Derek Dooley: balancing work and preserving players a challenge

Derek Dooley: balancing work and preserving players a challenge

August 13th, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE - Arkansas lost its best running back for the season when Knile Davis fractured his ankle during a Thursday night scrimmage.

Auburn's Michael Dyer missed Friday's practice because he's "beat up," as coach Gene Chizik put it. Georgia's entire backfield - talented freshman Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome have groin injuries and Richard Samuel has a strained quadriceps - is battling minor injuries.

At Tennessee, Derek Dooley is managing more than just his running backs, and the Volunteers' second-year coach said after Friday's practice that the balance between working his players hard enough that they improve and preserving their bodies for the long grind of the season ahead.

"It's not just at running back," he said. "Probably the biggest challenge we have as coaches is to try to get the guys ready to play and develop a physical, tough football team, which every coach around the league is trying to do, and not get them hurt.

"I cringe every time I read [about] somebody getting hurt, even on a team you play. It happens to everybody. We've had our share here. So far we haven't had anything major, so knock on wood."

Through two weeks of camp the Vols have avoided any serious injuries like the one to Davis, the Southeastern Conference's leading returner rusher from last season. Freshman return specialist Devrin Young broke his collarbone before camp, and safety-turned-linebacker Dontavis Sapp fractured a finger earlier this week.

UT's biggest injury so far is a minor one. Defensive Malik Jackson has missed most of camp with a knee sprain, though Dooley said Friday the star senior was a week to 10 days from returning.

As much as the coach would enjoy an excellent performance in Saturday night's scrimmage, the Vols second of camp, Dooley probably prefer just as much that his team come out of it healthy. The goal, Dooley said, is to manage guys efficiently when minor bumps do come up to preserve a player's health instead of pushing them back too quickly, which could lead to another injury that puts the players on the shelf longer.

For example, the Vols have been careful with defensive end Ben Martin, who's coming off back-to-back serious Achilles tendon injuries and rested during Thursday's second practice, and defensive end Jacques Smith, the Ooltewah native who had surgeries on both feet during the summer.

"Everybody you manage a little differently, and it depends on a lot of things," he said. "It depends on his experience level, his past production plays into it, his prior injuries and how much is he susceptible to getting hurt. Some guys just have that tendency. Is he coming off an injury.

"There's a lot of factors, and we've got a lot of guys. You try to manage them to where they get the work, and inevitably sometimes there's nothing you can do about it. They get hurt."