KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (team release) -- The Tennessee football team suited up in full pads for the first time this preseason while installing third-and-1 and goal line situations Saturday afternoon. After beginning the session at Haslam Field, rain forced the Vols to wrap up their opening week of fall camp inside Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
“We weren’t as good as we needed to be on third-and-1 (last season),” head coach Derek Dooley said. “I think we were about 70 percent on third-and-1 last year on offense and we really need to be 100. A lot of things go to that and that’s kind of where we are.”
One thing that has been as good as it needs to be thus far in camp is the team’s physicality.
“We’ve hit pretty good the last two days, but it was great,” Dooley said. “The whole day was pretty physical. The pads were popping. The team is doing a good job. I’m looking for things to criticize but I’ve been pleased with them.”
JANZEN AT NICKEL
Junior defensive back Janzen Jackson, who earned All-SEC second team honors while playing safety as a sophomore in 2010, is getting a look at the nickelback position this fall.
“He’s so disruptive,” Dooley said. “He has a lot of gambler in him. A guy who gambles when he’s way in the back, if he misses, it’s like putting all of your money on black 22 and it’s over. If you move him up a little bit, you’re kind of spreading out your bets because you have guys behind him. If he misses, they can make the tackle. It allows him to be a little more aggressive in reading the quarterback and taking some chances without really killing us.
“He’s an active, fast-twitch, instinctive guy. I think it can disrupt the quarterback a little bit more by moving him down, but what you lose is that range in the backend. He’s kind of been our save-our-ship guy in the back so we have to make sure we get a guy back there.”
UNDERCLASSMEN BACKS GARNER PRAISE
Sophomore tailback Rajion Neal used his speed to find the field as a freshman in 2010. After averaging 4.3 yards per carry and 14.3 yards per reception last season, the Vols plan to find even more situations to use Neal in.
“He’s a fast guy,” Dooley said. “I think he’s one of the fastest on the team. He made a lot of plays for us in space last year at running back. We’re going to try to create ways to get him in space and get the ball to him to where his speed can help him a little bit more. We’re kind of playing around with him as a specialty guy. We still have him in the backfield but putting him out wide to see what he can do and where he might help us.”
This season, it’s freshman tailback Marlin Lane who has an opportunity to use his skill-set to find the field as a rookie. So far, he’s impressed.
“I’ve seen a lot of good things from Marlin,” Dooley said. “You can tell he has very good elusiveness. He’s an instinctive guy and he’s tough. He loves football and has a great passion for the game. I’ve been real pleased with him. We’ll see how he sustains. We’ll see what his durability is as camp goes on. He’s shown everything we hoped he would show in the first few days.”
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
Coming off a sensational freshman season in which he started all 13 games and earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors, Ja’Wuan James has worked on his craft during the off-season to be in better shape.
“My mentality (on being physical), how I approach every block, every play, whether it’s a pass or a run, I’m just going to play physical,” James said. “I’m going to let them (the defense) know I’m there all four quarters.”
After a year where Tennessee started four freshmen offensive linemen at times, the Vols have a young, but veteran O-Line for 2011. Along with James, fellow sophomores James Stone, JerQuari Schofield and Zach Fulton all started at times in their first college action.
“All of us across the board feel more confidence,” said James. “We aren’t going out there not knowing what’s happening any more. Our freshmen year is over, we got to go out there all those games (and gain experience). Now it’s just playing hard and keep going at it every day in training camp.”
SAPP GIVES VOLS A HYBRID OPTION
After playing in 11 games as a true freshman and posting a solid spring at safety, sophomore Dontavis Sapp is getting some work with the linebackers early in camp. At 6-2, 219, Sapp’s big frame provides the coaching staff with some versatility among the front seven and secondary.
“The coaches have me working a majority of the time as a linebacker, but I can still play safety if they need me to,” Sapp said. “The way we play, I’m already in the box and with my big body I’m already in the action. I think (moving to linebacker) will help me a lot with coverage. Most of the time, (linebackers) cover the ‘slugs’ of the offense, so I think my coverage will be great against those guys.”
“(Sapp) looks pretty good in there,” Dooley said. “He’s instinctive, he’s big and he gives us another body in there. It’s good because he can sub in at safety, so he’s got a little hybrid in him.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On tailback being an easy position to find playing time as a freshman)
“I think it’s easy for a runner. There’s some positions that if the coaches do a good job, they can play as a freshman. Running back, wideout, quarterback and of course in our case, it’s every position. Center, O-Line, right guard, D-End, linebacker, safety. But runner is easy. The hardest part with a running back and the biggest adjustment is learning pass protections because that’s something they didn’t really do.”
(On sophomore linebacker John Propst)
“He’s a mike. Mainly, that’s what his physical makeup keeps him at. He’s a smart guy. He’s instinctive but he doesn’t have the range as some of the other guys. That’s kind of his role. We need him to stay at mike and it gives us some stability.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James
(On what tailback Tauren Poole can accomplish this season)
“We are going to try our hardest every play. That’s why we are out there, to give Tennessee our all and give our all for Tauren, it’s his senior year. We want it to be a big year for him. If he has 2,000 yards, our team is going to be good. We are all working hard for one goal. He looks out for us and we look out for him.”
(On sophomore fullback Channing Fugate as a blocker)
“We include Channing in everything. He’s one of us. Channing is a really good player. He got his first time to start in the South Carolina game and he had tons of knockdowns, he was playing really physical.”
Sophomore defensive back Brent Brewer
(On the increased depth of the secondary)
“It’s a lot better. We have more talent to roll in there and compete with us. We have to teach the younger players the plays and things like that. They have a ways to go but I think during the season they’ll be able to help us a lot.”
(On his impressions of the newcomer wide receivers)
“They’re very good. I’m very impressed with what they bring to the game and how they work. They’re very quick and fast with their routes and things like that. I believe they’ll be able to help us.”
Sophomore linebacker/defensive back Dontavis Sapp
(On the linebacking corps)
“I think we have a great unit with a lot of competition. With the guys that have been here like Austin Johnson, Daryl Vereen and John Propst to the guys coming in like A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, we are all working hard and competing against each other. Competition makes us better players.”
(On working with linebacker coach Peter Sirmon)
“He coached me last year as a safety and we kind of got to know each other on a personal level. We just carried over to the linebacker spot.”
Junior linebacker Greg King
(On working at multiple LB positions)
“That’s our job. We have to help each other and know each other’s position. We have to be able to play every linebacker position on the field. When one goes down, another one has to step up. It’s a competition.”
(On battling back from injury)
“It’s a learning experience. Things happen. When you go down, you have to be able to get the mental reps watching a lot of film so when you come back you can be ready.”
Sophomore offensive lineman JerQuari Schofield
(On what the O-Line does to become more physical)
“We just play ball, come out here every day and get better. We are hitting every day, every minute, anytime we can. We are just being as physical as we can be whenever we can and getting into that mindset when we watch film and are learning.”
(On the first week of practice)
“I feel like I’ve definitely grown from the beginning (of practice) to where we are now. (As a unit) I think we are growing and taking strides to get better and better.”
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