Vols back to work at Haslam

Da'Rick Rogers

Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers returned to practice after Sunday's media day in Neyland Stadium. Read as InsideTennessee brings you up to speed on all things Tennessee football.

Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers returned to Haslam Field after two straight days inside Neyland Stadium for media day and a preseason scrimmage.

With school starting on Wednesday, Dooley must combat the everyday distractions of daily life as a student-athlete.

"We identified about two or three things to every player on the team on what they need to improve on these next three days," Dooley said. "We're trying to keep their focus on that. There are a lot of distractions.

"You can start feeling it in the air with school getting here, girls are in town and class is starting so we're trying to eliminate all of that in their minds and just stay focused on football."

Since Saturday's scrimmage Dooley has had time to reflect on what he saw. His consensus was very similar post-film — mixed.

"I thought we made a lot of improvements in areas," Dooley said. "We ran the ball better. We had a little better command. We didn't give up big plays on defense. We got good pressure on the quarterback. Both sides made a lot of improvements in a lot of areas, but we're a long way to go from being a good football team."

One of the best things for Dooley's team will be time. Not everything can be learned quickly, but only through real experience.

"We need a ton of practice," he said. "A lot of the mistakes that were made are not repeated mistakes. They're just things that we're going to have to learn over time. We need experience. We need practice. We feel good about the guys we have. We just have to develop them, coach them and get them to play well."

Freshmen make their mark

After an incredible preseason by two players, it looks as though A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt will flank Austin Johnson at linebacker.

"Right now, nothing is telling us that those two shouldn't be the starters," Dooley said. "But they're freshmen. Despite what guys on our staff are saying, I'm not ready to anoint them as Lawrence Taylor. They haven't played a game. We'll see. Time will tell."

Johnson and Maggitt were both huge draws for Dooley's 2011 class as four-star high school prospects.

Still wide open

As the Vols creep closer to their season opener with Montana on Sept. 3, more and more positions are being filled, but there are several that are still wide open, including in the defensive backfield.

"We've firmed up in a lot of areas but we're not there in the secondary," Dooley said. "We have a lot of guys still. We're trying to figure out the corner spot."

The Volunteers 2011 recruiting class was littered with defensive backs including Izauea Lanier, Justin Coleman, Byron Moore, Pat Martin and Brian Randolph.

Missing Malik

It has been made clear now by Dooley, defensive end Marlon Walls and others that the Tennessee defensive line is missing Malik Jackson at the tackle spot.

"We're not getting much at tackle," Dooley said. "That's an area of concern. They don't have to have sacks, but tackles can push the pocket."

While Dooley may know what to expect from Jackson, he would still like to get his senior tackle back as soon as possible.

"It's not like he was a 12-game dominant player," Dooley said. "I think he needs the work. He got good work in underwear the first few days, but he definitely needs some good work going into the first game. He needs to get hit, he needs to tackle and he hasn't done that."

Another defensive tackle, Corey Miller, can't wait to see Jackson back in full pads.

"Malik Jackson has been my mentor the whole entire time," Miller said. "He has been teaching me. When Malik gets back, he's going to play. When he needs a break, I want to make it where we don't miss a beat."

The team has practice again at Haslam Field at 9:30 a.m. before returning Tuesday night at 7:30. There is no practice scheduled for Wednesday.

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