Tennessee Head Coach Derek Dooley opened fall camp on Thursday night with his annual pre-camp media briefing, and for the second consecutive year, the Volunteers will open the season with every player that signed a National Letter
of Intent on campus.
“It’s a combination of things,” Dooley said. “We have a pretty good indicator of whether guys are going to qualify or not. It’s more important than ever now, since you can only sign 25. Those guys put in a lot of hard work to finish strong.”
Dooley was asked if getting all signees to campus in time for fall camp was unusual. The third-year head coach said that because of the work the staff puts in during the recruiting process, he hoped that it would become the norm, rather than the exception.
“I think we now do so much diligence on the front end,” Dooley said. “Where a guy is from an eligibility standpoint and what he has to do to get there and, most importantly, what evidence do you have that he’s going to get there.”
Those new additions to the roster will have the opportunity to impress the coaches in split practices to start fall camp. The newcomers will practice in the opening session for the first three days at camp, followed by the veterans in the evening session. Now that camp has arrived, Dooley said it was important to carry the momentum from a strong offseason into the season.
“You guys have heard me most of the summer bragging about the team on their offseason and the last eight months about how hard they worked, the chemistry, their leadership growth,” Dooley said. “All of that’s great, but now we are at a point where none of that will pay dividends in the fall if we don’t approach the next four weeks with the right kind of mindset.”
VOLS ADD OMARI PHILLIPS TO THE FOLD
With just one day left before the start of preseason training camp, Tennessee put the finishing touches on its roster by adding freshman defensive lineman Dante “Omari” Phillips. The former Florida signee gives the Vols another big body on the defensive line, standing 6-6 and weighing in at 325 pounds. A product of Venice Senior High School in Venice, Fla., Phillips was a consensus four-star recruit and participated in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Although the timing of his arrival to Rocky Top was a little unconventional, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said the process was still the same. "We had some guys on the staff that had a relationship, of course, so we just went through the process like we do with anybody of that nature,” Dooley said. “We brought him up on a visit, we did our diligence and the process has gotten us to here. Really not any different than we do every other player. We just did it in a different time of year than what you normally do.”
”In announcing the additions to the roster, Dooley also noted one departure, linebacker Nigel Mitchell-Thornton, who elected to move on to his business career, degree already in hand. “Nigel Mitchell-Thornton graduated and has retired, on to the business world.” Dooley said. “We support Nigel, we’re proud of him and he’ll be a great employee for somebody.”
OLYMPIC THOUGHTS Receiver Justin Hunter was asked about the Olympics currently underway in London. In response, he raised his orange UT polo to reveal his USA Track and Field shirt and said while the games weren’t far from his mind, his focus right now is football. “I know if I had worked on it and gotten to the Olympics, I would have missed a couple of games and that wouldn’t have been best for the team,” he said. Coming back from injury, Hunter’s thoughts were almost exclusively on the game, not the Games. “When I got hurt, all I was thinking about was football,” Hunter said. “Track didn’t even enter my mind, it was all football.” Defensive back Brian Randolph has worked with Hunter this summer and says the junior is back in top form. “I think he’s better,” Randolph said.
TEAMBUILDING OVER THE GRILL
On the stage at the same time, Prentiss Waggner and Dallas Thomas talked about offseason teambuilding at various events, including barbeques at their homes. One area where the Louisiana natives still don’t have a consensus: sauces. “I keep telling them to ask me, because I know the good sauces,” Waggner said. “Although I’m sure Dallas will disagree.”He did. Thomas shook his head and laughed before saying, “You can’t cook, son.”
NOTHING TINY ABOUT IT
Offensive lineman Antonio “Tiny” Richardson put his size on display in his first fall meeting with the media, a 3XL polo, barely covering his massive arms. He also explained the origin of his quite ironic nickname. “The guys back home came up with a bunch of different things, but they were too long,” Richardson said. “Finally it was ‘Big Tiny.’ Now it’s just Tiny and it’s stuck.”
QUOTABLE SENIOR TE MYCHAL RIVERA (On Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and Cordarrelle Patterson)“Those three receivers are A+ receivers, they are the best you can get out there. With Tyler Bray at quarterback, he has so many options to throw to. I can’t wait for the first game or to get out there to practice tomorrow because if you give Bray a lot of options like that, the sky is the limit.” (On entering his senior season)“This year is really special for the seniors because we have nothing left of college football. We try to let the freshmen know every day to play for us, to play for the seniors. Our legacy is all we have left.”
SENIOR OL DALLAS THOMAS (On improving the run game this season)“The run game comes down to your demeanor and what kind of offensive line you want to have. We always talk about the run game and think about how we are going to dominate blocks this year.” (On leadership)“We need (leaders) because the coaches can't come out on the field. It's just you and your teammates out there so they are going to need somebody to depend on when you are out there in the game.”
SOPHOMORE OL ANTONIO RICHARDSON (On how the offensive line gets along)“Collectively, we are always going to get along, that’s just how we roll, but it’s all about competing at the end of the day and we have a lot of guys who are really athletic and bring a lot to the table and who can play It’s going to be a lot with everybody competing but we’ll see how it goes at the end of camp.” (On preparing to be a starter this season)“I'm ready for my first start at the collegiate level this year. My heart rate goes up every time I think about it, but I'm just ready to go.”
SOPHOMORE LB A.J. JOHNSON (On Herman Lathers)“He’s a blessing for me. Last year we had Austin Johnson and he was a great leader that helped us through the season as freshmen. Now we have Herman who is learning the scheme at the same time as us, but he has an upperhand on knowing where we are supposed to be. He’s just a great leader who will help us be better players individually.” (On improving physically)“I lost about 10 pounds, slimmed up and lost a lot of body fat. I got a little faster as well, but I’m still working to get faster and get bigger and stronger.”
SOPHOMORE DB BRIAN RANDOLPH (On the incoming defensive backs)“They were able to pick up the scheme fast. They are smart, pretty quick and have good ball skills, so I think they can contribute. Seven-on-seven is much different than football but I think they have what it takes.” (On how Justin Hunter looked in summer drills)“Justin Hunter is back to his usual self. I think he actually got better. He seems to be back to normal. His routes are quick and very swift. He can pretty much get any DB he wants to get at any time.”
Photo Courtesy: Derek Dooley, Tennessee Athletics