HOOVER, Ala. — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley sounded a bit of a warning to the rest of the SEC in his Media Days appearance Thursday.
“I know the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times,” Dooley said. “But there’s a nice mood on our team right now that you’re not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore.”
Tennessee has gone 11-14 (4-12 SEC) in Dooley’s first two seasons as its coach. The Vols were 5-7 (1-7 SEC) last season, including their first loss in 27 years to Kentucky.
“It definitely was a lot of frustration, especially after the loss to Kentucky,” said Tennessee offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James, who attended North Gwinnett High. “We all just came together as players and talked about it and said, ‘We’re on a mission this year to bring Tennessee back to what it used to be.’ … We’ve been working all offseason so we can do that.”
Dooley obviously is encouraged:
“I feel better today about where we are as a program than at any point since I’ve been in Knoxville, and I mean that,” he said. “Probably the No. 1 reason for that is for the first time we have a settled roster. We have a full 85 on scholarship; we have 19 starters back. So we have a lot of experience.
“I think for a microcosm of what we’ve been through, where we were, where we are now, you look at the offensive line,. Two years ago, we were going into a season with a combined three starts [from the O-line], and now we’re going in with a combined 106.
“You look at the quarterback position. We went in with a group that hadn’t played one SEC game. Now, we’ve got a group that’s played in 20.
“We’re certainly deeper than we’ve been. It’s so important to be deep and talented because you can’t allow an injury or two that happens to every team to decimate your season. We’re certainly more talented in many ways – actually getting talked about in some of the All-SEC preseason stuff.
“… So I’m excited about the season, and I feel like we got a team that can go toe to toe for four quarters with all the teams in our league. It certainly doesn’t mean we’ve arrived; it certainly doesn’t mean we’re where we want to be at every position.”
Dooley conceded the Vols have ample room for improvement, “because we really weren’t good at anything” last season.
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