KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Tennessee, which had multiple games in 2010 that came down to the final few minutes, worked on improving its late-game play during Wednesday afternoon’s practice at Haslam Field.
The Vols closed out two of those games with wins at Vanderbilt and against Kentucky, but suffered defeats at LSU and to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
“At the end of the game, you have to eat up the clock and preserve the victory,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “Last year, we were 2-2 in four-minute situations. I told our team that we couldn’t change anything about last year and if we had just executed the last two minutes of the game in two games, we’re 8-5. It was good to get that work in with two-minute and four-minute. We’re going to get a lot of it in between now and the first game. Being good in situational offense, defense, and special teams is so important and it’s usually the difference in four or five ball games.
“Execution is what it came down to. We did a great job of executing (in the two wins). There were no mental errors and we were confident in those other two wins. We had a lot of mental breakdowns in the other two games so it’s just the ability to focus and not let the situation control you.”
With the undersized makeup of the defensive line, the Vols are exploring all of their options with the unit.
“We have a lot of tweener guys on the defensive line meaning they’re really not stout enough for tackle but when you move them out a little bit, they have pretty good girth,” Dooley said. “They’re really more end-body types but we don’t have enough tackle types. We have to keep them versatile. We have a lot of options because our linemen are just not the prototype defensive tackle mold. We’re going to have to use them in a lot of different ways.”
The defensive line isn’t the only unit under experimentation.
“Spring is your time to really evaluate what the players can do in multiple roles,” Dooley said. “We’re doing it on offense, whether the guy can play slot or not. We do it a lot with the runners to see who can play out on the perimeter game. We see who can play nickel and safety or nickel and corner. You’re just trying to build your roster up and get a feel for who can do what so when you get into your planning in the summer, you’ll have a better reason to hone in on some things in the fall.”
Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney on:
...installing the majority of the offense:
“We’ll put it all in. You put it all in to find out what they can and can’t do and then you scale back down. The question is, ‘What part of the playbook can they handle?’ Who knows? Every team has their own aptitude and we derive that from watching how they learn what we’ve taught them. We’ll figure that out come early fall.”
...freshman tight end Brendan Downs:
“I’m amazed. He’s done fine. He’s a rugged kid. He likes to mix it up. I’m really pleased with his development. He’s a tough kid. That’s a tribute to the boys up in Bristol who have done a good job toughening him up. Mom and dad have done a good job with the kid. He has good character and he’s playing hard. He’s making a lot of mental mistakes because he doesn’t know where he’s going but at least he is going there hard and fast and we appreciate that.”
...improvement of the offensive line:
“A lot. I see a lot in those kids. They’re really developing. They’re calmer. I see maturity on the football field and it shows itself in calmness to me. Your skin gets thicker. You learn to listen to the message and not how the message is sent sometimes. They’ve done that and they’re getting better. I’m really pleased with their development.”
Assistant Head Coach (Wide Receivers) Charlie Baggett on:
...sophomore wide receiver Matt Milton’s development:
“Matt has come a long ways. Some guys develop quicker than others do. Matt was one of the kids that it took him a little while to catch on. Now that he’s caught on, knows how to work hard and knows what we’re looking for, he’s really come a long ways. I still think he has a long way to go but he does have some tools. He’s a size-speed guy. I didn’t know he ran as fast as he does so it was surprising to see in a workout program what he timed out at. He’s a strong kid. He just has to learn a few more fundamentals and the ins-and-outs of being a good receiver and I think he is going to improve even more.”
...the pressure wide receivers’ Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers face:
“You always worry about what they call a ‘sophomore jinx.’ This being those guys’ second year and having to take the full load, it’s a little bit different than last year when they came in and did some clean-up work or did a few plays here and there. It’s a little bit different when you have to go full-time. It’s going to be interesting to see how they do down the road here.”
Quarterbacks Coach Darin Hinshaw on:
...the development of Tennessee’s quarterbacks and UT’s defense:
“When you’re learning the game and you start realizing why you do things and react to defenses, there’s a process. We have to speed that process up and continue to get good at it. I’m proud of all of the quarterbacks right now. They’re all learning defenses and understanding where they are. Our defense is doing a great job of showing us a bunch of different looks and a bunch of different situations that we’re getting into that is advanced ball that we need to get to.”
...what his unit learned from Saturday’s scrimmage:
“We made some mistakes in the scrimmage on Saturday that we can’t make. Putting the ball in a position to get the receivers to catch the ball is our goal. Our job is to get the ball to playmakers. We looked and broke down every single play and we said, ‘OK, here, this is what we have to do to get better at quarterback and we have to get better at it.’”
Defensive Backs Coach Terry Joseph on:
...how Prentiss Waggner’s injury has affected him:
“One of the best things he does is hawk the ball so obviously, he can’t do that as well right now. Just for him to get the mental reps, us matching up the coverages and patterns and just him being out there keeps us intact. It really would be bad if he missed the last two weeks and we had to put a body in there just to fill a position. Just him being out there helps us develop a little bit.”
...the development of Brent Brewer:
“We always say that he was our biggest signee of last year’s class even with how late we got him. Just for him to go in like he did last season and play as well as he did, then for the offseason he’s had and the spring that he’s had is just an attribute to him to what kind of person he is. The guy is dedicated. He works out, he studies the playbook and his play has improved because of that.”
...the depth members of the 2011 signing class will provide this summer:
“I’m in contact with those guys every other day installing also. Those guys are expected to come in here June 1st and playing time is going to be at stake. I think everybody understands the magnitude of being here practicing now. It’s going to get turned up a little bit more in the summer when other guys get here.”
Defensive Line Coach Lance Thompson on:
...the importance of the defensive line:
“I’ve coached defensive line more than I’ve coached anything. I like coaching the front because football is a line-of-scrimmage game and if you don’t play well up front, you don’t give yourself a chance for success on defense. And if you don’t play well on defense, you don’t give yourself a chance for success as a team.”
...having versatile players learn multiple positions:
“You always look as a coach to where your best 11 are. That’s why it’s good and healthy to have them cross-train at other positions so they’re not just learning it day one when a kid gets hurt and you have to put him in there. I don’t think there is any damage to guys learning the whole front and the dynamics of it.”
-Tennessee will practice for the third consecutive day Thursday. After taking Friday off, the Vols will practice at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, including their final scrimmage prior to the Orange and White game on April 16.
-To purchase tickets for the Orange and White game or 2011 season tickets, visit uttix.com or call 865-656-1200.