New University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley has experienced the fan tour before.
"We had these at Louisiana Tech," Dooley said of the Big Orange Caravan, which stopped in Cleveland and Chattanooga on Thursday, "but it was not this big."
Dooley, who was hired in January, could say the same about his new players. While all of the Volunteers are new to the first-year coach, the newest Vols may have a great chance to make immediate contributions.
In just a month on the job, Dooley was able to keep together and add to a recruiting class that finished ranked in the top 10 nationally. Several players in the 2010 recruiting class enrolled early, and at least three earned raves during spring practice.
Defensive ends Jacques Smith of Ooltewah and Corey Miller were bright spots for a defensive front looking for help. Quarterback Tyler Bray is competing for the starting job with fellow newcomer Matt Simms, a junior college transfer.
"Yeah, there's a lot of opportunity, especially on offense," UT signee and former Calhoun High School quarterback Nash Nance said at The Chattanoogan. "There's a lot of talent, but there's a lot of open positions. The defense, as a rule, generally comes together a little bit quicker, but on the offense there's a lot of opportunity and a lot of competition."
Da'Rick Rogers, Nance's Calhoun teammate and the No. 2-ranked high school receiver in the nation last year, could be a key part of that competition.
Staff photo by Patrick Smith Calhoun High School quarterback Nash Nance, left, and running back Da'Rick Rogers both committed to the University of Tennessee today.
"Excuse me, I need to go talk to a couple of my players," Dooley said with a smile as broke away from the media to speak to Nance and Rogers on Thursday. "We are really excited about the young kids in our program."
Rogers, who set a state record for receiving yards in a season as a senior, has the highest profile of the incoming Vols. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, he has the size to play right now, and his decision to defect from the in-state Georgia Bulldogs to the Vols on signing day helped Dooley's first class climb the rankings.
"It was pretty rough around late February," Rogers said. "It got pretty bad. But I think they've come to realize it is what it is, and everybody's moving on now.
"(Dooley's) going straightforward with you, and you've got to love him for that."
Now Rogers, Nance and the rest of the Vols are preparing for a seaspm that appears to be filled with uncertainty. Rogers said the future is bright, and the incoming star and his first-year coach think the 2010 results will depend greatly on a big intangible -- chemistry.
"We've talked to all the players, trying to get close to everybody we're going to be around for the next two or three years of our lives," Rogers said.
Said Dooley: "We've met with each player individually, and there's a lot to do. But we want to spend a lot of the summer building that chemistry."
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...