'Mental stamina' key for coach Derek Dooley

'Mental stamina' key for coach Derek Dooley

August 23rd, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

University of Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley speaks to the press during an event.

Photo by Jenna Walker /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- The good was the offense's ability to convert in key moments, but the bad was the defense's inability to get off the field.

The dueling sides of the third-down story was a theme in Tennessee's third camp scrimmage Saturday, and coach Derek Dooley already found a reason for his defense's struggles to get off the field.

"The mental stamina," he said after practice Monday morning. "What happens is you're playing good, you're making the right checks, adjusting to the formations, and then about the sixth or seventh play of the drive, fatigue sets in and now all of a sudden you're not thinking clearly.

"You can't think when you're tired unless you condition yourself to think when you get tired."

The Volunteers' defense allowed five third-down conversions Saturday and gave up scoring drives of 11 and 16 plays.

"Like [defensive coordinator Justin] Wilcox says in our position meetings, they're just self-inflicted wounds that we put on ourselves," defensive back Byron Moore said. "It might be lining up wrong pre-snap or just mental assignments, and if we can cut those errors down, we'll be able to convert better on third downs and not put ourselves in bad positions. We feel like all the mistakes that we are making, we can clean up."

Added Dooley: "We saw a lot more mental errors and breakdowns defensively the later the drive went, and that's a result of mental stamina, inability to sustain, inability to think."

A Little visit

Former Vol Leonard Little visited practice Monday and spoke to the team. Little earned All-America honors as a senior linebacker at UT in 1997 and retired in December after a dozen seasons with the St. Louis Rams.

"[He] had a good message to the team about finishing every play in practice, working hard," Dooley said. "It was a message we need because we're not there yet. He was a part of those [championship] banners in [the indoor practice field]. That's what we're playing for. He's a guy who lived it, he breathed it.

"He lost about four games in his [UT] career and then went on to be a great NFL player, so he represents everything to me that Tennessee is all about. The more guys like that come back, I love it when they get in front of the team."

Position battles

With less than two weeks before the season opener against Montana on Sept. 3, Dooley said the Vols are close to having their personnel set across the board. That doesn't mean, though, that the competition that he's focused on as a positive throughout camp will end.

"Some of these things are going to continue on into the season," he said. "At most positions now it's going to be, 'Let's see how they play.' We're settled, but it doesn't mean we say we know they can do it, because so many of them haven't done it in a game.

"Those first couple of games we're going to have to see who responds on game day. Do some guys elevate their games a little bit, some guys look the same and some guys play worse? That's what you've always got to be conscious of."

Odds and ends

Dooley said star safety Janzen Jackson has excelled in camp and become a better tackler, which was the Vols' top priority with him. ... Defensive tackle Malik Jackson returned fully to practice Monday after missing two weeks with a sprained knee, and Dooley said he is 100 percent. ... Tailback Tom Smith returned to a limited role in practice wearing a red noncontact jersey and a large brace on his hyperextended left knee, but Rajion Neal (knee) remained out. ... Dooley again spoke positively of fifth-year senior Anthony Anderson's switch from cornerback to receiver, especially with Matt Milton still out and Zach Rogers still wearing a red jersey. ... Moore said he's focused on learning the cornerback and nickel-back spots, but Dooley said the junior college transfer has had a "tougher transition" than any of the newcomers in the secondary. ... Linebacker Greg King practiced fully after missing about a week with lingering knee problems.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.