Tennessee OT Dallas Thomas at SEC Media Days
HOOVER, Ala. — Derek Dooley again didn’t make any predictions.
The Tennessee coach definitely wasn’t interested in bold proclamations about his team, either.
But when pressed about his progress with the Vols while appearing at his second SEC Football Media Days on Thursday, Dooley also didn’t shy away from high expectations. UT might not win its division or a championship this fall, but that doesn’t mean Dooley isn’t expecting to be in the mix for some trophies.
“I don’t go into any year not thinking we can contend,” Dooley said. “We certainly have some more challenges than some of the other teams, but I like the guys that we’re coaching, I do. I think they’re going to develop into something that’s going to bring Tennessee back to what its standard was.
“How quickly that will happen, I can’t speak on that.”
While Dooley had no interest in projecting win totals for his young roster, he did have plenty to offer about the Vols during his numerous interviews with a media pool that included 900 credentialed members at The Wynfrey Hotel.
Dooley indicated he felt better about the talent level heading into his second season with the Vols, particularly with 20 more bodies to add to the roster when camp opens in early August. He talked about the progress sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray has made this summer, praised running back Tauren Poole and was even able to crack a few of his jokes about the winning record he had in post-game handshakes last year.
In all, Dooley came across as a guy much more comfortable with the situation at UT than he did during his debut a year ago — perhaps even more so than during spring practice as well.
“I don’t think it’s changed as much as you guys have indicated it has,” Dooley said. “I don’t remember being so negative after spring. I left spring feeling pretty good about what we accomplished as a team, knowing that we have a long way to go and knowing that we were going to need help from the 20-something guys coming in this fall. I hadn’t seen any of these young freshmen coming in, still really haven’t other than looking at them. There’s a lot of unknown.
“I feel good about the talent that we have, I think the continuity with our coaching staff is going to help. I do think we’re going to be a little better football team, but whether or not we’ll win more or not, that remains to be seen.”
The Vols clearly have every intention of doing it as soon as possible, though Dooley was up front about the issues that could trip them up this fall — starting with the inexperience of a roster dominated by freshmen and sophomores.
But during several hours, the UT contingent led by Dooley, Poole, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and offensive tackle Dallas Thomas all refused to accept youth as a possible excuse this season. And they all recounted a conversation before spring practice even began that hinted at a more confident team and coach than what has seemingly been portrayed publicly.
“Everybody wants to win a championship, but nobody wants to go through the pain and struggle it takes to get to one,” Poole said. “Talking aboutit is not going to get us anywhere. We’ve got to have the work ethic and attitude, and that’s what we’ve been doing this offseason.
“Coach Dooley asked us what we wanted to accomplish, what we wanted to be remembered for, and he challenged all the seniors to step up to the plate and offer an opinion — and we said a lot of things about the SEC, the national (championship). That all sounds good, but it doesn’t mean anything until you prove it.”
Regardless of whether or not the Vols are able to live up to that kind of title talk, they at least plan to be in the conversation.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.