August 2, 2012
Vols putting the 'Power T' in unity
It wasn't there when Tennessee most needed to be united.
Not last season when the going got particularly rough; as injuries and dissension mounted. A team that could have pulled together, players said, instead fractured.
Derek Dooley? At no point during the Vols' tumultuous 5-7 2011 campaign did he feel his team had coalesced as needed.
"I think it's fair to say, I feel like this group is showing more signs of chemistry and leadership of any group since I've been here." - Derek Dooley
"I never did. But it was always a work in progress," Dooley said during his pre-camp press conference Thursday. "I'm not here to say we've got it right now, because if we go into week 3, 4, 5 and show we don't, we didn't. You don't really know until the end of the year. And you don't have it Day One. It doesn't matter what team you have, because every year is a new year.
"You start every year kind of fresh. Try to build chemistry and leadership throughout the year and at the end of the year you look back and say that was a pretty close team. Or, we didn't do as good a job as we needed to and we've got to fix it."
As pre-season practice for the 2012 season opens Friday, players believe they are positioned together as a team.
"That was a real big key because last year, we always fell apart. Everybody was trying to do their own thing," senior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas said. "Everybody was really thinking about themselves instead of pulling it together. That's what everybody is doing now. If we do anything, it's always going to be together. You won't ever see anybody by themselves."
Added Prentiss Waggner, "It was pretty frustrating. Every practice we had, I tried to be a leader out there. Tried to mentor the guys and just tried to tell them to keep their head up because throughout the season we're going to have some kind of adversity. I don't think we handled it pretty well. This year, I think we can pretty much handle it pretty well this year."
To prepare for such, the Vols have climbed Mt. Le Conte; helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity; and, perhaps most importantly, bonded together through team cookouts.
"A lot of times we always just hang out together," Thomas said. "A lot of times we do barbecues and we all just pitch in a couple dollars and get some meat and just throw it on the grill."
Senior linebacker Herman Lathers, a lock to be a team captain, handles most of the cooking. One of three key Louisiana Vols, along with Thomas and Waggner, Lathers is the resident chef and mixes up his own blend of Cajun sauces and spices.
Waggner, at times, protests.
"Herm puts the spices on there. I have to tell him what kind of sauces to get," Waggner said. "He thinks Baton Rouge has the better sauces but I think, I'm from Clinton, La., and we sort of make our own sauces up."
Thomas sets him straight.
"You can't cook, son," Thomas said, drawing laughs from his teammates and a crowd of reporters.
Players, however, said summer drills were sizzling. With a receiving corps headlined by the big three of Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vols' work this offseason evolved into must-see events.
"One thing that was fun about this summer is that when we have our one-on-one periods, you normally don't see offensive linemen and defensive linemen. The only thing you usually see out there is skill positions. But this summer, you saw trainers, o-linemen, like the whole team out there watching every one-on-one drill," Waggner said. "When the offense would make a play, the whole offense was screaming and yelling. When the defense would make a play, the whole defense would scream and yell."
The chance to take in the show, Thomas explained, became a motivating factor in workouts.
"It is very entertaining. As soon as we get done with our drills, we have to hurry up like 'Have they started their seven-on-seven yet?' We rush through our drills just to get there and go find a chair and get in the end zone because we know all they're going to do is throw that fade route every time. 'Who's going to go get it?'," Thomas said. "One (highlight) was with J-Hunter and (Eric Berry). They were out there doing that seven-on-seven. Yeah, (Hunter) had got him.
"And then there was one with Cordarrelle. I forgot who he was going up against, but whoever the cornerback was, he had it. And he like jumped up and reached back and pulled it away from him and scored. I was like, 'Damn!' We were running around all over the field the whole time."
The dynamic seemingly illustrates some calm and confidence as camp nears. The Vols believe they have done all they can. Even Dooley acknowledges this team, which like any will be a constant work in progress, appears to be as well positioned as possible.
"Well, it's really important going into every year," Dooley said. "I've never been around a good football team, a championship football team that I didn't say, 'You know what? We just had great team chemistry, great team leadership. We had tremendous unity.' I think that combined with the fact that it was pretty apparent that we didn't have what we needed last year from that standpoint, just is probably there was such a bigger emphasis on it. ...
"I think it's fair to say, I feel like this group is showing more signs of chemistry and leadership of any group since I've been here, which is only the third one."
With kickoff four weeks away, the Vols have to start somewhere.
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