KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley starts his second preseason camp as the University of Tennessee football coach this afternoon, and again he's got a team overflowing with youth.
Dooley's roster consists of more than 55 freshmen and sophomores.
"Coach Dooley said it before. He said this was year one and last year was year zero," senior tailback Tauren Poole said at Monday's news conference to introduce today's start of preseason camp.
"He didn't have a chance to really, really engage and really get his whole philosophy down and lay his foundation [last year], but now he's got to the point where he has his guys in here," Poole said. "We know what he wants and we know what he expects from us, so we can take that to the field and apply it as best as we can."
Dooley has admitted on more than one occasion this offseason his feelings of uncertainty with this team. Last year, the staff and the players were focused primarily on understanding each other and learning a new system on and off the field. It does help this time around, however, Dooley said, that the much of the team is newcomers he and his staff recruited over the course of a year.
"I think that's a positive, and I think certainly, I sat in their living rooms, I know what their makeup is," Dooley said. "I know and have a better feel for the things that we probably shouldn't do when we coach them and the things that will motivate them a little bit.
"There's a lot of uncertainty in a lot of areas, but we do have a better handle on what we think."
A dozen players who signed with UT in 2010 picked the Vols after Dooley replaced the departed Lane Kiffin in mid-January, and Dooley added two starters -- defensive lineman Malik Jackson and safety Brent Brewer -- last summer. The second-year players, a handful of whom played significant contributing roles last season, have played only for Dooley, even though some of them were Kiffin's recruits.
"I came in and was recruited under Kiffin, of course, but Coach Dooley, I love the guy," sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray said. "He's like another father to me."
The stability and continuity of the coaching staff -- the Vols have the same head coach in consecutive years for the first time since Phillip Fulmer's final season in 2008 -- might be the biggest help, although it took two-thirds of a season and an easier late-season schedule for the program to begin to take tangible steps forward.
"Everybody was a little bit skeptical [when] we went 2-6, but I think it all came together around the last four or five games when we went on that last stretch and went to the Music City Bowl," said Jackson, who transferred from the University of Southern California.
"I think everybody bought in last year, and I think it just trickled down to this year," he said. "Everybody knows Coach Dooley; everybody's bought in to Coach Dooley and we know he's not going anywhere, so we're just ready to get the ball rolling."
The Vols are still young and still relying on a number of players who haven't consistently produced over the full duration of a 12-game schedule in the Southeastern Conference, the nation's toughest league. As much as the program's first taste of stability in three years helped, Dooley said the players must lead themselves and each other.
"The best teams that I've been around have ownership in the locker room. The coaches don't have to go manage all their day-to-day issues," Dooley said. "They're like professionals. The coaches put their energy on teaching and coaching on how to make them successful on the field."
"I think every team's unique. You never can take that for granted. This team, because we don't have a lot of guys with a lot of experience, you just have to develop it."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...