KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (team release) -- As Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley's shirt read on Thursday, Milligan College football is undefeated since 1950.
The Vols are hoping a little of that karma rubs off as they pack up a fleet of yellow school buses and move their training camp to the upper corner of East Tennessee for a week starting Friday.
"We want to limit ourselves from the distractions and simulate what used to be very common as it relates to team chemistry, getting to know each and building leadership and togetherness," Dooley said. "It's just about creating time where we are away from all that `stuff.'"
Some of that "stuff" showed up during Thursday's practice, held indoors because of heavy rain, as the UT defense struggled to control the offense.
"They had a lot of mental errors and gave up some big plays because of it," Dooley said. "This is the time in camp, especially with the volume of stuff we are throwing at them, it is mental error, mental error, mental error. We have to push them to learn and, at some point, we'll kind of back it down so they can play fast."
Dooley isn't the only one excited about the opportunity to get away and focus on just football for a while.
"I think that this gives our team an opportunity to grow closer," junior linebacker Jacques Smith said. "This summer we've grown as a strong unit and I feel like this is another step that we can take to becoming a really, really great team. We are going to go there and focus in on everything we need to do to get better. Once we come back it is game time in the Georgia Dome."
A Tennessee native from Ooltewah, Smith was familiar with Milligan College before it was announced the Vols would train there, but probably could not have picked it out on a map.
"I kind of knew where it was from driving past it," Smith said. "I didn't know the exact location, but I knew it is out there in the boonies."
TRAINING CAMP INJURY UPDATES
As with the start of any training camp, the Vols have had a few players get dinged up in their first week on the field. Head coach Derek Dooley provided an update on injuries to junior wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and freshman linebacker Kenny Bynum on Thursday.
"Cordarrelle hurt his shoulder," Dooley said. "He fell down after he made a catch so he's got a little small sprain but it shouldn't be too bad. Kenny Bynum tore his meniscus so he'll be out for a while. Right now they are kind of figuring out what surgical procedures they want to do."
Before his injury, the Vols had been impressed with what they had seen out of Bynum.
"He's what we thought in recruiting," Dooley said. "He is instinctive, he's tough and he's smart. The first few practices with him, that's what we saw."
With one inside linebacker going down, another is beginning to work his way back up as redshirt freshman Christian Harris, out with a torn ACL, donned the pads and got some running in during practice Thursday.
"He is four months out (since surgery) right now," Dooley said. "He is going to start running and cutting. This is the beginning window for coming back. The rule of thumb is six months. (Brent) Brewer was back pretty quickly, he probably could have played at five. He was out there practicing at four. I think the next couple of weeks is when we'll get a gauge for how fast (Harris will come back). All signs say he is right on pace for early recovery."
DARR DRIVEN BY PUNTER COMPETITION
Tennessee's competition at punter between redshirt sophomore Matt Darr and junior Michael Palardy should be interesting as both have game experience. Punting is an area that the Vols aim to improve in 2012 as UT ranked last in the SEC in 2011 with a 37.8-yard punting average.
"(Matt Darr and Michael Palardy) are still competing for that job," said Derek Dooley. "I want the most productive guy, the most consistently productive player, to punt for us. The same thing for kicker. I don't care if Mike does all of them or does one of them. I'm past that. He is old, he's mature, he's physically ready so we are going to do a fair evaluation of all of them to see who is the better guy."
Darr has been hard at work this summer working on his technique. Last year was Darr's first in action and he booted 40 punts for a 38.1-yard average with 10 inside the 20-yard line and three of 50 or more yards. Consistency is key for punters and improvement is a matter of tweaking personal routines and habits. Darr has been working on creating a personal system for certain punts.
"The drop for me was the one thing I tend to have `sticky fingers' with in terms of having the ball a little bit on them too much," Darr said. "So I've just figured out a system for myself where I can replicate the same things over and over again in practice and transfer them over in games."
Darr said that the entire special teams unit is hungry for the season opener at NC State. The Bakersfield, Calif., native feels that the competition between him and Palardy has been good for both of them.
"Competition a lot of times brings out the best in people," Darr said. "I think Michael and I realize that we both have jobs that are important on the team, so we both try to help each other bring the best out in each other."
LANE GAME FOR BIG GAINS
Sophomore tailback Marlin Lane is looking to make a big impression this week when the Volunteers head to Milligan College for training camp.
Motivated after an inconsistent rookie season and coming back from an ACL injury two years ago, while he was in high school, Lane expects to compete for major time in the backfield this season.
"I'm just feeling a whole lot better this year," said Lane, who ran for 280 yards as a freshman in 2011.
"I'm more comfortable with knowing my plays and reading my keys. I'm just doing what I can to help the run game. The knee injury is way behind me. I'm healthy and ready to go. It's not going to slow me down."
The Daytona Beach, Fla., native feels the running back race is wide open at this point in training camp as he competes with Rajion Neal and Devrin Young for time. Lane is confident that the Vols have a good group of backs that all can contribute to a successful run game this season.
"As far as the running backs are concerned, there are still little things that we need to work on, but for the most part we are getting the job done," Lane said. "Every day somebody is doing something to have a great day. We are all competing to get the job done, as well as for a starting spot. We are all trying to take care of business. Everyone is going to get some reps and have a chance to contribute this year. It won't just be one running back."
FREEDOM TO ROAM
Sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt played in 11 of Tennessee's 12 games last season starting in eight of them at SAM linebacker as a true freshman in 2011.
Since then, the Vols have revamped their defense and installed a 3-4, which benefits Maggitt's versatility.
"I've gotten looks at all four positions [in fall camp]," said Maggitt. "I think we are just trying different things out. My role is a lot different [than last year]. I am containing more and doing many different things. I like it more though."
Maggitt could find himself anywhere in the defensive front seeing time at various linebacker spots or with his hand down on the line.
The transition will not be a hard one for Maggitt who, despite missing the spring, feels his game experience and a summer of studying has given him a leg up in 2012.
"I learned a lot playing last year," said Maggitt. "I know what the game speed is like, what to expect, and to recognize a lot of small details in the offenses and defenses."
"I haven't fallen behind too much [on learning the new defense]," continued Maggitt. "Herm (Lathers) has been helping me out in the spring and the early summer. I have also been in the play book a lot working with Coach Sal (Sunseri) and Coach (Brandon) Staley."
TENNESSEE HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On Cordarrelle Patterson impressing during one-on-one drills Wednesday)
“It’s a big difference going out there and saying ‘You against him’ and it’s a fade or a slant. If the game was always like that it would be real easy. The challenge for him is learning the offense and learning how to function recognizing coverages, adapting to what they do to stop him. We have to do a good job as coaches to bring him along and keep him in the mix without overwhelming him. That’s going to be the challenge.”
(On the depth at inside linebacker)
“It’s a real concern, especially now that we’ve already lost two with Christian Harris and Kenny Bynum – two inside pluggers. That is a real concern on our football team and has been.”
(On George Bullock)
“He’s done good. We’re glad to have George. He did a nice job in field-goal period and did a good job kicking off for the first time in college and that is hard. We’ll see how he progresses. He has a real mature approach about him. We made him do some punting but that’s not his forte right now.”
(On the return game)
“We have (Quenshaun) Watson working punt return and kickoff. CP is working kickoff and Justin Hunter is doing a good job on punt returns behind Devrin (Young). We’ll know a little bit more as camp goes.”
SOPHOMORE LB CURT MAGGITT
(On training at Milligan College)
“We are using Milligan to get better every day and not take practice for granted. We are trying to get better so when the season comes we have something to show for it. I don’t really know what to expect [from Milligan]. This is my first time going away, off site. I am excited and ready to get better as a team.”
(On Defensive Coordinator Sal Sunseri saying he was one of the best linebackers he has ever coached)
“It means a lot for him to say that. But I am still trying to get better and take in everything from [Coach Sunseri] and try and be the best I can be. It is the same with A.J. [Johnson]. We push each other every day to be the best.”
JUNIOR LB JACQUES SMITH
(On learning the new defensive schemes)
“It’s getting better as we go because a lot of guys are studying together as a group, getting everyone in together and making sure we watched film together every single day. That is something it takes to be a great defense. Everyone has to be coordinated and on the right page. That’s something we are going to get even better at because we can hone in on those mistakes and eliminate them completely. Once we do that, I feel like we have a great chance to be a pretty good defense.”
(On what his personal goals are)
“I’m not worried about myself this year. I don’t really care about anything statistic-wise, any type of award or anything (individual). I’m more worried about this team. I want this team to be a factor in the SEC this year and I know that we can be a factor. I believe in my quarterback, I believe in my offensive line, I believe in my defensive line, I believe in my linebackers and my secondary and definitely my receivers. I feel like this can be a great team, we just have to continue to come together as a team. This year is going to be a special year if we can do that.”
(On learning the Jack position)
“During the spring I will admit that Jack was a little bit different, being in space, dropping down in coverages and things like that, but it has become a habit. It’s become natural now and like Coach Sal (Sunseri) said, I kind of have a natural feel for it. I really like it a lot and I’m enjoying it. Every single day that we come out to the field it is becoming kind of a habit. Some of the calls I don’t even have to think twice now. It is getting really easy and this camp is going to help out a lot. Hopefully, we’ll continue to get better at the position, all of the Jacks, not just me.”
(On developing consistency)
“You have to come out to work every single day. You have to come out and work as hard as you can and you can’t worry about the last day or a bad play you might have. You just have to come to work every single play and every single snap to beat your guy. If you can do that, you can become a consistent player.”
RS SOPHOMORE P MATT DARR
(On how camp has been going and where he has made improvements)
“It has been going really good. I’ve never been more excited about going into the season and camp at this point than I am right now. So, let’s just keep things rolling when we get to Milligan.”
(On what he needed to change from last year going into this year)
“Consistency for myself. I feel like I figured out more about myself as a punter and I’m taking strides in realizing the things I need to do to be successful.”
(On what his bench marks are)
“Well 45 yards and a 4.5 second-hang is a solid base punt. Right now, my bench mark is going to be NC State. The whole special teams unit is looking forward to coming out and having a big showing that first game. It’ll be big for the team and myself as well.”
SOPHMORE RB MARLIN LANE
(On traveling to Milligan College for camp)
"I think it will be good. It will be a chance for everyone to get their minds focused on football and away from distractions."