Dooley: Vols open spring with 'typical first day'
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's Derek Dooley said Monday's morning session of spring football practice was "a typical first day."
The Volunteers are looking forward to a fresh start after finishing 5-7 last year. The third-year Tennessee coach has seven new assistant coaches. They are working with several midyear enrollees and a number of players recovering from various injuries or learning a new position.
"The effort was really good. I expected it to be that way," Dooley said. "We have, of course, a long way to go from a discipline standpoint knowing what to do, knowing how to do it, knowing why it's important to do it that way and going out there and doing it the right way. It was sloppy from that standpoint.
"The key, of course, is how we learn from it and we don't go out the next day and make the same mistakes."
Despite not practicing in pads, Monday was a big step for players like linebacker Herman Lathers, who missed all of last season after fracturing his left ankle in summer workouts. Lathers practiced in a limited, non-contact role late last season, but is good to go this spring and said his ankle is "85 to 90 percent."
"Last year, sitting out the whole year was tough, but I put it in my mind that I was going to come in this spring and get my ankle back to as close to normal as I can get it," he said.
Lathers, Tennessee's most experienced returning linebacker with 25 career starts, is expected to play a significant role in the 3-4 defense being installed by new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"It's pretty easy right now," Lathers said of the defense. "We've been putting a lot of installs in during the spring. Basically, it is just time to go on the field and rep it."
Tennessee's challenge offensively isn't learning a new system. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is one of just three coaches returning from last year's staff, along with Dooley and receivers coach Darin Hinshaw.
The Vols are looking for ways to be more successful running the ball to better complement the passing game.
"Our number one priority on offense is not just finding different ways to run the ball, but really our execution of all 11 players," Dooley said. "It starts today, but it's really hard until you put the pads on."
Marlin Lane, the team's second leading rusher last year with 280 yards, and Rajion Neal, who will go focus this spring exclusively at tailback after spending time last season at receiver, will have the first opportunity to impress coaches. Dooley prefers having a workhouse back, but he is willing to split carries among multiple backs.
"I'd rather have a Heisman trophy winner at running back," Dooley said. "We've won a lot of games by committee. When we won the national championship in 2003, we had three good running backs. The most important thing is how can you get production? If it means you have to do it by committee, then you do it. If you have a guy who can carry the load, then you give it to him."
The Vols believe they have the players to be a good passing team led by quarterback Tyler Bray and wide-outs Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, who practiced for the first time Monday since tearing his left ACL against Florida last Sept. 17.
"The training room, I know they didn't want me to do a lot of stuff today, but I felt good," Hunter said. "Biggest thing is I can't think about it, because if I think about it I'm going to reinjure it somehow. So I just go out there and not think about it and make the best of it."
Updated March 27, 2012