KNOXVILLE — Not surprisingly, the University of Tennessee football team wasn’t particularly sharp to start Tuesday’s practice at Haslam Field.
The Volunteers hadn’t practiced since their devastating, 16-14 loss at LSU on Saturday. They watched tape Sunday and stayed away from the complex altogether Monday.
“It was hard to get the going ... but then the latter part of practice was pretty good,” coach Derek Dooley said. “We started hitting a little bit, and I think we’re back into it. That’s important.”
Dooley told the team before practice, “The most important part of a process is removing all the things in your mind that prevent you from coming out here and being ready and performing well.”
Admittedly, the coach added, that can be more difficult on certain days.
“That’s hard to do — you know, coming out here with a lot of clutter in your mind,” Dooley said. “Learning how to manage that and be consistent every day [is the goal]. The more you do it, the more you condition your mind, it becomes a part of you. You don’t even realize you’re doing it.”
Sophomore cornerback Marsalis Teague said the Vols felt “much better” after practice than before it.
“I can’t lie: It feels really good just to move on and think about something else,” Teague said. “We’re excited to be focused on Georgia now.”
Dooley said Janzen Jackson is so crucial to UT’s coverage units that he’d rather see the sophomore safety get rest on defense than on special teams.
“We say, ‘Well, he needs to rest,’” Dooley said. “And I say, ‘Well, they just started a drive on the 18. If we rest him, that means they may start the drive on the 40. Is a couple of plays of rest worth two first downs? So rest him on defense.’ That’s what I say.
“The field position is too important, especially in the way we’re playing. We’re having to grind it out. We’re not a three-and-out defense like we want to be, and we’re certainly not a quick-strike, fast, explosive offense, so that means we need to make them go the long way, and maybe we can make them make a mistake.”
Dooley said redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Gordon would again be UT’s primary punt and kickoff return specialist this week after a decent day at LSU.
“He hit the return with conviction,” Dooley said. “That was my biggest thing, is [others] sitting there dancing, juking. You’ve got to go, and he went, and all of a sudden, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’m at the 40.’ He’s doing better, and he’s taken ownership of it. He wants to be good at it. Time will tell.
“There’s been holes there every week. It’s just a matter of hitting them.”
Dooley said sophomore left tackle Dallas Thomas went through “a little bit” of Tuesday’s practice on his sore ankle but was “real limited.” If Thomas can’t play at Georgia, Dooley said the coaches have two options. They can plug redshirt freshman Daniel Hood in that spot, or they can shift true freshman Ja’Wuan James to left tackle, slide senior Jarrod Shaw from right guard to right tackle and start true freshman Zach Fulton at right guard.
Senior Daniel Lincoln (upper leg muscle) didn’t kick Tuesday, and Dooley said “there’s a good chance” true freshman Michael Palardy will have to start again at Georgia. Palardy might also punt some Saturday, added Dooley, saying “we reserve the right to use him.”