For most college football teams the bye week can be a time to grab a little rest and get healthy, but for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley’s young squad it is a time to grind and improve.
His ever-evolving team got off to a rough start during its open-date practice on Tuesday, partly due to the fact they didn’t understand the standard.
“I think a lot of it had to do with us being a young team and not really understanding the expectations of an open week,” Dooley said Wednesday. “That starts with our coaches and me communicating what the purpose of the open week is and what our expectations are.”
Following Tuesday’s practice, for the first time as Tennessee’s head coach, Dooley denied interviews following a practice where he was heard audibly, from a lengthy distance, laying into his team after lackluster practice performance.
“You have to be a very mature and professional football player to come and take advantage of an open week because they look at it as they are off, but we’re not off,” Dooley said.
After three weeks of physical play defensive end Ben Martin, linebacker Curt Maggitt, offensive guard Zach Fulton and offensive tackle Dallas Thomas were all seen off to the side and sitting out of individual workouts, but luckily the time off this weekend gives them a chance to get healthy.
“We are a little dinged up, so the open week has been good to help some of the guys playing a lot and to get some of the young guys a lot of reps,” Dooley said. “We are getting a lot of reps to the young guys and they need it.”
One player that will surely work his way into the offensive and special teams lineup will be true freshman and Knoxville native Devrin Young. Dooley said they aren’t sure where the running back's special talents fit into the Vol offense quite yet, but he will definitely be used in all aspects of the return game.
After a horrendous showing in the running game in Gainesville Week 3, all the focus, despite losing star wide receiver Justin Hunter, is on the running game. Dooley watched hours of film following the minus-9-yard rushing performance against the Gators and found several flaws.
“We came to a lot of conclusions,” he said. “More than anything we just have to play with a little more violence at runner especially — get our pads down and start delivering a blow rather than taking a blow.”
For the defensive side of the ball, the new focus will shift to minimizing the big play. Coordinator Justin Wilcox’s defense has seen 217 plays on defense according to Derek Dooley. On 208 of those plays the Vol defense has held its opponents to 3.3 yards per play. On the other nine plays, the opposition is collecting a staggering 46.4 yards per play.
“We are doing some good things, but we are giving up these enormous plays that are killing us,” Dooley said. “It has been a guy just beating us one-on-one, a missed assignment where nobody was able to correct it or just not good tackling once the ball breaks in the perimeter game.
“That is something we have to eliminate. Our goal in every game is zero plays over 25 yards.”
Dooley and the Vols return to Haslam Field for open-week practice for the final time this week on Thursday at 9 a.m. They will then be off Friday, Saturday and Sunday.