KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Tennessee battled plenty of adversity in its first practice as a complete team this fall Friday afternoon at Haslam Field, as senior Malik Jackson missed the session with a right knee injury.
The preseason All-SEC selection is out of action with a sprained right knee and should miss “only a couple of weeks,” according to head coach Derek Dooley.
The Vols were challenged by more than just the injury report in their fourth straight day of practice. While they aren’t collectively where Dooley wants them to be thus far, the pieces are in place.
“We got a little sluggish in the middle,” Dooley said. “After four practices, we’re not a very good football team, but we have a lot of good-looking football players out there. Probably the most important thing we can do is learn how to endure and overcome adversity when it hits us, whether it’s in a game, in a practice or every day. And that’s a sign of a real mature football team. That’s going to be a real challenge for this team being so young that when bad things happen, how do we handle it?”
According to Dooley, the answer is to just move on.
“I think (adversity) leads to mental errors,” he said. “It leads to lack of execution. What’s happened is, you’ve shifted your focus. Now you start thinking about all the bad stuff. It’s all what you think about. It’s training and conditioning your mind that when something bad happens and the coaches scream, (you think) ‘We put it away, we go to the next play and we play out of it. The last play what happened is not going to affect how I play this play.’ It’s one of those things you learn as a mature, professional competitor.”
After being split as a team through the first three days of fall camp with returning starters and veterans in the afternoon and everyone else including newcomers during the evening, the entire roster practiced as one cohesive unit Friday. While it was a larger crowd, Dooley said he wants it to be one that makes more noise.
“It should be better having the whole team because there are more bodies,” Dooley said. “When bad plays start happening, the coaches get louder and the players get quieter. And then I start having a headache. When the players learn to get out of those bad plays by them getting louder and having a little leadership to affect others positively, then the coaches will shut up. That’s where we need to go.”
THE FEW, THE PROUD, THE FUGATE
The 2011 edition of the Vols has just one proven fullback in sophomore Channing Fugate. The Jackson, Ky., native has a lot to shoulder heading into his second season in the orange and white. But he feels ready to contribute in whatever way is needed for Dooley.
“It’s not just going out and blocking,” Fugate said. “You block a lot. That’s your main role, but you also have roles to run it and catch balls out in the flat.”
Fugate was honored with 2011 John Stucky Hard Knox Award for demonstrating the best physical and mental conditioning during the offseason program.
“My biggest strength is going in there and trying to be physical,” said Fugate, who started five games as a true freshman in 2010. “Sticking my face in there and trying to open holes.”
WALLS GETTING USED TO WIDE OPEN SPACES
After playing in seven games at defensive tackle as a true freshman in 2009 and missing the entire 2010 season due to an Achilles injury, redshirt sophomore Marlon Walls was moved to defensive end last spring.
The Olive Branch, Miss., product is still getting used to having so much space to work in.
“(The biggest challenge) is working that pass rush outside,” Walls said. “I’m used to being inside in such a small space that when I get outside I can’t use certain moves. It’s just learning to pass rush more from the outside where there is more space. I think I’m more comfortable out there though, so it’s a blessing.”
At 6-2, 281, however, Walls brings a big, physical presence on the outside that will play a key role in helping the Vols control opposing running games this fall.
“(My biggest strength) is definitely run-stopping and just using my size and ability to push on those tackles and those guards pulling around.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On walk-on wide receiver Antonio Jones)
“He looks pretty good moving around. I haven’t watched him enough. He’s only been out there two days. He looked pretty good the first day.”
(On sophomore Dontavis Sapp)
“He looks pretty good (at linebacker). He’s instinctive. He’s big and he gives us another body down there. He’s good because he can play in sub like a safety. He has a little hybrid in him.”
(On the defensive line)
“All of those D-Lineman, it’s going to be kind of role-playing. They all have some things that they do really well. It’s finding that role where they can help us in the game. Very few of them have an ability to just go out there where it doesn’t matter what the situation or personnel is and go play. We have to do a real good job as coaches understanding what their role is, putting them in a situation where they can help us and trying to limit the times that they’re in a position that doesn’t use their strengths.”
Sophomore fullback Channing Fugate
(On his comfort level with blocking)
“I am real comfortable with it. I know I have to go in there and stick my face in and it’s not going to hurt. So just go in there and be physical.”
Sophomore linebacker John Propst
(On the first four days of practice)
“(Practice) has been great. There is a lot of competition out here. We had some of the young legs out here and were working hard. I feel like we are building chemistry. Like Coach Dooley said after practice, I feel like we have a lot of great players, but we just have to get better as a team.”
(On replacing the leadership of Nick Reveiz)
“It’s never easy to follow up Nick Reveiz, but it’s going good. I feel like a lot of people are coming out here and stepping up and being leaders. I’m more of a guy that leads by example. I’m not a huge talker. I get out here and say what I need to say, but I’m not a huge talker off the field or in the locker room. I just try to lead by example.”