Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley called Tuesday a typical first day in pads, recognizing that his Vols were excited to finally be making contact with each other.
The first-year head coach, meanwhile, focused on those tell-tale signs of who is advancing the most from last season to this and who has that extra something special when it comes to physical play.
â€œThe first thing you do is see who shows dramatic differences over time between pads and shorts,â€ Dooley said. â€œYou hope thereâ€™s not much difference, there are not many surprises. You hope the surprises are more the guys who really maybe didnâ€™t flash in shorts but now theyâ€™re showing up because of their toughness and because of their explosive power.
â€œThat shows up more in pads -- especially up front in the trenches. Thatâ€™s really what youâ€™re looking at.â€
Tuesdayâ€™s workout of better than two hours was the third of 14 practices leading up to the Dish Network Orange and White Game on April 17. The new coaching staff has less than a month to implement its system.
â€œToday was the first day we installed down-and-distance,â€ Dooley said. â€œNow every team period, thereâ€™s a down-and-distance associated with it. I think itâ€™s important that your team become situationally smart -- trying to understand what the offense is thinking on second-and-10; playing the strengths and playing the weaknesses on third downs.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of excitement early on, but itâ€™s also an adjustment in getting used to carrying the pads. Everythingâ€™s heavier, you get a little more fatigued quicker -- so getting your body adjusted to the pads is important and that only takes time.â€
Dooley also plans to spend a significant amount of time on special teams, which comes as no surprise since one of his first assistant coaching hires was Eric Russell from Texas Tech. Russell formerly coached with Dooley at Louisiana Tech, and the both the Bulldogs and Red Raiders have fielded excellent special teams units of late.
â€œSpecial teams is a critical component of winning,â€ Dooley said. â€œWe probably didnâ€™t perform the way we needed to in that phase and weâ€™ve got a lot of work to do in finding the right guys and then understanding how to work at it and get good at it.â€
Part of that emphasis, and a key part of the overall game plan under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, centers on fundamental football.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter what scheme you put in defensively; if youâ€™re not a good tackling football team, youâ€™ve got no chance,â€ Dooley said. â€œWeâ€™re going to work tackling a lot.â€
The Vols practice again Thursday and Saturday.