KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - When the Vols returned to the practice field on Monday morning, the primary focus was on the mental side of the game as head coach Derek Dooley challenged his squad to "exercise a level of grit" and develop an "ability to persist in the face of difficulty."
"I talked to the team after practice about with every great player, every great team and every great organization, you have to define a standard of what you believe in and what you want to look like,"
Dooley said after Monday's practice at Haslam Field. "We've done that in our program with our values. The standard is going to get challenged every day."
For Dooley, accepting that challenge all comes back to one thing: leadership.
"Every day, it's going to get challenged to see if you are really committed to it," Dooley said. "You have to exercise a level of grit in ability to persist in the face of difficulty. You also need some leadership around you to affect others in a positive way. We have to keep working on those things.
"We're still getting affected when we're nicked, when it's hot, `I'm tired,' and we start seeing a little bit of dragging. That's just something we have to keep harping on over and over. Once we get that standard and we don't compromise it, we're going to be OK."
D.ROGERS: FOCUSED ON TEAM
All-SEC wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers met with the media for the first time this spring on Monday. He was direct in speaking about what kept him away from the team for last Thursday's practice and vowed to move forward and help the Vols become "a championship contending team."
"No controversy, I just had some things I had to handle off the field," said Rogers, who returned to practice on Saturday. "I got those handled. I am looking forward to moving forward and becoming a championship contending team.
"I just had a few things, you know, in my personal life. As far as a distraction, I wasn't really trying to be a distraction but it was the situation that we got handed. Everything is good now, as I said before, as a team now we are focusing on moving forward."
Rogers has high hopes for the Vols heading into 2012 as both quarterback Tyler Bray and fellow junior receiving running mate Justin Hunter are expected back at full speed after injuries in 2011.
"Once and for all. The whole team, I think we have all come together and I think this is the year, the team chemistry is great this year," Rogers said. "Honestly, I think this might be the year.
"Who doesn't want to catch balls from Tyler Bray, one of the top quarterbacks in the league? And Justin is one of the better receivers in the SEC. With a great situation like that, I feel like this offense can really push for high levels."
Rogers took extra time to clear the air with Bray and Hunter as well.
"Yeah, I had a conversation with my teammates, Bray and Justin, specifically on the side. We really just talked about how we can move forward and getting everything on the right track so we can move in the right direction as a team.
"There really wasn't much in the air to clear as a team. We have always been on the same page. It is just little things that need to be handled and I think we got those handled so everything should be good from here on out."
Dooley knows what the relationship between the Vols' three most potent offensive weapons means.
"It's part of being on the team. It's part of a family," Dooley said. "Those guys have to play together and work together. They spend a lot of hours together. They have to be able to iron out any differences they have. But I know this. Everybody in our organization, there's a lot of love. Sometimes love is tough love. That's part of parenting. I bring it up every day. That kind of player involvement is critical on a team."
Dooley also said Rogers follows the same rules as the other 90-plus members of the football team.
"It's no different with any player," Dooley said. "We don't have different standards despite what a lot of people think. Does that mean we treat everybody the same? No. We have some big-picture standards that are very black and white with how we handle them. How we manage it with each player is very different depending on what the personality is and depending on a lot of things. The leash is similar, but there's also a break point with every player. It's no different with anybody."
Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter continues to progress ahead of schedule as he works his way back from a torn ACL. The 6-4 speedster is feeling as strong as ever and passed another big test on Monday.
"My physical therapist told me how it was going to be and so far he's been right," Hunter said. "I have no pain and I'm coming back stronger than I was before. My cutting is good. I even landed on my left leg today and it was straight, so I don't have any fears."
Another positive for Hunter was the return of Da'Rick Rogers to practice. His presence on the field provides another threat for the defense to consider and gives Hunter more room to work.
"When he wasn't there, I was tired, I was beat," Hunter said. "I was getting double-teamed and all that, so when he came back I was really excited and happy because I got to get my reps in.
"It's great because when he does something good we're all happy and into it and when I do something good, he's into it. We're just out there helping each other."
"CHOPPING AT THE WOOD"
After starting in two games and playing in 11 as a junior-college transfer last season, defensive back Byron Moore's hard work is starting to pay off.
One of the top recruits out of high school in 2008, Moore has always had expectations placed on him, but none higher than the ones he puts on himself.
"I push myself to be the best," Moore said. "So (last season) was difficult. But I came out here to practice and worked hard each day, perfecting my craft and getting better at my game. So I just kept a straight head and kept chopping at the wood until I got the playing time I was comfortable with."
Slotted at strong safety on the Vols' spring organizational chart prior to camp, Moore looks to keep chopping.
"It takes a while to find a home until he finds a comfortable place of how to work, gets his body right and his speed," Dooley said. "It took us awhile to figure it out too. It's hard your first year. I don't care how old you are. Your first year in any program is hard. I'm glad he has three."
In his first spring session with the Vols, Moore is applying what he learned in his first season at Tennessee in 2011.
"Camp is going well so far," Moore said. "I'm trying to learn the new defense and pick up the concepts. Everyone in the secondary is working hard and trying to work together, making sure we all know what we've got to do and how to play each concept out. I feel like I'm having a pretty good camp, I've just got to keep grinding and working hard, pushing towards our first game."
As long as he continues to do that, he should settle into that home Dooley referenced just fine.
"Byron is doing really well," Dooley said. "He's making a lot of progress. I think he has his weight where he wants it. He's now learning and he's picking up this stuff pretty good. He's an instinctive player and I hope he continues that. We need him."
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
(On the Monday morning blues)
“It was the Monday morning blues. Everybody in America has them. It was a great weekend and it’s time to go to work Monday morning. Watching basketball on the weekends and you have to go. You can’t have Monday (off) and you wait until Tuesday to get going. You have to go now. We had to remind them of that a little bit.”
(On the outlook for Brent Brewer)
“Here’s what we’re doing with Brent. It’s hard to really work him in a lot of contact at SAM. There’s no sense in sitting there for 15 practices and he can’t do much playing SAM backer. We put him back at safety. I said when we started him at SAM, it didn’t mean he was going to be there permanently. This allows him to get a lot of reps in pattern match. He’s still probably going to play the money, which is kind of a sub linebacker when they go nickel. It just allows us to work him a little bit more. That’s all.”
(On Nathan Peterman)
“He has a lot of promise. We have three really good players at that position, which is rare for any program. And they’re young. I’m excited about what we have there.”
(On Steven Fowlkes)
“Steven is doing great. He has length. He has twitch. I’m glad to have him in there. I hope he keeps progressing. He’s doing great.”
(On Friday’s scrimmage)
“We have a scrimmage Friday. We have a lot in. I told the coaches that we have to tighten it down for Wednesday’s practice. We’ll rep what we’re going to rep in the scrimmage. What I don’t want to have happen is we go out there, have 48 mental errors and we can’t evaluate the players. What I’m looking for more than anything is are the players playing fast? They can’t do that if they don’t know what to do. We can get a good evaluation of them, not ‘Who won? Offense or defense?’”
JUNIOR WR DA’RICK ROGERS
(On his conversations with Coach Dooley)
“Honestly, the conversations we had were really more with the whole team and about me moving forward with everything and getting back right with everything. I think that is what we did and I feel like it was a very good meeting we had.”
(On if he actual considered transferring)
“No transfer for me, no consideration. I need to do a little better with my tweets and letting everybody know what is really going on. So next time it won’t be misinterpreted.”
(On being unfairly singled out)
“That comes with anything, if you make plays the camera is always going to be on you. You get the good with the bad. So anything you do will be publicized. It is just something you have to learn to live with and learn how to deal with as you get older.”
(On Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray being the reason he wanted to stick around)
“Most definitely. Those are the reasons I decommitted to Georgia and Justin decommitted to LSU, so we could all come together and make big things happen here at Tennessee.”
(On how he felt missing practice)
“My main thing was, not being out here with the team. I know we are picking up the pace and this is spring and everyone is repping. It hurt the most that I wasn’t out there to help the guys. I wanted to be there for them.”
(On Nathan Peterman)
“Peterman has a pretty good arm. I think the coaches are doing a really good job of bring a lot of good quarterbacks in. Worley, when he first came in I thought it was pretty good too. Peterman is on the right track the same way Worley was.”
JUNIOR WR JUSTIN HUNTER
(On his conversations with Da’Rick Rogers)
“He’s like our brother. He had a problem and needed help with it. That’s about it. He just needed to calm down. We were there for him and talked to him and just told him that everything would be alright.”
(On whether Rogers is completely back)
“The talk that we had put him at 110 percent. He doesn’t have any more distractions. He’s a hard worker and he’s ready to work.”
(On what he said to Rogers)
“He just needed his friends there for him, that’s all. He just needed somebody by his side. I don’t want him to feel alone in this organization.”
FRESHMAN LB CHRISTIAN HARRIS
(On what he likes about playing linebacker)
“I like my fits and all the stunts we can run. We have a bunch of stunts we’re running. I just feel like offense isn’t going to see it coming and we’ll be able to pick up a lot of stuff.”
(On the importance of spring football for him)
“It’s really important, obviously. I’m going to work hard and do what I can to get a chance to get in.”
SENIOR DL STEPHEN FOWLKES
(On spending most of last season on the scout team)
“It was frustrating but I feel like God had a plan for me. That’s how I do it—I put God first and leave everything in His hands. Let Him take care of it—He won’t do me wrong. It was a building block for me. I improved on scout team. I worked hard and got some good looks from Dallas Thomas and Ja’Wuan James, so I feel like I took advantage of the situation.”
JUNIOR LB/DB BRENT BREWER
(On playing back at safety again)
“It’s a little bit of a depth thing. They just said they need more experience back there. They had one player back there that played.”
(On the difference at safety between the last couple years)
“There are a lot more checks and things that you’ve got to know and you got to let the defense know what they have to do.”
SENIOR DB PRENTISS WAGGNER
(On defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri)
“I think he’s great. I think he’s a guy that expects the most out of the players. Whatever he don’t see he’s going to try and get out of you. He’s a fiery guy. He’s fun to be around.”
(On the competition in the secondary)
“The battle has been real good. We’re out there pushing each other. The guys, I think, have a pretty good competition going on. Guys are out there trying to make plays. We have a little inside deal going on for whoever gets the most interceptions.”