KNOXVILLE - It feels like it's been a long time since Tennessee played a football game.
What Derek Dooley is hoping is that his Volunteers' progress over the course of the team's bye week after the loss at Florida 11 days ago shows up when UT finally returns to the field to play Buffalo at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
"What we want to see is, how did you play the first three and then how you go out and look in game four with an open date," UT's second-year coach said. "Obviously we want to see improvement, and we're not going to expect them to go out and light it up. It's not going to happen because it takes time, but I'm seeing it in practice, a little more comfort with some things, playing a little faster, some guys playing a little faster, and you just hope over time that it goes.
"Reflect back to last year at this time, our freshmen were all swimming.The receivers were, run a fade route and screw everything else up. It just takes time."
The Vols have used this time to focus on improving a run game that ranks just 112th nationally. Buffalo's defense is just eighth in the Mid-American Conference in stopping the run, but the Bulls held Connecticut to 80 yards on 42 carries. Dooley said the Vols will have their "work cut out for us" on Saturday.
"We need to run the ball better," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "It's that simple. We're in that day and age to try to dissect everything: this is a problem and all these little nuances of everything. At the end of the day, we need to line up, snap the ball, block the man in front of us and run the ball better reading our keys. That's what we've got to do.
"It's everybody one time or another making mistakes, so we're trying to eliminate that. My expectations are this week's been better, and we're looking forward to getting to the game and seeing if we can see the results of a good practice week."
Per the usual Wednesday routine, UT's assistant coaches met with the media. Here's a handful of quotes that are too long for Twitter's 140-character limit:
"I think about 80 percent of the time he is, 20 percent he isn't. Those are those boneheaded plays we're trying to talk about. We'll continue to work on that. Ball security is ultimately the goal of every offense, and he's still making some mistakes in regard to that, so those are the boneheads we're dealing with. We're trying to get rid of those." -- Chaney on quarterback Tyler Bray taking care of the ball.
"It took me a while. As you guys know, Justin's one of my favorites. Unfortunate that it happened but we have to move on and he'll be back, he'll come back strong. It didn't take me very long. You have to come to grips with it. If you've been around long enough, you know that something happens in sports, you have to go to the next guy and somebody's got to step up." -- receivers coach Charlie Baggett, in his first appearance since Justin Hunter's injury, on how long it took him to get over his star wideout's season-ending knee injury.
"He's got a lot better mentally. Obviously, his skill set is what you like at corner, because he has size and speed, and I think as time has went, he's gotten better with the playbook and you can see it in his play. And now, I think he's just reacting more than thinking. I think he was thinking a lot in training camp, and that's a product of him not playing for about a year and a half because of the injury." -- defensive backs coach Terry Joseph on new starting cornerback Izauea Lanier.
"He obviously struggled. Anytime any of us don't do something good, if we have pride, we'll come back and fight and work and try to do it better no matter what our profession is and no matter who we are. If you have pride in what you do, you'll fight back. That's what James has done." -- offensive line coach Harry Hiestand on center James Stone bouncing back from the low shotgun snaps that plagued him in Gainesville.
Nothing new on the injury front. Herman Lathers (ankle) and Naz Oliver (wrist) remain out, and reserve linebacker and special-teams mainstay Raiques Crump limited.
Freshman tailback/return specialist Devrin Young was again a topic of post-practice discussion. The Knoxville native is listed as co-starter with Marlin Lane at punt returner and one kick returner spot.
"We're going to play Devrin, we're going to play Devrin," Dooley said. "He's going to get an opportunity to get out there, and we'll see how he looks, how he feels, and how he does (decides) how much. It's not fair to the player to put him out there before I think he's ready. He's had the benefit of that week, an open week where we worked him very hard and then a good week this week -- a long week this week.
"I know you guys want to know how we're playing him, but we're going to figure that out on Saturday."
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