Two months into his new gig, which he got after Lane Kiffin bolted the Volunteer program for his dream job at Southern California, Derek Dooley had one thing in mind.
"It's important that we start developing our brand of how we compete and how we play," the first-year Tennessee coach said. "We shouldn't ever lose sight of that."
The work started March 18 with the first of 15 practices allotted Dooley and the Volunteers. The last practice is set for April 17 and will serve as the program's Orange-White spring game in Neyland Stadium.
Dooley is a Nick Saban disciple who coached the past three seasons at Louisiana Tech, where he went 17-20. He has a fine line to walk during spring practice.
While he acknowledges that depth is a concern on both lines and at linebacker, Dooley said spring practice will be physical.
"You can't ever go into this in fear of injury," he said. "If you don't run physical practices, then your team isn't tough enough. You can only evaluate so much watching guys jump over bags.
"We need to find out what's our discipline level, what's our toughness level, what's our effort level on every play."
UT will have to find those things out minus three defensive starters. Cornerback Art Evans (shoulder), linebacker Nick Reveiz (ACL) and linebacker Savion Frazier (ACL) will all sit out spring practice as they heal and rehabilitate their injuries.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Two critical things the new coaching staff has to do this spring is figure out the quarterback battle and identify contributors on the offensive line.
One-time whipping boy Jonathan Crompton is now a man whom UT fans wish were back for another year. He was coach Lane Kiffin's biggest success story from 2009 (27 touchdown passes, 2,800 yards). Senior Nick Stephens will have the first crack, but no starter will be determined until August.
Then there's the group in front of the quarterback, which at this moment consists of one experienced player -- Aaron Douglas, who moved to right tackle from tight end last spring and is now the line's leader. Help and depth may be needed more desperately here than at any other spot on the team.
There are also concerns about the defensive line and about linebacker, given the wave of injuries that attacked that position last year.
BUILDING BLOCKS: One area of satisfaction heading into the spring was at wide receiver, where the Vols welcome back Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore. The duo combined for 86 receptions, 1,220 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Throw in TE Luke Stocker (29 catches, five TDs), and the new quarterback has reliable targets to help his progress.
Douglas' development as an offensive lineman has been remarkable. A highly recruited tight end coming out of high school, Douglas has added 42 pounds to his frame since enrolling at UT and might have the right blend of attributes -- quick feet, intelligence, mean streak -- to eventually be a left tackle on the next level.
While tackle is a big concern on the defensive line, end isn't. In Ben Martin and Chris Walker, UT has experienced players who should be able to mount the kind of pass rush required in the SEC.
The Vols also have a star in the making at free safety in Janzen Jackson, who has Eric Berry qualities as a player. Jackson just needs to become more like Berry off the field and less like the loose cannon who was suspended twice for a total of three games in November.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a body of work over a period of time. It just doesn't happen right away." -- Coach Derek Dooley, on the logjam at quarterback that probably won't be decided until August, if then.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Tennessee was expected to struggle this year ... and that was before coach Lane Kiffin stunned the players and fans by leaving after one season for his dream job at Southern California. New coach Derek Dooley has some top-of-the-line players and closed nicely on signing day, attracting a top 10 class nationally, but he has serious depth concerns that won't be alleviated for at least a season or two. Like last year, this team is depth-shy at critical spots, such as the offensive and defensive line. Another 7-6 season seems more realistic, and a losing year could occur if injuries hit again.
OG JerQuari Schofield -- With this team's depth issues on the offensive line, the 6-foot-6, 312-pound freshman will have a chance to earn immediate playing time if he shows well in the spring and preseason.
DE Jacques Smith -- The top-ranked recruit out of Tennessee, Smith was one of the recruits who stuck with their commitment to the Vol program after coach Lane Kiffin's departure. Smith probably won't start but could see playing time as a backup and on special teams.
QB Tyler Bray -- Enrolling in December, Bray took part in practices leading up to the Chick-fil-A Bowl and impressed insiders with his raw physical skills. Bray could stand to add a few pounds to a stringy 6-6, 192-pound frame, but he might see the field if he executes well in the spring and August.
--TB Bryce Brown has left the program for the time being, apparently unhappy with a number of issues that cropped up during his freshman year and after Lane Kiffin's departure. Coach Derek Dooley hasn't shut the door on a potential return by Brown, who rushed for 460 yards and three touchdowns as Montario Hardesty's backup last year.
--OG William Brimfield parted ways with the program before spring practice started, further weakening the depth at a critically thin spot. Brimfield earned a letter last year but didn't crack the starting lineup.
--CB Art Evans (shoulder), MLB Nick Reveiz (ACL) and MLB Savion Frazier (ACL) are defensive starters who will miss spring ball as they rehabilitate injuries.
--RT Aaron Douglas missed a couple of early practices to attend to personal issues.
Previous Report: 04/09/2010