KNOXVILLE, Tenn (team release) -- For the second time in less than 24 hours, the Vols hit the gridiron at Neyland Stadium. This time, however, there were a few less hits, unless you count the offensive line's rap about Tiny Richardson.
The freestyle beat came about as part of the team's annual preseason media and photo day, which had more than 100 media members on hand Saturday.
After taking the team photo, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley met with the media in the Lauricella Center to discuss his take on Friday night's scrimmage after getting a chance to look at the film.
The Vols worked on a number of different situations during the scrimmage in hopes to lessen the learning curve when presented with unexpected scenarios later this season.
"Because we had so many situations there was a lot of adversity that hit the units," Dooley said. "That's what I am really concerned about more than anything is how we handle that when we get to our first game. Everybody feels good about the work we've put in, the progress that we've made, but we really won't find out about how we are going to respond as a team until we get into that situation. The jury is out on that."
As is usually the case when practicing against your own teammates, when one side does well, the other side suffers. On Friday, the UT offense got the better of the defense statistically, but it wasn't quite so cut-and-dry for Dooley.
"We gave up a lot of big plays on defense," Dooley said. "It was a combination of things. Some of it was that we were repping a lot of coverages that we hadn't had a lot of reps on, so some of the pattern matching wasn't right. Some of it was because we were in some two-minute situations and had a lot of communication problems.
"When it is coming fast, the secondary is making the calls. Some of it was some guys on offense really making some good plays. It's really a combination of everything. It's important to know why you did what you did but at the end of the day you can't give up as many big plays as we did."
Leading the offense to a lot of those big plays was sophomore backup Justin Worley who saw extensive action behind center. The Rock Hill, N.C., natives improvement since the spring was obvious to all.
"I think [his improvement] is significant," Dooley said. "Just watching his command, he understands the offense. We, as coaches, have a good feel for what he can do and what is strengths are and I think that is a part of it. I think the players around him have a real comfort level with his ability. He has performed really well this camp."
One of the few negatives for the offense on Friday was a late-scrimmage injury to sophomore tight end Brendan Downs.
"Downs had a patella dislocation," Dooley said. "It was kind of a scary moment but it is kind of good news. He's going to be out for a little while, but should be back this season. I don't know how long yet."
HUNTER GLAD TO BE BACK
Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter commandeered Assistant Media Relations Director Mary-Carter Kniffen's fashionable sunglasses for his meeting with the TV media at midfield.
He will ditch the accessory the next time he's on Shields-Watkins Field, but said he was very happy to have the uniform back on after losing most of last season to his first-ever football injury.
"It's been a real eye-opener," Hunter said of the time lost to the injury. "Even going back to high school, my coach told me not to take anything for granted. You could be the one to miss a year or miss a whole career, and I was one of those kids that said `That's not going to happen to me, that can't happen to me.'"
Now he's looking forward to getting on the field with fellow receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson, who have dubbed themselves the "Big Three." Junior quarterback Tyler Bray is looking forward to it as well.
"Getting him back is great for me because they (opponents) can't trap like they tried to do last year with Da'Rick," Bray said. "The `Big Three,' like they call it, out here running great routes and getting open."
"To get back on the field with my teammates it's going to be great," Hunter said. "I'm out here with my friends again, having a lot of fun."
ROGERS HONORED TO BE PART OF 'WIDE RECEIVER U'
Add Da'Rick Rogers to the list of players ready for the offense to take the field.
Rogers said the Tennessee tradition of "Wide Receiver U," as UT was known in the 80's and 90's, is back in full effect, and upholding that tradition is something that has helped fuel his preparation in the off-season.
"It's a big thing, this being `Wide Receiver U,' we take a lot of pride in training and trying to uphold that tradition," Rogers said.
Rogers added that newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson has added to his excitement and hopefully will create headaches for opponent game plans.
"CP is another piece and we're glad to have it," Rogers said. "It makes you that much more excited to go out there and play. If somebody tries to double team me, then another receiver or Mychal (Rivera) can go off. If they cover all of us, then we can just run the ball all day long, so it makes it a lot harder for teams to cover us and scheme for us.
LINEBACKERS LOOK TO LATHERS
Sophomore linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt said they have a great leader to look up to, as fifth-year senior Herman Lathers comes back from injury to head the UT linebacking corps.
"He's a great leader," Johnson said. "It shows not just us, but everybody in the program what it takes. He fought through a lot and he came through a lot and became a better leader."
Maggitt said Lathers has given him a greater appreciation of the game.
"He's taught me not just to learn my position, but to learn the defense," Maggitt said. "It's about understanding the scheme and putting the extra work in, watching the extra film and how to get better.
Lathers said the combo of Johnson and Maggitt had put the work in to make Tennessee's group one of the top linebacking corps in the country. But above and beyond what they have done on the field, they have become even closer off the field.
"I saw a lot of potential in those guys last year, but as freshmen, they didn't have the chance to learn the defense like they needed to," Lathers said. "Since last year ended, I saw guys that were willing and eager to learn and stayed hungry and humble and put in the work they needed to. We all studied together and spent a lot of time together. Those guys are real special to me. I'm glad I met them, glad I get to play with them, and they'll be life-long friends."
FROM THE SMALLEST...
Senior defensive back Corey Alexander did his homework this offseason, and it had nothing to do with the study hall hours put in at the Thornton Center.
He scoured the websites of the other 13 Southeastern Conference schools to find out if, at 5-5, he was still the shortest player in the SEC.
Alexander was surprised that by his last media session on Saturday, not one question so far had been about his stature.
"None," Alexander said when asked about questions on his size. "That's surprising to me, shortest football player in the SEC and I got no short questions."
He said his size forces him to play that much harder and focus that much harder.
"I'm 5-5, 5-5 and a half if I put my insoles in," he said. "Playing football at this size is hard, period. I've been short my whole life, I've always had to play against guys bigger, so I've always had to step my game up. You have to be a player, I ball, no matter how tall, it's a blessing."
The son of 11-year NFL veteran Brent Alexander, said he didn't get his size from his famous father, but he might have a step on him these days.
"My dad's 6-0, 205, a real strong guy," Alexander said. "I still won't mess with him. I'm faster than him, so I can run away, but that's it."
...TO THE LARGEST
On the other end of the spectrum, in more ways than one, 6'6, 377-pound, junior defensive lineman Daniel McCullers spoke to the media for the first time on Saturday and said that 85-90 percent of the questions he fielded were about his size, a legend that has grown thanks to some strategic photo work that has made him appear even larger than life in a few shots from camp.
"I'm used to it," McCullers said of questions on his height. "I get it a lot, so I just go with the flow."
McCullers is out to prove he's not just a big body on Tennessee's defensive live. He said that the fan excitement and expectations for him have provided even more fuel for his preparation for the 2012 season.
"It's very exciting that a lot of fans are talking about me," he said. "I'm looking forward to get on the field and getting them excited."
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On the benefit of playing as a true freshman)
“I think it is significant. We had discussions today about redshirting and all that stuff, and I know this. You play better as a sophomore when you play as a freshman, even if you stunk as a freshman. Your development as a player improves when you play as a freshman for a lot of reasons. One is you are learning what it means to prepare each week, two is you are developing your positional skills and three, more than anything, is you realize that, ‘Holy smokes, I’m not very good and I have to go to work,’ so it helps you all offseason. I think all three of those things impacted Justin.”
(On how the coaches are working together)
“I think the spring is where we ironed out all that stuff. Like I told the coaches, we have a real good comfort level. The next test is when the live bullets are going on the headsets. We’re good now with practice and film, we have a nice routine and working dynamic, we’re all on the same page. The one thing we haven’t gone through together is a game.”
(On Jacques Smith)
“I think Jacques has really shown a lot of what his strengths are mainly in sub stuff. When he is in there in more of a spread setting, he plays a little looser. He’s got a real good quickness and twitch where he can disrupt an offense. Where it gets tough on Jacques is when they tighten him down and big bodies are double-teaming him because he’s not as big.”
(On how many players will see action this year)
“We have a lot of players who are going to get a lot of snaps, especially early on because we really don’t have many who have proven they can be productive players in this league. We think we have a lot who could do that, so we’re probably going to play a lot of guys early and see what they can do and see what role they can have. We have an idea of what some of their strengths are and will try to create some roles for them to help us win.”
(On Alton “Pig” Howard)
“I think he is four weeks out, four or five, so he’s getting close to where he can come out and start walking. He’s been rehabbing in the pool and all that. I’d guess a couple of more weeks, I don’t know.”