Early in Week 8 Tennessee coach Derek Dooley sensed fatigue that plagues every college football team as they hit the halfway point in their season, but he continued to sell the message that they must fight through the nicks and bruises.
Wednesday he saw more of what he was looking for out of his team as they continued preparation for visiting No. 14 South Carolina.
“I was pleased with how the guys came out today,” Dooley said. “You could tell they were hurting yesterday, just being banged up.”
There is no doubt the biggest story heading into Saturday’s game is true freshman Justin Worley making his first start at quarterback for the Volunteers, but his lack of experience will only change the Vols' game plan minimally.
“We are not going to dial it back to where it is so simple you don’t have a chance, but we are going to out there — you know he has been running these plays since January,” Dooley said. “We have to go out there and execute.”
Like any quarterback the true freshman has strengths that he can offer and maybe even some that the Vols’ likely All-SEC quarterback Tyler Bray can’t.
“We are not going to be able to do some of the things we were going to with Tyler, but we weren’t really where we wanted to be even with Tyler,” Dooley said. “Every quarterback does things differently.
“There were a lot more things we could do with Matt (Simms) in some areas, but not as much in other areas. There are lots of things we can do with Tyler in some areas and not with others — I think it is the same way with Justin.”
Worley was second-guessed because of his offensive system by many coming out of Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C., but Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was not one of those people.
“I don’t really know what (a system guy) is,” Chaney said. “I have heard that a lot. When Drew (Brees) came out we were running the spread and he was a ‘system quarterback’ and it appears to me he is pretty damn good in every system he is in.”
One guy Worley will distribute the ball to is sophomore wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who has been impressed with his new quarterback in his first practice week as the starter.
“He really looks better than I thought he would,” Rogers said. “He came out strong. His confidence is really good. Really it's just making sure he comes out and makes the throws in practice, which he is. I said, ‘Just like high school man, Gatorade player of the year, just throw the ball.’”
The Volunteer star wide receiver is still getting used to the fact that he doesn’t have two of his best friends on the field with him anymore in Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter.
“From a sense of not having the other two guys out there from my class I feel a little naked, but you get used to it,” Rogers said. “There are other guys on the team that can make plays and they are really showing that this week. I feel like we are going to open it up this week with a new quarterback and we will see where everything goes.”
Dooley and the Volunteers hope to get at least Bray back before the conclusion of the 2011 season, but another player they hope will return to the field is outside linebacker Herman Lathers who has been rehabbing a broken ankle since the start of fall camp.
“He looks good,” Dooley said Wednesday. “He has progressed — last week was a big jump. I hope it is soon. We need him. It is kind of week-to-week. He made a huge jump — about two weeks ago we were a little disappointed he wasn’t progressing and last week he made a big jump.”
If Lather is able to return to full-practice capability in the near future, the struggle will be adjusting back to the speed of the game and helping make an impact for the Vols, which Dooley isn’t sure he will be able to do.
“I am not sure how quickly he can get in there and do anything,” Dooley said. “He hasn’t done anything. I am not sure he could help us. It is premature to even worry about it until he gets back.”
Dooley said Lathers and the training staff won’t even start to think about the medical redshirt possibility until the last couple of games in 2011. Lathers would not apply for a sixth year of eligibility until after his fifth.
Dooley and the Vols will return to Haslam Field to continue preparations Thursday morning at 9.