big plays. But that’s adversity. Coach always talks about it, what are we going to do about it? We have to have the right mindset every day to fight through adversity and finish practice the way it should be finished.”
On staying motivated with the opener more than two weeks away:
“I think it’s a mentality. I don’t think we can think about the season right now. We have two weeks (until Montana). We just have to be mature and it’s tough to be mature, we have a lot of young guys out there, I’m the only senior (starter on offense). It definitely starts with my attitude out there and what am I saying to those guys and how I’m taking it. I know they look to me to set an example, so I have to continue to show them the way. … It starts one day at a time.”
On the morning practices:
“I like it. You have to get used to it. Getting up at 6:30, it’s kind of hard, but I think the physical part is going to help us a lot. It will give us a chance to take care of our bodies, take care of school and be better. Hopefully the schedule change will be great.”
On the freshman Marlin Lane:
“I feel good (about him). I know (Marlin) is going to be productive this year. He’s a very talented running back. I’m glad he’s on this football team. I’m glad coach is giving him a chance. I like to compete with him. Every day he comes out to compete, whether it’s Saturday scrimmage or just a little walk-through, he wants to compete. I like that about him. He’s picking it up. He’s smart, he’s mature and just loves to play the game. I see it in him. The coaches see it in him. He always has a smile on his face, he never stops smiling.”
BIGGER BIG BEN
A fifth-year senior, Ben Martin is relishing the opportunity to finally get back on the field this fall after missing the last two spring practices and all of the 2010 campaign with a knee injury and ruptured Achilles tendons in both feet.
“Right now I feel pretty good,” Martin said. “I’ve been keeping up with the trainers, getting a lot of treatment and just trying to get ready for the season and get ready for game week. It probably took about 13-14 days to really get (my football legs) back under me, but I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
One of the few benefits of missing so much time on the field has been the added weight and strength he has gained after spending so much time in rehab and the weight room. Martin is up to 265 pounds at last check, up about 15 pounds since last year.
“I’m seeing a lot of benefits of the extra size,” Martin said. “I’m just stronger, harder to move and it’s easier to maintain my gaps, stuff like that.”
He isn’t the only one to notice that particular benefit as Dooley was quick to point it out as well when questioned whether the added size is a positive for Martin’s effectiveness.
“Heck yeah,” Dooley said. “That was our problem, especially when we play those two-back teams and we need some more beef. Playing six-technique over tight end when they’re trying to run power outside zone, he’s just a harder guy to block. The bigger they are, the harder they are to block and move. He brings something we didn’t have last year.
“Ben is doing well. We’ve been very cautious in the number of reps we’ve been giving him. We probably pushed him a little bit early too much and then we backed him down. He’s going to help us. We just need to maintain the pace we’re on. He’s been a real boost for us up front.”
In addition to his performance, Martin has also been helpful in bringing along the young members of the UT offensive and defensive lines. A veteran of 33 career games with 63 total tackles and 4.5 sacks, the Cincinnati, Ohio, native has taken on a mentoring role this fall.
“(Taking on more of a leadership role) is something that is important to me, just talking to the younger guys or pulling them aside if they have a rough pass rush or a rough down,” Martin said. “I just tell them to forget that play, let’s move on to the next one and let’s go.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
On freshman tailback Marlin Lane getting an opportunity with Rajion Neal injured:
“We miss Rajion (Neal) first of all because it weakens us up at runner and it weakens us up at wideout. He was both. It’s obviously given our freshman backs an opportunity. I see a guy that has a lot of ability, but he has a long way to go. He’s probably not running with the confidence that he needs to run with and probably the grind of camp is affecting him physically. We have to get through camp, get him fresh, tighten him on a gameplan and see how he can do it under the lights.”
On the state of the offensive line:
“I think the whole right side has made tremendous progress. We’re not as far along on the left side because it took us awhile to figure out the left guard position. We’re not where we need to be, but they’re getting better every day. As long as we don’t have any injuries or anything crazy happen, I think we have what we want right there.”
Sophomore OL Ja’Wuan James
On Ben Martin:
“You can tell he is feeling better. They limited his reps last week, but is coming back out this week and is doing a good job out there competing with us.”
On working with Zach Fulton on the right side of the offensive line:
“I feel good playing next to Zach. We do everything together on the field. Coach Hiestand keeps talking about how we need to keep building that trust and just feel for each other on the right side. We needed each other a lot (last year). It was a good feeling knowing you weren’t the only one out there that was getting thrown into the fire (as a freshman). We just had each other’s back and I feel like you play better when you are playing for the guy next to you as well.”
Sophomore OL Zach Fulton
On the inconsistent play of the offensive line:
“Sometimes it is tough, but we go in and look at film and analyze the things we did wrong. We try to come out the next day and correct them.”
Sophomore FB Channing Fugate
On the first three weeks of camp:
“I feel like the whole team has had a pretty good camp. We’ve come out and been physical. We have to get better at some things, but overall I think we’ve had a pretty good camp.”
On what he is working on individually:
“I’ve been trying to run lower because I’m a little tall for a fullback. I’m just trying to run lower and get my base under me. That and my hand placement when I make contact.”