NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Second-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley knows most people are expecting little from his rebuilding team again this season, and he’s OK with that.
Second-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley
Really, he prefers it that way.
“That’s kind of how we like it,” Dooley said Thursday night at the 45th annual UT All-Sports Picnic at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena. “We’re going to be young, and I think everybody recognizes that.
“But what we’re not going to do is allow that to be an excuse for failure, so our guys are committed to working hard and going out there and trying to compete like they’re seniors and juniors, even though we’re freshmen and sophomores.”
The modest expectations surrounding the Vols heading into this season were reinforced this week when media members attending SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., picked them to finish fourth in the SEC East behind defending division champion South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Dooley said he understands why Tennessee is widely expected to finish in the bottom half of the division standings.
“It’s based on what you did last year and who you’ve got returning that were productive players,” he said. “Well, we didn’t do a lot last year, and we don’t have a lot of guys that produced last year, so that’s where we ought to be picked.
“Hopefully, at the end of the year, people think otherwise about us.”
Soon enough, Dooley said, the Vols could be back in the discussion as one of the preseason favorites to contend for a division or conference championship.
“We have a lot of young guys that have the ability to be all-conference guys, that have the ability to help us win a championship. I believe that,” he said. “When we do it, I don’t know. But they’ve got to go out there and prove it.”
He believes the players Tennessee has added over the past two years will play a major role in getting the Vols to that point.
“I tell you, I feel great about the two recruiting classes that we brought in,” Dooley said. “I think they’re the kind of guys that can get this program back and meet the expectations that we have at Tennessee, and we’ll see in time how they develop.”
OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT: Dooley said it was by design that none of the Vols’ core players who are freshmen or sophomores was chosen to represent the team at SEC Media Days.
“I told them I was going to coach them (like upperclassmen), but I’m not going to publicize and treat them that way,” he said. “We’re going to coach them like seniors but treat them like sophomores, if that makes sense.
“From all that, I love promoting our players. I really do, and I love giving them recognition. But I want to do it when they deserve it, and they’ve got to earn it. They have to earn that right to be getting the recognition they deserve. It’s hard for me to go out there and give guys a lot of publicity and recognition when they haven’t really done anything.”
INJURY UPDATE: Sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith has “been fine,” Dooley said, and remains “on pace” to be available for the start of preseason practice on Aug. 2 after undergoing surgeries on both of his feet this spring.
Smith, a projected starter, injured his right foot during spring practice and had been expected to return in June before the discovery of a minor stress fracture in his left foot prompted the second surgery.