Dave Hooker audio
An obviously sullen Tennessee football team took the practice field on Monday afternoon.
Players were mostly silent as coaches tried to motivate a team still shaken by a 59-20 loss to Florida on Saturday.
"I think you stay the course," head coach Phillip Fulmer said of his team's mindset following a 1-2 start. "We believe what we believe in. We've won a lot of games this way."
After UT's 45-31 loss to California in the season opener, Fulmer announced two starting position changes. He wasn't ready to make that sort of declaration before practice Monday.
"There's good competition at several positions but nothing right now we've talked about," said Fulmer, who added that sophomore offensive guard Vladimir Richard was ready to be a starter.
Fulmer was obviously still stung by some of Florida coach Urban Meyer's offensive play calls and the decision to leave starting quarterback Tim Tebow in late in the game.
"I know there's mixed feeling about that," Fulmer said. "I'm not going to sit here and say all I think."
Despite the lopsided score, Fulmer said his team never quit.
"I never saw a lack of effort in the ball game. I think they were pushing. We played some guys too many snaps," said Fulmer, who said some linebackers played 60 snaps against Florida. "We've got to get some help there."
Fulmer alluded to a pre-practice meeting among players and coaches that could begin the healing process and preparation for the rest of the season, which starts Saturday when Arkansas State comes to Knoxville for a 7 p.m. kickoff (TV: Pay-per-view).
"We had a really honest discussion about accountability and what we need to do better," Fulmer said.
Fulmer said the conversation included giving up points on special teams, big plays on defense and offensive turnovers.
"We look forward going back to work," Fulmer said, "as a team."
Deflating: Senior linebacker Ryan Karl has certainly seen the impact of big plays given up by UT's defense. Florida gained 296 of its 554 yards of total offense on just 11 plays, Fulmer said during his Sunday teleconference.
"After a big play, you kind of see the air let out of the defense," Karl said. "Football's a game of short memories. And you've got to have that short memory in order to move on after getting beat. Just got to pick up the next play or the next game."
Karl seemed to think UT was close to defending such plays.
"When they did make their long passes or long runs or whatever, it's not like they were just wide open," the senior said. "We were stride by stride with them, and their speed wasn't something we hadn't seen before. We just didn't make the plays."
Karl said he could see Florida's spread option becoming the offense of the future.
"It's a great offense," he said. "Cal and Florida both use it pretty well. The whole spread offense in general is great. It gets defenses out of position and has the ability to make big plays."
Short-Range Problems: Fulmer said UT is 4-for-13 facing short-yardage downs this season.
"That's not nearly good enough," he said.
UT has tried almost every imaginable way to convert on third-and-short, including a five-wide receiver package, lining up receiver Lucas Taylor at quarterback and inserting backup quarterback Jonathan Crompton into the game to run off tackle.
"We've been really good in the past," Fulmer said. "It's not something like all of the sudden we don't know what we're doing."
Long-Range Problems: Fulmer conceded the Vols are in need of more big plays offensively.
"It'd be nice to get one off those 30- or 40-yard down-the-field plays," he said.
Does that mean UT's young receivers could soon be in the mix?
"We have some young talent," Fulmer said. "I'm very hopeful to get those guys to continue to develop."
Punt Problems: After giving up a second punt return for a touchdown this season, Fulmer said personnel or formation changes could be afoot. But …
"I don't care about standing here and giving the next team a scouting report," he said.
Bad Timing: After losing games late in 2006, finishing well was an offseason mantra. After giving up 28 points in the first half two times this season, the focus has shifted.
"We talk about finishing games, but we have to start them as well," senior defensive end Xavier Mitchell said. "We haven't done that particularly well, and we'll definitely address some of the things."
Drew Edwards contributed to this report.