The Volunteers are just days away from their home opener with UT-Martin and the Vols rebounded well from a less than desirable scrimmage over the weekend.
The Vols practice Monday was certainly more of what Derek Dooley has been looking for out of his football team.
“We had a real good practice today,” said Dooley. “There was good spirit, good energy, competitive, guys making plays and had a good tempo – real good way to come back after a scrimmage on a Monday. We got after it pretty good so we made a little progress today.”
The Volunteers even got out a little early during Monday’s practice, but that was only due to an early start following a power outage that forced the Vols to the field early.
Dooley hoped to find something in the scrimmage film that might change his initial thoughts following Saturday’s workout in Neyland Stadium – Mission Unaccomplished.
“It was pretty consistent with the initial reaction,” said Dooley. “I was looking for something better, but I think I saw it right on when I was on the field.
“Our youth and inexperience really shows in critical situations and the whole scrimmage was a critical situation. Consequently, the whole scrimmage was not as good as it needed to be, especially on offense.”
Jim Chaney's offense seemed to take a leap backwards turning the ball over five times. Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray tallied four interceptions while Gerald Williams snagged a batted ball from Matt Simms.
Dooley said much of the confusion is due to coaching. The Vols staff continues to pour it on in an effort to push their players to the limit. Today’s practice saw more of a relaxed script.
“A lot of it is on coaching, but we do it on purpose because we want to push them and see what they can do," Dooley said.
“Today, we really tightened down and that’s probably one of the reasons practice was so good, there wasn’t a lot of thinking – they could play.”
At least one player seems to be handling the workload with supreme confidence – Matt Simms boasts just one turnover through three scrimmages and has impressed his head coach.
“I hope we can say that at the end of the year, but we probably won’t be able to,” said Dooley. “That’s the key and I talk to Matt about that a lot. Coming out of the spring that was my biggest concern was our ability to protect the football.
“If we don’t protect it we won’t beat anybody on the schedule – I can tell you that right now. If we do protect it and don’t turn the ball over we will have a chance.”
Dooley wouldn’t use ‘game manager’ because he feels that phrase has developed a negative connotation and his QB can still wing it.
“It’s not like he is shutting it down and trying to play super conservative,” said Dooley. “He is trying to make aggressive throws, but he is doing it in better situations.
“I think it’s because people say ‘he’s a good game manager when he can’t throw it a lick.’ That means he can hand the ball off real well. That’s not what I mean by that. Matt has a really strong arm. He makes throws that not a lot of guys can make.”
Simms may be even more effective if the Volunteers could find some consistency with shotgun snaps. Dooley and his staff have struggled to find a consistent body at center and those woes continue.
“We have some issues when we are in the shotgun,” said Dooley. “We don’t have a natural snapper when we are in the shotgun, so when the snaps aren’t consistent coming back it affects the rhythm of the play.”
One area Dooley sees almost unparalleled improvement is in the Volunteers secondary. With Janzen Jackson back from a hamstring injury, Eric Gordon having a blistering camp and Marsalis Teague growing into a role at corner, Dooley said they are growing daily in the defensive backfield.
“Compared to where we were in the spring we are light years ahead,” said Dooley. “It’s good to have Janzen back and that makes a difference. Marsalis Teague has been a tremendous addition. He is going to be a real key player for us and Eric Gordon is getting better every week.”
Dooley and the Vols will practice on Tuesday before a ‘dress rehearsal/mock game’ on Wednesday. Then, the Vols will step into game week preparations.