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- Coach Derek Dooley on the start of the Vols' fall camp
As Tennessee coach Derek Dooley updated the media on personnel matters Monday, he pointed out that freshman offensive tackle Antonio Richardson wasn't 100 percent after undergoing shoulder surgery. He added, "But he can still bench press more than 98 percent of the team."
That says as much about the team as Richardson.
In another year or so, perhaps no incoming UT freshman will handle weights with the ease of the team's most accomplished veterans. But in Dooley's second year, the Vols are still trying to get bigger and stronger.
The theme isn't new. Dooley belabored it after his first UT spring game, noting how much larger his defensive linemen were at Louisiana Tech. That theme extends beyond a position where one's success is partially determined by bolder-like properties.
Dooley wants everybody bigger, stronger and faster. He has delivered that message on the Big Orange Caravan as well as in the locker room.
"Big, fast guys will usually beat slow, little guys," is a popular line from his booster-club speeches.
Players don't run 40s at press luncheons, so I can't speak to UT's improved speed. But there are signs of growth.
Take safety Brent Brewer, for example. He now looks like a linebacker, which means significantly bigger than his media-guide weight of 215 pounds.
The recruiting class also indicates a bigger future. Two of the linebackers are A.J. Johnson (6-3, 245) and Christian Harris (6-2, 235). Those numbers wouldn't look out of place on Alabama's depth chart.
They would stick out on last year's Tennessee preseason depth chart. The starting linebacking corps averaged 223 pounds and under 6 feet.
Most of the freshman linemen are super-sized to the extent that Tennessee fans should fear the biggest of them falling on slender sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray. Of the nine freshman linemen, seven weigh 305 or more, and four weigh 325 or more.
The Vols aren't just recruiting size. They're building it.
For proof, they even have a before-and-after picture, according to junior offensive tackle Dallas Thomas. The pictures were the idea of new strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery. Thomas shakes his head at the contrast.
You might think that all strength and conditioning coaches come from the same gene pool. They're usually disciplined, authoritative, and loud. But their regimens vary.
Dooley apparently has fallen in love with McKeefery's approach, which includes pushing more heavy weight.
"That's what you do in a football game," Dooley said. "You're pushing around heavy guys."
That's not to suggest UT is being transformed into Body Builders U. Bray is still the skinniest starting quarterback in the SEC. He and wide receiver Justin Hunter look so thin on the cover of Athlon's preseason football publication, I had to eat something before I read the magazine.
Because of the emphasis on size and strength, more reporters are asking more players, "How much do you weigh?"
The most common answer for these Vols: "More than last year."