Tennessee is multi-tasking this spring as it attempts to right the wrongs of a 5-7 football season. The Vols are trying to learn the 3-4 defense, revive their running game and adjust to a slew of new assistant coaches.
But nothing is higher on the to-do list than becoming a tougher team. Linebacker Herman Lathers confronted that challenge in Saturday afternoon's spring scrimmage.
The confrontation left him with an elastic bandage on his left elbow. It also probably left him in the good graces of new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
The former Alabama associate head coach is apparently charged with more responsibility than reshaping UT's defense. He also is one of the most vocal leaders in the campaign to toughen up.
"Coach Sal stresses that if you are not really injured or hurt and nobody has to drag you off the field, then don't come off the field," Lathers said. "So that's what I try to do."
Staying on the field required extra effort for Lathers, who missed last season with a fractured ankle. He said he hyperextended his elbow in the scrimmage.
"It just went numb for a while, but I'm the mike linebacker of the defense," he said. "If I pull myself out, the defense won't run as good."
That's just what Sunseri wants to hear — and head coach Derek Dooley, too, for that matter.
"Herman is doing great," Dooley said. "He's flying around ... He's not giving me that 'Well, I'm 80 percent.' We're 100 percent.
"When you've had as many injuries as he has, the first sign of pain probably makes you a little nervous. He's working through it and really playing good football for us."
Players in pain rarely have found Dooley to be a compassionate listener. So the emphasis on toughness is hardly a new development. It has just been amplified after last season's team failed to measure up.
"I told the team the other day life wouldn't be so difficult if you didn't expect it to be so easy," Dooley said. "So when you get hit and it hurts, you shouldn't be surprised. You should expect it to hurt. You get up and you go play again. We're getting better at that."
There's another side to the pain issue. Is it a warning to the player that he's risking further injury by staying on the field, or that he could hurt his team by playing in an impaired state?
The player doesn't have to make that decision on his own, Dooley said. That's where UT's trainers come in.
"The trainers know who is a drama queen," Dooley said. "And sometimes, you've got to pull guys out. Brent Brewer — I think he has forgotten he has had a (knee injury). He's out there flying around, diving.
"But some guys, when they get hit, they have to have this big seance to let the whole stadium know: 'Look at me. I'm in pain.' That's what we've got to get rid of."
Dooley referenced UT's second-half woes last season while elaborating on the importance of building a tougher mind-set. UT was outscored 160-77 in the second half. The better the opponent, the worse it got for the Vols after halftime.
Top-five teams Arkansas, LSU and Alabama outscored them 80-0 in the second half.
"This sport is about who's going to break whose will," Dooley said. "At some point, you break his will, or he breaks your will.
"We got our will broken a little too much last year."