Derek Dooley on rebounding Tuesday's bad football practice
There were far more enjoyable places on campus than Tennessee’s offensive line meeting room Sunday, the day after the Vols finished with negative yardage from their rushing game.
Film clip after film clip of the unit looking lost, overwhelmed or both against Florida's front four rolled on the projection screen, prompting the linemen to relive their worst performance since last year's infamously woeful October.
"It was pretty bad," offensive tackle Dallas Thomas said.
It was bad, certainly, but coach Derek Dooley wasn't ready to call it a "disaster" after Wednesday's practice. Hours and hours of film review conducted by he and his coaches resulted in plenty of conclusions about the running game, but instant, wholesale changes on the offensive line weren't among them.
"We've got four sophomores and a junior who aren't playing that bad," Dooley said. "They can play better and they will play better. They're not playing any worse than the running backs."
And though it may have appeared that the Vols were tinkering with their offensive line rotation at Wednesday's practice, it was merely a byproduct of trying to remedy a few bumps and bruises.
Thomas, left guard Alex Bullard and right guard Zach Fulton were all limited because of their respective nagging injuries. That allowed players such as JerQuari Schofield and freshmen Marcus Jackson and Antonio Richardson to receive genuine repetitions with the first-team offense.
It just wasn't a sneak preview for the immediate future.
"We just got to play better," Dooley said. "Is it good for them to get reps? Yeah. If they start performing better in practice, they'll get to play."
On multiple occasions throughout the season, Dooley has been quick to direct his ire about the running game in multiple directions. He did so again Wednesday, lumping running backs Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane with the offensive line in the group of players who need to "play with a little more violence."
Star wide receiver Justin Hunter's season-ending ACL injury is expected to have a direct effect on the identity of UT's offense moving forward, particularly in the passing game. But offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said it's the running game, not the receivers who are trying to fill Hunter's shoes, that will dictate how successful UT can be in the wake of such an enormous setback.
"We're not being physical enough in the run game to be able to get what we want to against good opponents, so that's a point of emphasis this whole bye week," Chaney said. "Get our pads down and go hit somebody in the mouth and see what we can get done in the run game."
It simply can't get much worse than it was against the Gators, when UT amassed minus-9 yards on 21 attempts.
Going through it was hard enough, and re-watching it was borderline torturous for UT's offensive line. Now, those same players simply have to learn from it and make the most of another week without having to worry about personnel changes.
"We're putting that behind us," Thomas said. "We're just looking forward to keep working on our craft to get better."
Injury roundup: Along with the Thomas, Bullard and Fulton, linebacker Curt Maggitt, wide receiver Zach Rogers and defensive end Ben Martin were limited at Wednesday's practice because of a variety of nagging injuries.
None are considered to be be serious.
Moore is Less: Junior-college transfer defensive back Byron Moore hasn't seen the field much through the first three games, and secondary coach Terry Joseph hinted Wednesday why he's been buried on the depth chart.
Moore reported to camp overweight and has since had to lose 10-12 pounds, Joseph said. Moore, though, has been better recently and continues to make progress.
"He has to continue to be better in space tackling In the coverage aspect," Joseph said. "He has to do a better job of finishing.
"For him to play, he knows he has to be one of the best five."