KNOXVILLE — As Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley’s shirt read on Thursday, Milligan College football is undefeated since 1950.
The Vols were hoping a little of that karma rubbed off as they packed up a fleet of yellow school buses and moved their training camp to Northeast Tennessee for a week starting today.
“We want to limit ourselves from the distractions and simulate what used to be very common as it relates to team chemistry, getting to know each and building leadership and togetherness,” Dooley said. “It’s just about creating time where we are away from all that stuff.”
Some of that “stuff” showed up during Thursday’s practice, held indoors because of heavy rain, as the Tennesee defense struggled to control the offense.
“They had a lot of mental errors and gave up some big plays because of it,” Dooley said. “This is the time in camp, especially with the volume of stuff we are throwing at them, it is mental error, mental error, mental error. We have to push them to learn and, at some point, we’ll kind of back it down so they can play fast.”
Dooley isn’t the only one excited about the opportunity to get away and focus on just football for a while.
“I think that this gives our team an opportunity to grow closer,” junior linebacker Jacques Smith said. “This summer we’ve grown as a strong unit and I feel like this is another step that we can take to becoming a really, really great team. We are going to go there and focus in on everything we need to do to get better. Once we come back it is game time in the Georgia Dome.”
A native of Ooltewah, Smith was familiar with Milligan College before it was announced the Vols would train there, but probably could not have picked it out on a map.
“I kind of knew where it was from driving past it,” Smith said. “I didn’t know the exact location, but I knew it is out there in the boonies.”
Dooley provided an update on injuries to junior wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and freshman linebacker Kenny Bynum on Thursday.
“Cordarrelle hurt his shoulder,” Dooley said. “He fell down after he made a catch so he’s got a little small sprain but it shouldn’t be too bad. Kenny Bynum tore his meniscus so he’ll be out for a while. Right now they are kind of figuring out what surgical procedures they want to do.”
With one inside linebacker going down, another is beginning to work his way back. Redshirt freshman Christian Harris, out with a torn ACL, donned the pads and got some running in during practice Thursday, the first time since undergoing surgery four months ago.
The competition at punter between redshirt sophomore Matt Darr and junior Michael Palardy should be interesting as both have game experience. Punting is an area that the Vols aim to improve in 2012. Tennessee ranked last in the SEC in 2011 with a 37.8-yard punting average.
“(Matt Darr and Michael Palardy) are still competing for that job,” Dooley said. “I want the most productive guy, the most consistently productive player, to punt for us. The same thing for kicker, so we are going to do a fair evaluation of all of them to see who is the better guy.”
Sophomore tailback Marlin Lane is looking to make a big impression this week at the Milligan College camp.
Motivated after an inconsistent freshman season and coming back from an ACL injury while he was in high school, Lane expects to compete for major time in the backfield this season. The Daytona Beach, Fla., native thinks the running back race is wide open at this point in training camp as he competes with Rajion Neal and Devrin Young for playting time.
“I’m just feeling a whole lot better this year,” said Lane, who ran for 280 yards as a freshman. “I’m more comfortable with knowing my plays and reading my keys. I’m just doing what I can to help the run game. The knee injury is way behind me. I’m healthy and ready to go. It’s not going to slow me down.”
Sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt played in 11 of Tennessee’s 12 games last season, starting in eight of them at SAM linebacker as a true freshman in 2011.
Since then, the Vols have revamped their defense and installed a 3-4, which benefits Maggitt’s versatility. Maggitt could find himself anywhere in the defensive front seeing time at various linebacker spots or with his hand down on the line.
“I learned a lot playing last year,” said Maggitt. “I know what the game speed is like, what to expect, and to recognize a lot of small details in the offenses and defenses.”