KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Quoting Shakespeare, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley referenced “Richard III” as inspiration to his team on how important every detail is to the Tennessee football ‘kingdom.’
“‘For want of a nail. For want of a horseshoe nail.’ One little horseshoe nail can bring down a whole kingdom,” Dooley said. “That’s what it did back in the 1400s. Just like stepping with your right foot six inches could cause a guy to get on the edge, which causes a quarterback to get a little flustered. The exchange goes bad on the fumble, (which leads to a) turnover, touchdown. Every little detail of your technique and assignment can impact the game. We have a long way to go on that.”
Practicing in the morning for the first time this preseason, the Vols brought the same kind of attitude Thursday that they’ve had all fall back to Haslam Field after having Wednesday off.
“I was pleased with the intangibles and I have been all camp of this football team with how we compete,” Dooley said. “We gave good effort. Our toughness has been pretty good. We’ve had a good attitude and demeanor. For the most part, we’re really working hard and we have a good team chemistry going. That alone doesn’t win you football games. Where we really have to make a big jump is our execution with all the details of everything.”
Having ‘a good attitude’ has gone a long way in competing for individual positions, while still keeping the focus on the team.
“I had a real frank meeting with our football team right in the beginning,” Dooley said. “It’s our job as coaches to bring in the best talent that we can bring in to promote competition. Two things happen when you have competition. Number one, you get better individually because you have someone pushing you. Number two, our team gets better. Even if you get beat out, our team gets better. As hard as it is internally when you just look at yourself, it’s hard, but understand it’s our professional responsibility to do that. Our seniors have been great.”
Junior defensive back Marsalis Teague, who started eight games last season, has bought into the mentality.
“It’s a good thing to have back there,” Teague said. “We’re all pushing each other trying to make everybody better. At the end of the day, all we can do is go out there, play, practice and let the coaches decide all of that.”
ON THE GRIND
One of the main focal points of Thursday’s morning session was to install the four-minute offense in the fourth quarter.
“It comes up about four or five times a season,” Dooley said. “The better you are, it comes up a lot more. We were pretty good at it last year until the bowl game. Against Vanderbilt and Kentucky we had a good grind offense going and won the game. The bowl game we screwed it up and it cost us.
“We obviously want to end the game on offense and take a knee. Certainly, when the defense is out there we have to get the ball back and we have to do it. It was a good start on that situation. We have a lot of young guys so trying to teach them to be situationally smart is so important. That takes a lot of reps, understanding the situation and just not running plays.”
A member of the secondary that hasn’t received a lot of preseason attention despite a productive freshman campaign is Eric Gordon. After playing all 13 games and starting six in 2010, Gordon is working hard to garner playing time in his sophomore season. Gordon has been willing to play several positions in the secondary.
“The depth chart changes every day,” said the Nashville native. “You just have to be productive every day. It's competition. Knowing your responsibility, coming out here and reacting. Just try to make plays and let them know you are the best man for the job.”
After making 47 tackles last season, Gordon is looking to contribute possibly at the nickel this season.
“I feel I know (the gameplan) and I can react a lot of quicker,” Gordon said. “I feel like I am doing pretty well at nickel. There is always room for finishing (tackles) and eye discipline. “
The competition is fierce for playing time.
“Every day there is competition,” Gordon said. “Every day you are getting evaluated. I feel like that competition is a big part of it.”
TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO
Following Tuesday’s scrimmage, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley stressed the importance of tempo within the offense. The message clearly hit home with junior tight end Mychal Rivera who echoed the same sentiment following Thursday’s morning practice.
“I feel like the whole team still needs to be more physical,” Rivera said. “We still need to get our tempo up on offense, speed up to the ball when somebody makes a catch and things like that.”
Rivera, who made 11 catches for 112 yards in 13 games last season, was not just concerned about the passing game, however. The UT rushing attack was held in check by the Vol defense on Tuesday and Rivera took notice of that as well.
“(Success in the running game goes) back to the tempo, just getting to the ball faster, getting the edge on the defense and getting off the ball as quickly as you can. That gives you that edge so you can get around the corner quicker. I’m on the edge, so those outside runs where I have to get those cutoff blocks, it all comes down to me. I take it real personally when we don’t do good with the running game.”
Rivera’s dedication to improvement has not gone unnoticed.
“He is studying a lot more, he knows the calls,” sophomore offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James said. “He is helping me out on calls. He’s also playing a lot more physical. He part of the O-Line. On some protections he stays in with us, but he’s also out running routes.”
UP IN THE AYRES
Sophomore defensive lineman Joseph Ayres is looking to find a role after playing in 12 games last season. Working at nose tackle during preseason camp, Ayres had a 6-yard sack in Tuesday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
“I think I am still trying to find my role,” said Ayres, who has added 20 pounds since last season. “I am working on my pass rush and at the same time still working on my run fits. When I can get in there, if its 1st-and-10 or 2nd-and-short for the run, if somebody goes down or needs blow, I think I can do something. I think my skill has improved I have learned to use my hands a little more and keep my hips down, so that has really helped me out.”
Ayres started at Georgia last season and had his best game with four tackles at Memphis.
POINTING IT OUT
-While sophomore center James Stone is improving with his right-handed snap, sophomore Alex Bullard is getting a look at left guard.
-The Vols will practice again Thursday evening in shells.
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On sophomore offensive lineman Alex Bullard’s versatility)
“It’s his body type. He has the kind of body type that can be a good, physical guard. He has enough range. He’s not a prototype tackle, but he has enough range to hold up in space. He’s smart and he’s tough. The first thing is the body type, and then your athleticism and your ability to bend, and your ability to think.”
(On sophomore tight end Mychal Rivera)
“He’s a little inconsistent. He shows flashes that he can be a really good tight end for us. He kind of goes in some funks where he makes some mistakes. His challenge is to be able to perform at the level he’s capable of performing at all the time.”
(On the team’s reaction to him reading Shakespeare)
“They were very engaged in it. I asked if they had read Shakespeare and they tried to recite some of the Old English language, which none of them understood. I told them I didn’t understand their language of today. It’s really no different. Them trying to read Old English and then me trying to understand what they’re saying, it’s about the same.”
(On the team’s defensive effort during Tuesday’s scrimmage)
“I talk about the horseshoe nail. (The offensive line) was a little off on their targets and their steps and the D-Line outworked them the last second of the play. I was real pleased with the defense when I looked at the tape. They were in the right areas. There weren’t a lot of missed assignments. They didn’t give up giant plays. And they were playing hard, fighting and straining until the end. That was a good thing to see.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Corey Miller
(On the play of the defensive line in Tuesday’s scrimmage)
“The defensive line played pretty well, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. We have a long way to go and it was the first scrimmage, so it was pretty much the offense and defense feeling each other out. We took advantage on the first day, but like I said we have a long way to go and a lot of hard work to put in.”
(On fellow sophomore defensive lineman Joseph Ayres)
“He is a dark horse. He works so hard and gets after it every single day. There is nothing you have to tell Joe, he is going to work. That’s just his mentality. I look up to him. He’s a hard-working guy.”
Junior tight end Mychal Rivera
(On the heat during practice)
“The heat out here is a different kind of heat with the humidity, but there aren’t any excuses. We just need to come out here, get in shape and get better every day.”
(On what he needs to improve on)
“Being more physical and my route running. Trying to get out to the perimeter and beat those middle linebackers, beat those Sam-backers and trying to get over the top of those safeties.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James
(On the run game in Tuesday’s scrimmage)
“We have to do much better. We have time to, we just have work hard every day at it.”
(On the versatile offensive line)
“It’s our job as offensive linemen to know each position. Coach (Harry) Hiestand has us doing blocking sheets where we block in on every play for what every position does. Just in case something may happen, someone may go down and they may need you at a certain spot. I feel like I would know every position.”