Dooley Wants Vols' Defense To Be Unsettling For Opponents
Freshman Phillips, A Former Florida Signee, Last Addition To UT Roster
Thursday, August 02, 2012
- by Larry Fleming
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A day before Tennessee was to begin preseason practice, Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said he’s looking some positive production from his defensive line.
75in 0pt 0in;">“Be active and disrupt,” Dooley, who is 11-14 in two seasons at Tennessee, said at Thursday’s press conference in Neyland Stadium. “That’s it. They need to take on a block, disengage and then run to the ball. It’s pretty simple.”
With an offense that stumbled in 2011 after starting quarterback Tyler Bray missed five games with a broken hand, the Vols displayed a less-than-smothering defensive unit.
Some of the problem was that Tennessee’s rushing offense ranked 116th nationally and didn’t do much to take some of the heat off their defensive counterparts.
Digest these numbers:
The Vols were 27th in total defense (340.5 yards per game).
They were 36th in scoring defense (22.58 points per game).
Opponents completed 57.48 percent of their passes against UT and that was good enough for a No. 12 ranking. However, Alabama, Florida, LSU and Georgia were ranked ahead of the Vols.
Tennessee’s pass efficiency defense was ranked 48th (125.5, partly due to a lack of consistent pressure from the front line.
The Vols’ red zone defense also ranked 48th after opponents scored 80 percent of the time – 40 drives, 32 scores.
Although no defensive linemen were made available for interviews on Thursday, sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said good things are happening up front.
“I think they understand the concept and once you do that and execute what’s being given to you the defense will be able to stop a lot of offenses,” Maggitt said.
Two players Maggitt believes can be stalwarts in 2012 are juniors Marlon Walls (6-2, 285) and Dan McCullers (6-6, 377).
“Marlon is a great leader,” Maggitt said. “He acts like a senior, although he’s not. McCullers is a big body and can plug up some holes. We’re excited about those guys up there.”
One of the new players – freshman Omari Phillips of Venice, Fla., has the potential to be a force on the defensive line right away.
Phillips, the former Florida signee, a 6-foot-6-inch, 325-pounder, was a consensus four-star recruit and participated in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Dooley explained how the Vols were able to lure Phillips to Knoxville.
“We had some guys on the staff that had a relationship, so we just went through the process like we do with anybody of that nature,” he said. “We brought him up for a visit, we did our diligence and the process has gotten us to here. Really not any different than any other player; we just did it in a different time of the year.”
Phillips’ admission to the university finalized the Vols’ 2012 recruiting class. All 25 signees are on campus for the second straight year.
Dooley takes pride in that fact.
“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “We have a pretty good indicator of whether guys are going to qualify or not. It’s more important than ever now since you can only sign 25. You can’t over-sign.”
Several of those freshmen, including Phillips, can expect to play this season if they get a solid grasp of the offense or defense, Dooley said.
“I hope we don’t have to play 17 or 18 like last season,” he added. “But if they come in and perform and are better than what we have they’ll be playing.”
Dooley said the Vols will have 105 players when the practice for a week in Knoxville before spending a week at Milligan College in Elizabethton from Aug. 9-15. On the first three days, the Vols will go through split practices.
The incoming players will practice in the first session each day followed by the veterans in the evening workouts.
Dooley said it will be important for the Vols to sustain the momentum in fall drills realized from a strong offseason.
“You guys (media) have heard me most of the summer bragging about the team on their offseason and the last eight months about how hard they worked, the chemistry, their leadership growth,” he said.
“All of that’s great, but now we are at the point where none of that will pay dividends in the fall if we don’t approach the next four weeks with the right kind of mindset.”
Cornerback Prentiss Waggner (6-2, 182) insists he wants to leave Tennessee with the knowledge he and his senior teammates helped get the Vols back on track after three losing seasons in the past four years.
“We want to be the group of seniors, that Tennessee team, that brought Tennessee back and put Tennessee back on the pedestal that everyone is used to seeing it on,” Waggner said.
One unit the Vols are heralding as one of the best in the country is a receiver’s corps headlined by juniors Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers. That group has been bolstered by junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson (6-3, 205), a two-time NJCAA All-American at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, and freshmen Cody Blanc (6-3, 202), Jason Croom (6-5, 232) and Alton Howard (5-8, 185).
Howard is recovering from foot surgery and Dooley said he’s “progressing forward.”
“Our freshman receivers are an acclaimed group and they’re confirming that,” Dooley said. “It was an important year for us to sign wideouts. We only two starters and they’re high-profile guys. But we only had three guys with experience. They’re all a little different with different skill-sets. We’ll have a better feel for these guys after four or five practices.”
Hunter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida, appears to be 100 percent and ready to reassume his role as the most talented receiver on the squad.
“His knee is fine,” Dooley said. “He’s got to get pads on and get hit and be able to go 12 games and produce. This will be the first time we’ve depended on him in every game, and he can do that. His didn’t have to do that in his first year. In his second year, we only got a couple of games out of him.”
Said sophomore cornerback Brian Randolph of Hunter: “Justin is back to his usual self. I think he’s actually gotten better. His routes are quick and very swift. He can pretty much get any DB he wants to get at any time.”
Rogers, who in published reports threatened to transfer during the summer, although he later denied those stories, led the Vols with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 2012.
Hunter had 17 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns before his injury.
Patterson caught 61 passes for 924 yards and 15 touchdowns at Hutchinson. He also averaged 48.2 yards on 10 kickoff returns, with three touchdowns.
“Those three receivers are A-plus receivers,” Rivera said. “They are the best you can get out there.
“With Tyler Bray at quarterback, he has so many options to throw to. I can’t wait for the first game or get out there to practice (today) because if you give Bray a lot of options like that, the sky is the limit.”
Tennessee, coming off a 5-7 record, including a dismal 1-7 Southeastern Conference mark marred by a horrific season-ending loss to Kentucky, start the 2012 campaign against North Carolina State on Aug. 31 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.
The blotter and Bray: The Tennessee gunslinger avoided prosecution for a potential felony vandalism charge when he promised to pay for damages to a car with beer bottles and golf balls at his apartment complex. The victim told Knoxville police she didn’t want to prosecute Bray and his roommate, Michael Grandinetti.
Therefore, Knoxville police have closed the case, according to a report in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
Dooley was asked about the Bray matter at the press conference.
“We’ve handled it and moved on,” he said.
Early retirement: Vols linebacker Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, who received his degree in three years, has decided to give up football.
“Nigel has retired and move on to the business world,” Dooley said. “We support Nigel, we’re proud of him and he’ll be a great employee for somebody.”
Heart’s a flutter: Sophomore offensive lineman Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, a 6-6, 332-pound behemoth, said he can’t wait to make his first start when the Vols face North Carolina State.
“My heart rate goes up every time I think about it, but I’m just ready to go,” he said.
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)