John Adams: UT leadership? To be determined

John Adams
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley talks with quarterback Tyler Bray during the game against Kentucky at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. UT won the game 24-14.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley talks with quarterback Tyler Bray during the game against Kentucky at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010. UT won the game 24-14.

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A couple of things you never hear this time of year from college football players:

1. "We're not a bad team, but I wouldn't say we're particularly close. Once we get away from football, we pretty much go our separate ways."

2. "Hopefully, all our talent will overcome our lack of leadership. Our seniors just want to lead themselves to the NFL."

Instead, college football's preseason is all about camaraderie and leadership. Every team is one big happy family.

That's all talk, of course. Validation requires a season, not a preseason.

It's not unheard of to be told how close a team is in preseason; then, a year later, have the same players blame the failure of the previous season on a lack of leadership and poor team chemistry.

The difference in the before-and-after assessments can be stunning.

You can't be sure about leadership and camaraderie at this juncture. You can be sure that they matter.

Why else would Tennessee coach Derek Dooley have broached the topic in his first preseason media conference Monday?

He talked about the transformation from a coach-led team to a player-led team. He also talked about the significance of losing so many vocal senior leaders from last year's team.

"I think in some ways (all the seniors last year) hamstrung the ability of the young guys to really take ownership from a vocal standpoint," he said. "And that's OK, but it means that you now have to start working toward that."

You can work toward it in preseason. But you won't know how it will work out until deep into the regular season.

Leaders don't just distinguish themselves by being louder than everybody else. They do so by raising their level of play when it matters most.

Did Al Wilson and Tee Martin come to mind?

They were two of the prominent leaders on UT's 1998 national championship team. They also were outstanding players.

It helps when your best players are your best leaders. It also helps when your quarterback is a leader.

The current team's leadership pool already has shrunk through attrition. And only two members of Tennessee's small senior class — preseason All-SEC defensive tackle Malik Jackson and last year's leading rusher, Tauren Poole — rank among its best players.

You might further question UT's leadership capabilities after fifth-senior senior linebacker Austin Johnson, a reputed team leader, was booked for public intoxication and disorderly conduct two weeks ago. He also was seen hitting cars, according to the police report.

Unless Johnson was hitting his teammates' cars, I doubt his actions will restrict his ability to lead. As embarrassing as it might have been for him and the program, he has a four-year track record as a solid guy, hard worker — and, as evidenced by his willingness to switch positions, the consummate team player.

Missing tackles would do more to undermine his role as a leader.

In a best-case scenario, hard-hitting junior safety Janzen Jackson would bolster the leadership of a team light on seniors. Yet his career has been marked as much by big problems off the field as big hits on it. The Vols just need for Jackson to lead himself out of trouble.

It's hard to envision sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray as a leader. He has been a starter for only five games and doesn't exactly have a Peyton Manning-like presence. But if he can thread a touchdown pass between two Florida defenders in The Swamp with the game hanging in the balance, the perception of Bray as a leader might change before UT has time to kick the extra point.

A team needs leaders in the weight room and in summer workouts. It also needs them at 3 a.m. on Cumberland Avenue.

But the best leaders emerge on game day.

And they don't just tell their teammates what to do. They show them how it's done.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 14

buzz29 writes:

John, 3 a.m. on Cumberland avenue, you said it all.

GerryOP writes:

C'mon John, plenty of room on the Big Orange bandwagon. Don't hesitate, make the leap. Don't wait until the prime seat are taken ... make the leap .... now. Be a leader...

GreerVol22 writes:

We will match your subscription to any other site for FREE
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I just noticed this on the Dooley update story...having a little trouble with other sites stealing some thunder eh KNS?

givehim6 writes:

Even though he is not a starter Simms should be put in there as a SR. leader knowone took as much punishment as he last year and he got lost his job but did he cry or whinne? No he just picked himself up and kept playing, that's a leader! On bad hit hit on Bray, and he is our guy

volhome writes:

in response to Papermate_Chinese_Bandit:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Ehh, did someone fart?

volhome writes:

in response to givehim6:

Even though he is not a starter Simms should be put in there as a SR. leader knowone took as much punishment as he last year and he got lost his job but did he cry or whinne? No he just picked himself up and kept playing, that's a leader! On bad hit hit on Bray, and he is our guy

Kind of like the year that Rick Clausen had just LED a team to a resounding bowl victory, voted by his teammates as Captain, and found himself on the bench for a 5-6 season under Eric Ainge quarterbacking. Sometimes those can be the hardest positions from which to lead, but some manage to do breakthrough jobs at it. Hopefully Simms will be involved to the Nth degree and ready to support in any way needed.

Outdated writes:

Leaders do indeed raise their level of play at crunchtime..How did John know this? Haven't seen him practice it ...
John you did get this right tho..have to say interesting observation at a difficult time to find news...

VOLFORLIFE1974 writes:

in response to Papermate_Chinese_Bandit:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

See you in October. We'll find out then. GO VOLS!

voloffaith writes:

in response to VOLFORLIFE1974:

See you in October. We'll find out then. GO VOLS!

He is of the Memphis Uni ilk if memory serves me correctly. Is that right P_C_B?

kthoma14 writes:

http://m.npr.org/story/2100422?url=/p...

Great piece On NCAA by frank Deford. Listen to the podcast if possible.

UTKin1992 writes:

in response to kthoma14:

http://m.npr.org/story/2100422?url=/p...

Great piece On NCAA by frank Deford. Listen to the podcast if possible.

Good ol' Frank. Love him on Real Sports! Especially his hair and purple silk ties...

VOLliven2it writes:

It's as simple as this, several people on the UT football team must step up and lead. Who will it be? We see some already but in all honesty we do not know who will be others. I will venture to say this, if Bray does not become a key leader on offense, we will be in trouble. Can he? I believe there is no doubt he can. Will he? That we will know by about the third game. I hope he stays healthy, steps up and becomes the qb which some have already anointed him to be and the one we believe he can be. To ask too much of a sophmore is a tough thing. Now, BRING ON THE SEASON!

jone8191#247590 writes:

Good article John

Bigger_Al writes:

in response to volhome:

Kind of like the year that Rick Clausen had just LED a team to a resounding bowl victory, voted by his teammates as Captain, and found himself on the bench for a 5-6 season under Eric Ainge quarterbacking. Sometimes those can be the hardest positions from which to lead, but some manage to do breakthrough jobs at it. Hopefully Simms will be involved to the Nth degree and ready to support in any way needed.

Yeah. Except that Rick started the losses against Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. Both QB's played horribly at times that year.

I hope this season doesn't play out like that one did. One popular Sr. QB that transferred in, another tall, skinny Sophomore QB with more talent.

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