Dooley, players feel positive after first practice
Gerald Williams tried not to allow the frustration to bother him.
As part of a Tennessee defense that had just 10 sacks through eight games, the senior defensive end saw his patience pay off inNovember.
"Sacks come in bunches," Williams said Thursday after the Vols opened practice for the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl against North Carolina in Nashville.
"You can't dwell on not getting a sack here or not getting a sack there because when sacks come, they're going to come in bunches.
"I think we did fairly well being that we started out slow."
UT (6-6) sacked opposing quarterbacks 13 times in its four November wins. Malik Jackson had all five of his sacks in that stretch, and Chris Walker added three.
"We were working a lot harder," Jackson said. "We bought into (defensive line) Coach Chuck (Smith) and (defensive coordinator) Coach (Justin) Wilcox's game plan and just worked harder as a group.
"We just had to go back to the drawing board with the basics with our get-offs and our moves, just be real precise on what we have to do. Coach made the right tweaks and they worked good for us."
The low point of the season came against Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 25, when the Vols got no sacks on the Blazers' 60 pass attempts. UT had just one sack each in losses to Oregon, Florida and Alabama.
"We'd seen we had very (few) sacks and we wanted to be a contender in that area," Jackson said. "We talked about it and got together. Everything just came into place and kept coming into place."
UT got five sacks against Memphis and registered five more against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, which threw the ball a combined 85 times.
"More experience up front and guys settled into their position," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "Once we got settled in to who our D-lineman were they started developing a little more confidence."
The Vols figure to have plenty of chances at getting to North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates, who attempted 32 passes per game and ranked second in the ACC in passing efficiency.
The Tar Heels' offensive line, however, has allowed 34 sacks this season, ranking it 104th in the nation and 11th in the ACC. The group with 81 career combined starts also will be without starting guard Alan Pelc (shoulder surgery) against UT.
While Jackson admitted he relishes that opportunity, Williams views it differently.
"We can't look at what they did, what they've accomplished, how many sacks they've given up," he said, "because at the end of the day we're a different opponent and they're a different opponent.
"We've got to go out there and play ball."
Ditching The Red: The time off following the season-ending win over Kentucky couldn't have come at a better time for the Vols, especially cornerback Prentiss Waggner.
"I went back home, chilled with my family, got in the hot tub and recovered from that long season," said Waggner, the last Vol to wear a non-contact red jersey during practice the week of the Kentucky game.
"I feel pretty good. I felt loose right out of the gates, so I was happy to see that."
Waggner, who played late in the season with soreness in his neck, back and hip, was still at corner despite the absence of safety Janzen Jackson, who is attending to personal business back at home in Louisiana.
Tyler Wolf was working with the first-team defense in Jackson's spot. Dontavis Sapp and Rod Wilks were the second-team safeties.
"If the coaches need me to play safety," Waggner said, "that's something I can do. It helps the team a lot. It gives us a little bit more depth being able to play both positions."
Status Update: Dooley said he doesn't expect any player to miss the Music City Bowl due to academics.
"We were all clear," he said. "I guess it was a good - I don't want to say it was a good semester because they passed six hours. I'm getting the academic reports when all the grades are in but it looks like no one is going to be academically ineligible."
Dooley also said no one from the two-deep missed Thursday's practice.
Pair Out for Spring: True freshman offensive lineman Marques Pair underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will miss spring practice.
New Faces: Center Mack Crowder and tight end Brendan Downs, both midterm enrollees out of Tennessee High in Bristol, practiced on Thursday.
Receiver Vincent Dallas, also a midterm enrollee from Ellenwood, Ga., hopes to begin practice upon the completion of academic paperwork.
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.