KNOXVILLE - The spirit was back on the Tennessee football team's practice field on Wednesday morning.
The Volunteers were so poor on Tuesday that second-year coach Derek Dooley declined to meet with reporters following practice, but Dooley and his assistant coaches spoke with the media after a bounce-back day.
"I think a lot of it had to do with us being a young team and not really understanding the expectations of an open week," Dooley said of Tuesday's bad day. "That starts with our coaches and me communicating, doing a better job of communicating what the purpose of the open week is and what our expectations are.
"It's really no different, and what I talked to them today about (is) just defining a standard of who you are as a man and who you are as a competitor, and challenging yourself every day to meet that standard and not succumbing to the desires of the world or how you feel to where you might compromise that standard. Hopefully, we learned a little bit. Had a good day of work today, and we'll see where we go from there."
The Vols, who have an open date this week and return to host Buffalo on Oct. 1, practice Thursday before taking the weekend off from the field. The training camp style of practices has given UT's staff a chance to evaluate some younger players, especially Tuesday when a handful of players sat out as precautions.
Defensive end Ben Martin, linebacker Curt Maggitt and offensive linemen Dallas Thomas, Zach Fulton and Alex Bullard all did not practice. Freshmen Antonio Richardson and Marcus Jackson took over for Thomas and Bullard, respectively, and JerQuari Schofield worked at Fulton's right guard spot.
"We're a little dinged up," Dooley said, "so the open week has been good to help some of the guys that have been playing a lot and then to get some of the young guys a lot of work, so we're getting a lot of reps with some of the younger guys who hadn't played as much, and they need it."
ODDS AND ENDS
It was UT's assistant coaches' turn to speak with the media, and here are a handful of notable quotes from after practice.
"We're not being physical enough in the run game to be able to get what we want to against good opponents, so that's a point of emphasis this whole bye week: get our pads down and go hit somebody in the mouth and see what we can get done in the run game." -- offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on the Vols' poor running game, which is 105th national and last in the SEC.
"Everybody picks up the load. This injury thing happens every year everywhere in football, and we're an offense, we're not on individual. We're going to lose a good football players, but we've got good football players here so hopefully we'll continue on that path of being successful. -- Chaney on the offense handling the loss of star receiver Justin Hunter for the season.
"I think when you're going good on good, and now you can give the reps to everybody and there's no ones, twos or threes, it's get in there and let's see what you can do. I think it's been eye-opening for a lot of guys to say, 'Hey, this guy is playing my position.' It's been a challenge to everybody back there and it seems like it's helping a little bit." -- secondary coach Terry Joseph on the importance of competition during the bye week.
"Brent's been OK. I think one thing Brent's needed to quit pressing. I think he's pressing a little bit trying to make a play opposed to playing the defense and being where he's suppose to be and playing fast. We're not downing Brent at all but we expect him to play better and better." -- defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox on strong safety Brent Brewer.
"He took it hard, he's a prideful guy. Nobody wants to do things that hurt the team and some of that stuff hurt us, obviously. He came back with a good attitude about working," -- offensive line coach Harry Hiestand on center James Stone's snapping problems in the loss at Florida.
IN THURSDAY'S TIMES FREE PRESS
I asked Dooley about his ongoing "mess" in the secondary, and he brought up the Vols' struggles with allowing big plays this season. UT is allowing just three yards per play on 96 percent (or 208) of its 217 defensive snaps. The other nine? 46 yards per play. I'll look at that as it relates to the Vols' defensive backfield.