published Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Depth issues hurt UT

Vols coach Derek Dooley must figure out how to be effective with a roster that is very thin at key positions.


by Wes Rucker

KNOXVILLE — College football coaches are rarely satisfied with the results of intersquad scrimmages. Every time one side of the ball makes a big play, the other side allowed a big play. A player must be corrected every time another gets praised.

Essentially, there’s no way to leave the field in a pleasant mood. And film study doesn’t always balance it.

“The plight of the head coach,” Tennessee’s Derek Dooley calls it.

Saturday seemed worse, though.

Dooley, once again confronted with his team’s major depth concerns, clearly left Neyland Stadium a frustrated man.

“It’s kind of like we only have 1s and 3s,” Dooley said.

And no 2s.

There are no proven, legitimate backups on most of the depth chart.

“When you’re operating at 72 scholarships ... we’ve got 15 guys missing on the team who could be sophomores and juniors,” Dooley said. “You’re kind of missing a whole line right in the middle, and I don’t mean offensive line, but just a bunch of guys. I overreact sometimes, because you go look at the film, and you see, ‘Well, the guys playing did all right.’ But you’ve got so many guys out there who aren’t playing, and it tends to skew your thoughts on the scrimmage sometimes.

“Today really stuck out.”

With every practice, those challenges become more pressing. On Sept. 4, the Volunteers must suit up in Neyland and host UT-Martin. A week after that, they’ll host No. 11 Oregon. A week after that, they’ll host No. 4 Florida.

For what it’s worth, the players — at least the starters — were more optimistic than Dooley.

“I feel like we’ve come a long way,” redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Gordon said. “Every day, we’re trying to get 2 percent better, and I feel like today we got 2 percent better.”

Added senior wide receiver Gerald Jones: “We’re getting there. We’re playing faster. We definitely have knowledge of our craft at what we have to do.”

But, again, Gordon and Jones will probably be starters.

Jones admitted that even the young wide receivers — who seemingly provide the team with one of its best depth situations — have much to prove the next two weeks.

“We’ve still got a long way to go for the freshmen,” Jones said. “We’re still making mistakes that we were making in week 1.”

It’s no secret that the Vols will need depth to surface at some point — probably several points — this season.

Saturday wasn’t the start of UT’s regular season. But that start is now less than two weeks away, and the Vols’ coach said the depth simply isn’t there. Not yet, anyway.

The Vols were off Sunday, but they’ll step back on Haslam Field today and keep trying to fix that issue.

“Our youth and inexperience was really exposed today,” Dooley said after the scrimmage. “We need a ton of work at this stuff. We got affected a lot. We couldn’t manage the offense as well as we need to and made some bad mistakes. I think it was a really good indicator of where we are. When it got crunch time, the youth and inexperience just showed up. The players that had experience were calm and played well. The ones who didn’t, who are new or are freshmen, they really struggled.

“That’s where we are.”

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

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