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UT’s Chaney Says His Vols Are Ready To Run

The Tennessee football team has been in pass-first mode the last two seasons, and not just because they’ve spent time coming from behind.  The Volunteers have ranked dead last in rushing yardage in the SEC for two consecutive seasons… a far cry from the ol’ “pound the rock” days of the late-1990s and early-2000s.

Now a spring of focusing on the run game, a new offensive line coach, and a new running backs coach have offensive coordinator Jim Chaney feeling that his unit is growing more physical on the ground:

“More physicality, an appreciation for physicality.  It’s more of an attitude and a demeanor, that they understand that to run the ball we’ve got to hit people.  I feel like we’ve accomplished that.

Live you measure everything else, (it’s on) our video.  Are we hitting people, do we have a desire to hit people?  Same damn thing you’re looking for on Saturdays.  Does somebody look like they want to hit somebody?  You know, that’s it in a nutshell.  Everybody sees a guy that pulls away from contact.  We’re trying to avoid that, trying not to put those guys on the field.”

With last year’s leading rusher Tauren Poole having graduated, the Vols are likely to try and go the ballcarrier-by-committee route this fall.

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Vols Add Bourque To 2012 Class

Running back Davante Bourque from Crowley (La.) High School committed to Tennessee during an official visit this weekend.

“I committed because I felt like Tennessee was the best option for me,” Bourque told via text message.

Tennessee had an advantage with Bourque, who originally committed to LSU, because it can offer immediate playing time. The Vols are looking for someone to replace departing senior Tauren Poole.

Tennessee has 14 commitments to go along with seven early enrollees for the class of 2012.

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Ex-Vol Tailback Talks Dysfunction At UT

As we noted here yesterday, Tennessee’s football squad looks to be Team Turmoil heading into the offseason.  There were players unhappy with other players this season.  Players unhappy with coaches for throwing them under the bus and for using double-standards when it came to discipline.  There was a lack of leadership from veterans (mainly because there were very few veterans in the first place) and the youngsters who became de facto leaders had serious attitude problems.

All of that’s what’s swirling around the Tennessee program heading into a bowl-less offseason.  Good luck, Derek Dooley.

Yesterday, tailback Tauren Poole — one of the seniors who called out some younger teammates after the Vols’ loss to Kentucky on Saturday — opened up about the mess at UT on WNOX-FM in Knoxville yesterday.

Asked whether — in hindsight — he would go to UT again, Poole said:

“If you’d have told me Coach (Phillip) Fulmer would have gotten fired and then this coach, that coach, this strength coach, that position coach, I probably wouldn’t have came here because I knew it would have been a dysfunctional setup, an unstable program… It was a tough situation.  It was a roller-coaster ride.”

And what does he mean by roller-coaster ride?

“Guys kind of shut it down (against Kentucky).  All the seniors, we cared.  We cared more than a lot of those guys out there.  And that’s expected, but we weren’t getting it back.  Those guys have next year to look forward to.  We don’t.  My career is over at UT.”

And what about his coach’s critical tongue… which he uses to critique his players in the media with great regularity?

“Coach Dooley is a very critical guy.  He’s critical of his players and coaches.  It’s criticism and you’ve got to take it in.  Guys just got to have thick skin with Coach Dooley.  He’s going to speak his mind.  Every minute of the day, every moment, if he’s got an opinion, he’s going to tell you.  That’s just the type of guy he is.”

Dooley is rebuilding Tennessee’s roster and is one his way to a third-consecutive Top 15 signing class.  As for building a “team,” well, it sounds like that’s his next challenge.

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For 14 UT Seniors, There Won’t Be Too Much Of A Legacy

Tomorrow’s Senior Day festivities in Knoxville shouldn’t take very long.  Derek Dooley’s squad will say goodbye to just 14 seniors… a pretty telling sign of the youth on Tennessee’s squad.  When asked about the legacy he and his fellow seniors will leave behind, tailback Tauren Poole wasn’t exactly upbeat:

“I don’t know if there is much of a legacy, man, and I’m not saying that to be disrespectful or anything.  I don’t know if people are going to remember this class for what we did because we didn’t to much, to be honest with you.  We can finish these two games on a good note (Vandy and Kentucky).

We have to continue to come to the practice field and keep guys positive, because there is negative energy around everywhere, but we have to stay positive.”

Ever heard the team “playing out the string?”  Sounds like that might just apply in Knoxville these days.

Take a frustrating season, mix in a good dose of youth and a lack of senior leadership and things can spiral downward quickly.  If Vanderbilt gets an early lead on Tennessee tomorrow, it will be interesting to see if the Vols fight through it… or if they succumb to some more of that negative energy.

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SEC Headlines – 11/18/11 Part Two

1.  As you know by now, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel wound up taking a on-game suspension and a hit to his wallet after his DWI/DUI arrest on Wednesday.

2.  Furman should give Florida a good chance to work on its offense before next week’s game with Florida State.

3.  Will Muschamp’s inexperience as a head coach hasn’t had anything to do with the Gators’ 5-5 record… according to him.

4.  Regarding the possibility of overlooking Kentucky, Georgia folks are saying all the right things.

5.  If he sticks around for four years, Aaron Murray may someday hold every major passing record in Athens.

6.  True freshman UK quarterback Maxwell Smith will continue his SEC crash course against UGA tomorrow.

7.  John Calipari says his team can grind it out if team try to slow down the Wildcats.

8.  Facing The Citadel’s option attack tomorrow, Ellis Johnson says South Carolina will change its defensive scheme from what it did against Navy earlier in the season.

9.  Despite an offense that’s been pretty ugly — even before Stephen Garcia and Marcus Lattimore fell by the wayside — the Gamecocks can still reach the 10-win mark for just the second time in program history.

10.  Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole says the 2011 season has been “painful.”

11.  Cuonzo Martin has some promising stats to pore over as he awaits next week’s matchup with Duke.

12.  Vandy’s James Franklin — and his players — are treating tomorrow’s game with rival Tennessee as just another game.

13.  The Volunteers and Commodores ain’t what they used to be.

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SEC Media Days Line-Up Announced

SEC Media Days kicks off next Wednesday and once again, will be your best place to turn for up-to-the-minute, wire-to-wire coverage of every team.  And, as always, we’ll also provide our ranking of the coaches’ “performances” before the main media hall.  (We noticed a few other mainstream writers began doing that last year as well.)

Yesterday, the Southeastern Conference released the schedule for next week’s events and they’re as follows:

Wednesday, July 20th

1:00 – 3:50pm ET

Arkansas — Bobby Petrino, Knile Davis, Jarius Wright, Tenarius Wright

Florida — Will Muschamp, John Brantley, William Green, Deonte Thompson

3:20 – 6:00pm ET

South Carolina — Steve Spurrier, Alshon Jeffrey, Marcus Lattimore, Travian Robertson

Mississippi State — Dan Mullen, Vick Ballard, Fletcher Cox, Chris Relf

Thursday, July 21st

8:30 – 11:20am ET

Kentucky — Joker Phillips, Stuart Hines, Danny Trevathan, Morgan Newton

Georgia — Mark Richt, Brandon Boykin, Ben Jones, Aaron Murray

10:50am – 1:30pm ET

Auburn — Gene Chizik, Emory Blake, Nosa Equae, Phillip Lutzenkirchen

Tennessee — Derek Dooley, Malik Jackson, Tauren Poole, Dallas Thomas

Friday, July 22nd

8:30 – 11:20am ET

Alabama — Nick Saban, Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Trent Richardson

Vanderbilt — James Franklin, Casey Hayward, Chris Marve, Larry Smith

10:50am – 1:30pm ET

Ole Miss — Houston Nutt, Brandon Bolden, Kentrell Lockett, Bradley Sowell

LSU — Les Miles, Ryan Baker, Jordan Jefferson, Russell Shepard

There was a time when Media Days was filled with senior players.  They might not have been the biggest stars in the league, but it was believed that seniors had paid their dues and deserved the attention. 

While seniors still dominate the line-up — 22 will be at the meetings outside of Birmingham — there are now juniors and even sophomores taking part.

Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn are each bringing two juniors.  LSU, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State and South Carolina are also bringing at least one junior to face the media.

Auburn (DT Equae), Georgia (QB Murray), and Carolina (RB Lattimore) are all bringing sophomores. 

This change reflects two things: the growing power of the media (the SEC wants to show off its brightest stars) and the number of superstars who leave college early for the NFL.  As a result, the SEC changed it’s set-up last year, requesting schools bring three players rather than two… which had previously been the case.

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Four 1,000-Yard Rushers Will Be Back This Fall

The folks at The Mobile Press-Register have pointed out today that for just the second time in league history four 1,000-yard rushers will be back in action across SEC stadiums this fall.

The only other time four SEC backs returned after 1,000-yard seasons was in 1988 when five such backs came back.  Those rushers were Bobby Humphrey of Alabama, Lars Tate of Georgia, Harvey Williams of LSU, Reggie Cobb of Tennessee, and some guy named Emmitt Smith at Florida.

Here are this year’s returning 1,000-yard backs:

Knile Davis
Marcus Lattimore
S. Carolina
Michael Dyer
Tauren Poole

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Three Vols Earn AP All-SEC Honors

Junior defensive tackle Malik Jackson and sophomore defensive back Prentiss Waggner were named to the Associated Press All-SEC Second Team, while junior tailback Tauren Poole garnered honorable mention accolades, as announced by the AP Monday.

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Vol Seniors Keeping Things Normal

Luke Stocker (88) and Tauren Poole (28) joined Nick Reveiz as 2010 team captains, voted to the positions this week by their teammates.

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Across Enemy Lines: Q & A with Rocky Top Talk

South Carolina
Content provided by Garnet And Black Attack.

I got together with the guys at the fine SBN Tennessee blog Rocky Top Talk to chat about this weekend’s game. Here are their answers to my questions; I’m sure you’ll enjoy the insights these folks provide. I’ll provide a link to RTT later today so you can see my answers to their questions.

1. Tell us briefly about Derek Dooley. It’s obviously really early to evaluate his performance, especially considering the personnel problems he inherited and the number of injuries you’ve suffered. I’m sure you guys have some thoughts on what kind of job he’s doing, though–what are they? Is he doing the right things to bring Tennessee back to the top half of the SEC within the next two seasons?  (Answered by Joel)

Tennessee is 2-5 and 0-4 in the SEC, and despite the extenuating circumstances you mentioned, we’re beginning to see just a bit of a divergence of opinion on Dooley, so I can’t speak for all Vol fans, of course. Speaking for myself, though, I think the situation he inherited exlains nearly everything, and we wouldn’t be complaining about the other stuff much if everything else was okay. Dooley has improved special teams a bit, which had been a thorn in the side of Tennessee fans for many seasons. Other than that, though, the evidence just isn’t in. Before the season, most Vol fans expected to be right where we are right now, but the record and the team’s performance so far makes finding proof of ability or progress difficult. Dooley does speak his mind about the team’s deficiencies, so it’s not like he is clueless or anything, and he seems to be recruiting around team needs fairly well. It’s just that fixing everything all at once isn’t feasible, and it takes time to start seeing the results of a complete overhaul. So bottom line, it’s simply too early to render a verdict right now.

2. Considering that Tauren Poole is having a good season, I was surprised to learn that Tennessee is moving the ball much better through the air than on the ground. Why is that the case, and how will Tennessee attack the Gamecocks’ defense?
(Answered by Hooper)

You could answer that in a few ways.  First, Tennessee has been playing from behind for a lot of the season – especially in the second half.  That leads to a more pass-happy attack in an attempt to save time while catching up.  That also leads to more prevent defense looks, and Tennessee has gained a notable margin of its total yardage against such defenses, especially in the Oregon and Georgia games.

Second, Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney is inherently from a spread-to-pass background, having very successfully run such offenses at Wyoming in the 90s and at Purdue with both Brees and Orton at quarterback.  He’s tempered somewhat, but it’s a bit in his blood.  I don’t personally think this is a big deal for playcalling, but it’s something to consider.

Third, Tennessee has to be very careful with Poole.  He’s a tough guy, but there’s no real depth behind him.  David Oku isn’t a power back and he hasn’t had a good season so far.  Rajion Neal is looking good, but is a true freshman and may not have all the schemes down yet.  Toney Williams is back from injury, but has been very minimally used so far.  The point is that, if Poole ever got injured, we’d be hurting badly at running back, so I think that the coaches may be limiting his carries a bit in order to have him (and some semblance of balance) throughout the season.

Fourth (and probably most importantly), defenses stack the box against Poole.  The basic modus operandi of our opposition had been to place 8 in the box and send as many as they dare.  Sometimes it’s a run blitz and sometimes it’s a pass blitz, but there are a lot of big bodies coming at the line, which encourages more hot reads and more one-on-one coverage.  That’s also why Tennessee has given up nearly 30 sacks so far.

3. Carolina fans all remember Daniel Lincoln‘s leg from 2007. Lincoln is doubtful for this game. What kind of effect would not having him present for the Vols? (Answered by Hooper)

Unfortunately, a bad effect.  The Daniel Lincoln you remember from last year and, to a lesser degree, 2007, is no more; he was fully healthy to start the season and was nailing long field goals with great consistency.  The backup, true freshman Michael Palardy, has the talent to do the same, but has pulled his two longest attempts on the year.  (I think it’s nerves.)  Palardy definitely has the leg for 50+ yard field goals, but hasn’t made one yet so we’ll be a little more nervous than we’d like.  The upside to Palardy is that he’s pretty competitive and really seems to be gunning for the job, so maybe he’ll have worked on the overkicking issue and have it straightened out.

The one tactical change is that Tennessee might be more willing to go for fourth from that gray area of long field goals.  Hopefully we at least get far enough down the field for that to be a reasonable question.

4. Name one player you’d love to have from the Gamecocks roster and tell us why. (Answered by Joel)

The knee-jerk response here would be to take Alshon Jeffery, but frankly, I doubt he’d be as effective on our team as he is for yours right now. Tennessee’s problems on offense are many right now, but I think it mostly comes down to the fact that the offensive line is about as young and inexperienced as you’ll ever find. Without the line carrying its own weight, the rest of the offense suffers, and simply getting the ball to a receiver is a challenge. So if we could trade units, I’d trade our o-line for yours. These guys will eventually be good, so I don’t know that I’d trade them three years from now for anything, but this year, they’re just young and learning, and that’s a liability for the offense.

But if I’m limited to only one player, I’d take Travian Robertson. We have almost as many problems on defense as we do on offense, and it all starts with having too few big bodies in the middle of the defensive line. I know Devin Taylor has more sacks and tackles for loss, but we have decent ends. Instead, we are desperate for 300 pounds of havoc-wreaking talent in the middle.

(Addendum by Hooper)  I’m going to go with the ‘very large values of one’ approach here and say that we’d want:  your best D-tackle, your best corner, and your center.  And your second best D-tackle.  Seriously, we’re desperately thin over here.  Think Knights Hospitaller on Malta, only without the cool fortifications.

5. After a decade of blowout UT wins in the 90s, the 2000s featured several good games between Carolina and Tennessee, most of which Tennessee won. What are your favorite memories from this series in recent years? (Answered by Will)

I think the game in 2000 was one of the most important in the series in the last ten years; that was Carolina’s first real chance to beat us since 1992, and it was Casey Clausen’s second start as a true freshman.  The fourth quarter drive he led to give the Vols the 17-14 win was a huge confidence builder for him, as he went on to lead several other fourth quarter come from behind wins on the road.  I also think the 2007 game is the best worst-played game I’ve ever seen – we both made so many mistakes, neither of us deserved to win, but that game had all kinds of drama in the fourth quarter and overtime, especially since it had essentially become the SEC East Championship Game just a few hours before kickoff when Georgia beat Florida.  Anytime we can beat Spurrier with something meaningful on the line, we’ll take it.

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