Austin Ward: Spring camp a time to repair a few critical areas for Vols

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel
Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal, left, runs the ball as Montana linebacker Caleb McSurdy tries to make the tackle on Sept. 3, 2011, in Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2011

Adam Brimer/News Sentinel Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal, left, runs the ball as Montana linebacker Caleb McSurdy tries to make the tackle on Sept. 3, 2011, in Neyland Stadium.

The turning point is obvious.

The cloud created by one November day prompted plenty of turnover for the Tennessee coaching staff, made clear some shortcomings on the field for the roster and provided a nightmare that Derek Dooley has admitted could haunt him forever.

But identifying the loss to Kentucky that kept the Vols out of a bowl game and kicked off a tumultuous offseason as the fork in the road is the easy part. The real question is whether that critical moment will signify a return to where Dooley wants his program to be in his third season or take it down a darker path — which he can begin answering on Monday with the beginning of spring camp.

"That game has allowed us to sharpen our focus, it's allowed us to not live in an illusion that everything is great, which it wasn't," Dooley said last month. "But when you're the only one who knows it isn't, it's hard to convince the rest of the organization without being a tyrant. So, that's why I said what I said, that we needed this to happen. We were kind of plodding around as if we were on track.

"Were we gaining some good things? Yeah, but we had some critical things that hadn't gotten right."

The chance to fix them on the field again has arrived, and the Vols will start with a few of these critical areas that should dominate the attention during the next month.

WHO ARE THE NEW GUYS?

Perhaps nothing sums up the difficulty of the past few months better than the seemingly endless search for assistants to fill out Dooley's staff.

Starting with the parting of ways with Charlie Baggett shortly after the season ended, wrapping up with Terry Joseph's late jump to Nebraska earlier this month and including five other departures in the middle, the Vols had a staggering amount of turnover in coaching offices.

On the offensive side of the ball, the moves don't necessarily suggest sweeping changes with coordinator Jim Chaney back along with the only other remaining holdover from Dooley's first staff at UT in Darin Hinshaw.

But defensively the Vols could be in for a complete overhaul under Sal Sunseri and a totally new group of assistants, which will make the 15 practices critical to get a jump on the system.

WHO'S UP FRONT?

The emphasis on recruiting lots of bodies on the line and then playing them right away over the last two seasons has been building toward a payoff.

The Vols didn't get it last year and struggled mightily to run the ball, but they appear to be in line to collect with a group of offensive linemen that might finally allow Dooley to fill out a two-deep.

Figuring out who goes where may take some time, though, and that's not a bad thing at all for the Vols.

Former heralded recruit and rising sophomore Antonio Richardson will be commanding ample attention as he makes a push for a starting gig, and if he's developed the way UT has hoped, he'll only increase the options at other spots up front.

WHO'S RUNNING THE BALL?

The flickering torch has been passed in the UT backfield.

Among the worst running teams in the country a year ago, the Vols will set out on rebuilding their attack without their leading rusher last season after the graduation of Tauren Poole.

There are a couple clear candidates to take over the workload, though both come into spring with some doubts they'll need to erase.

Rajion Neal finished last season with a couple productive outings, but they were at receiver and he's had issues with ball security in the past. Marlin Lane has shown flashes of big-play ability, but there are lingering health concerns as he comes of arthroscopic knee surgery. And sophomore Tom Smith drew some praise in the preseason a year ago but couldn't translate it into games.

The feature back coming out of spring seems likely to come from that group, and there's a limited amount of time to settle the matter.

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Comments » 29

Dalton writes:

Year four since Coach Fulmer led us to a winning record....oh... yeah..hurts to miss on that one.

copia69296 writes:

NC State is a VERY dangerous team to open the season with (just ask Clemson about the butt whipping they got from NC State last year). They have a smart coach with several athletes.

How about a few articles on players other than Rogers, Bray, and Hunter? Will last years red shirt freshman be possible starters?

Coach_K writes:

This will be the most important year of CDD professional career. We life knocks you down and kicks you in the teeth, you either ball up or get up! I for one want CDD and the footVols to explode on to the scene and kick some arse. I have little faith it will happen, but I have been more surprised by less. GBO!!!!!

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

NEVER forget people that the ones on here that always bash our coaches and players are NOT Tennessee fans at all.

They LIE and say they are but they ARE really fans of FloriDUHHH, Vandy ComodeDoors and other teams that's always hated Tennessee.

I love the new coaches/recruiters that CDD has brought in and all of them seem to be serious upgrades over the coaches he was forced to throw together in a very short time while having to recruit his butt off with less than 2 weeks before signing day when he was first hired.

2 years from now we'll be really happy to have CDD as our head football coach now that he's pulling things together and has had time to recruit really good coaches/recruiters to help out.

You pathetic trolls/posers have always FAILED with your miserable lives and continue to FAIL at trying to get our good recruits to go play at your favorite schools.

I would tell you all to try and go get a real life but you've never had a good life so you're clueless at even how to begin to do that.

I pity you all and I hope all of you seek the Psychiatric help you so obviously badly need.

VFL...GBO!!!

Orangeblood13 writes:

I say take the T's off and make em earn it. Take all
The coaching all the recruiting all the what ifs and throw
Em in a pile. If you want to be a volunteer, show it.

NickDanger-ThirdEye writes:

Yes, this is the year of years. This fall it will be known if CDD is the coach we hoped for or the coach we must replace. For the first time in 4 years TN will not have to start a true freshman or walk-on just to get 11 men on the field. For the first time in 3 years there will be more Jrs and Srs than Frosh and Sophs on the roster. The jury is still out on whether CDD can produce the needed results, but he has the tools for the first time. We will all know in November. I am going to be an optimist till proven differently with this years team. GBO

orangecountyvols writes:

Spongebob and Titan,

Thanks for your intelligent comments........aside from the trolls.

First thing we saw was the troll-Merlot and his Fulmer passion. What a sick individual, never ending with his boring and irrelevant posts about
a coach who was burned out, over the hill.......
and gone. This loser must have no life, living in the burned out past, and whining at every opportunity about something over with which he has no influence.

Then, there is his drinking sidekick, the toddy
troll. Both overbearing whiners who just take up space here.

Anyway, there are some positive fans here and
thanks to you, being refreshingly different from the above 2 gripers.

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

And what a hot commodity he must be… 4 years later and still in the coaching unemployment line.

MidTennVol writes:

"That game has allowed us to sharpen our focus, it's allowed us to not live in an illusion that everything is great, which it wasn't," Dooley said last month. "But when you're the only one who knows it isn't, it's hard to convince the rest of the organization without being a tyrant. So, that's why I said what I said, that we needed this to happen. We were kind of plodding around as if we were on track."

Uhh...coach...if the team and the program and the players and your assistant coaches need you to be a tyrant, then be one.

Your job is TO LEAD. If the players aren't performing, sit their butts down. If the coaches aren't performing, send them packing.

There is a time to coerce, persuade and cajole; if that doesn't work, then there is a time to DEMAND.

Please, no more excuses, Coach Dooley. Forget the past and please take ownership of this team. Like it or not, YOU own the results -- good or bad.

The fanbase will hold YOU accountable for the performance of your players and coaches. You must therefore hold THEM accountable.

I think most of us out here would have been more impressed if you had sat the entire 1s and 2s in the Kentucky game and just cleared the benches. A loss in that context would have been far more positive than what we saw actually happen -- an unfocused team of superior talent playing with little pride and heart.

Getting on that field and wearing the orange and the white is a PRIVILEGE. It comes with responsibility to play as you're coached and play all-out, every single down.

We'll see if you get these things this fall. We'll see if you finally understand what Tennessee football means.

We all want you to succeed but it all starts with you, dude.

Vol43 writes:

in response to NickDanger-ThirdEye:

Yes, this is the year of years. This fall it will be known if CDD is the coach we hoped for or the coach we must replace. For the first time in 4 years TN will not have to start a true freshman or walk-on just to get 11 men on the field. For the first time in 3 years there will be more Jrs and Srs than Frosh and Sophs on the roster. The jury is still out on whether CDD can produce the needed results, but he has the tools for the first time. We will all know in November. I am going to be an optimist till proven differently with this years team. GBO

Key-rect

Vol43 writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

"That game has allowed us to sharpen our focus, it's allowed us to not live in an illusion that everything is great, which it wasn't," Dooley said last month. "But when you're the only one who knows it isn't, it's hard to convince the rest of the organization without being a tyrant. So, that's why I said what I said, that we needed this to happen. We were kind of plodding around as if we were on track."

Uhh...coach...if the team and the program and the players and your assistant coaches need you to be a tyrant, then be one.

Your job is TO LEAD. If the players aren't performing, sit their butts down. If the coaches aren't performing, send them packing.

There is a time to coerce, persuade and cajole; if that doesn't work, then there is a time to DEMAND.

Please, no more excuses, Coach Dooley. Forget the past and please take ownership of this team. Like it or not, YOU own the results -- good or bad.

The fanbase will hold YOU accountable for the performance of your players and coaches. You must therefore hold THEM accountable.

I think most of us out here would have been more impressed if you had sat the entire 1s and 2s in the Kentucky game and just cleared the benches. A loss in that context would have been far more positive than what we saw actually happen -- an unfocused team of superior talent playing with little pride and heart.

Getting on that field and wearing the orange and the white is a PRIVILEGE. It comes with responsibility to play as you're coached and play all-out, every single down.

We'll see if you get these things this fall. We'll see if you finally understand what Tennessee football means.

We all want you to succeed but it all starts with you, dude.

Right on target!

OrangePride writes:

This is a BIG year for the Dooley and the Vols. It is going to take a lot to get the fans' redemption after that unforgiveable Kentucky performance. The long road back starts Monday, and there is enough talent in that locker room to suggest Tennessee could win at least 8 games this year. A LOT will be learned in that NC State game. But all I am looking for this spring is a lot of renewed enthusiasm, energy, and desire from both the players AND the coaches. I cannot frankly remember going into a spring with less conversation or less excitement than I have seen in Knoxville this year. It's up to this coaching staff to get that turned around. SO GO VOLS!!!

VolGrad writes:

in response to toddyboy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Starting a freshman in any position other than QB when your team is otherwise experienced is much different that starting a freshman or two or more simply because of lack of any depth or experience.

Short memory? I hate it when people state "facts" out of context. Besides, his point was well made.

Summary: Alabama and Tennessee had two very different teams depth-wise last year. Alabama starting a freshman is not in the least comparable to Tennessee starting a freshman last year.

This year should be much improved, though we still lack experience from the senior class.

VolGrad writes:

If I heard him correctly, Coach Dooley stated that Raijon Neal would be utilized exclusively at RB this spring.

Go Vols!

givehim6 writes:

Nothing brings out such wide emotions as UT football, even from trolls. I do think all that post love or like UT football to an extent or another. Spring camp has not even started yet and UT fans ( admit it or not ) are fussing already. Like him or not when CDD was hired I stood by him 2 years because he was UT's coach. I will agree with the man on one thing for him this UK loss had to happen, so in his mind Dooley needed a cold smack to wake he and whom ever up to UT's real state of football, just sad it cost UT its UK streak. I love UT football and will be behind our guys in orange as long as there out there trying. But if there is some guys on the team that do not get it that is where the coaches job is to train the player to play well, and if need be yell in there ear a bit. I went through basic training in the military that is how we did it I assume that is much like training football players. After last seasons down falls and the leaving of the asst. coaches hopefully the vol ship will be fixed. CDD has gotten his slap of reality and with these new asst. coaches in place to train our guys right, UT now has better depth. Looking for 2012 to be a better year, not looking for a 12-0 season but 7, 8 wins would be nice.

GerryOP writes:

in response to Sammy_Burklows_Revenge:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The name is Coach Derek Dooley. Someone hiding behind the fake screen name of a UT hero calling a Tennessee head football coach a doofus is absurd. Dr. Sam Burklow would kick your butt for using his name like this.

Come back sometime when you want to give us something besides a mindless rant about something you know nothing about.

160 - Stay tuned...

GerryOP writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

But he'll never again walk the sidelines as a head football coach. He swapped his rep and soul for $6 mil and a part time gig on TV.

Theo writes:

in response to MerlotGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wyoming.

GerryOP writes:

in response to Theo:

Wyoming.

Magic dust.

decades_vol (Inactive) writes:

in response to GerryOP:

The name is Coach Derek Dooley. Someone hiding behind the fake screen name of a UT hero calling a Tennessee head football coach a doofus is absurd. Dr. Sam Burklow would kick your butt for using his name like this.

Come back sometime when you want to give us something besides a mindless rant about something you know nothing about.

160 - Stay tuned...

I suspect that Sammy is one of the "suggest-removal" clowns from last season. The Doofus Dooleave comment was one of the main things the previous poster repeated over and over again. The "revenge" in the last part of his new name suggests we're dealing with the same nitwit with the same old keypad, now typing with a new name, "Sammy".

Vo2Vol writes:

in response to toddyboy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What a joke you are. Because we have dominated that series does not mean we will walk on the field and our opponent will roll over. As bad as we all felt regarding that game, Coach Dooley very well may be right. It may take that loss to wake this team up to know that just because you wear the uniform does not make you a player. They, just as we expect of our coaches, have to be responsible and accountable. I am hopeful that this team learned that lesson from that game.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to toddyboy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The point is, since you seem to have missed it, is that it is one thing to plug in a talented underclassman into a team largely made up of veteran players because he is the best man available, and quite another to play SEVERAL of them in key positions because there are no better players even present, and for those inexperienced guys to be backed up by MORE inexperienced guys. If you don't understand that distinction, you don't know enough to post intelligently on a sports board, not that that has ever stopped you before.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolGrad:

Starting a freshman in any position other than QB when your team is otherwise experienced is much different that starting a freshman or two or more simply because of lack of any depth or experience.

Short memory? I hate it when people state "facts" out of context. Besides, his point was well made.

Summary: Alabama and Tennessee had two very different teams depth-wise last year. Alabama starting a freshman is not in the least comparable to Tennessee starting a freshman last year.

This year should be much improved, though we still lack experience from the senior class.

What you said.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VolGrad:

If I heard him correctly, Coach Dooley stated that Raijon Neal would be utilized exclusively at RB this spring.

Go Vols!

I hope you're right. Between the returnees and the incoming recruits, the receiving corps should be one of the team strengths. The biggest need for the offense is to find out who the main RBs will be and whether one or more of them can be game-breakers. Neal looks to me to be the most likely man for that job among those I know about right now.

GerryOP writes:

in response to GatorBait88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Get back under your bridge.

GerryOP writes:

in response to toddyboy:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You lil' GataBoys hear that, "Never hire anything less than a winning head football coach?" They hired a freakin' head coach in waiting ... and he's still waiting!

GerryOP writes:

in response to GatorBait88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

UK cheated, they brought in a new guy at QB.

Speaking of current events... sweep... sweep... sweep...

GerryOP writes:

in response to GatorBait88:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

"Lol still talkin'..." Last I checked, you were talking about the '11 football season which has been over for some time, but it is still the '11-'12 basketball season. Please catch up and try to stay current -- sweep... sweep... sweep...

173 days ... are you going to show up at Neyland? Last I heard we were working on some sweep graphics for the big screen in Neyland!!

Vol_Stuck_in_GA writes:

If you are a Vol fan you support the university, the teams, and the coaches. If you are not a Vol fan you are on the wrong site. Make a choice!

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