The Vols' football team has officially completed its second week of spring practice, and in true UT sports fashion, there was plenty to talk about.
Entering his second season as UT's coach, Derek Dooley is poised to make the necessary changes and utilize the talents of his young team.
"We installed short-yardage and goal-line (situations) today, which is always a fun day, because you get to go down there and do a little live goal-line," Dooley said on Tuesday. "I think the biggest thing that I've noticed in the first four or five practices is the young guys, when things don't go their way, learning how to play out of it, learning how to refocus on the next play, not get frustrated."
There was also a familiar face in an unfamiliar place this week. Former UT men's basketball point guard Melvin Goins practiced with the football team for the first time during his tenure at Tennessee.
Dooley said he had confidence in Goins and believed his skills on the court can translate to the gridiron.
"We got a new face out there," Dooley said. "(Goins) averaged — I looked on the stats — 1.7 steals a game. And I told him he'd make all-conference if he just keeps up that pace in football. Melvin wanted to play — he hadn't played in a long time — so I thought it was better just to come out now and get a little feel. We're not going to throw him out there in the fire. And then after spring, maybe he'll decide if he wants to really invest in it."
Senior Malik Jackson is a player who knows something about making an immediate impact as a newcomer. The senior defensive lineman was one of the most consistent players on the defensive side of the ball after transferring from USC last season.
Jackson is grateful to be back on the field practicing with his teammates.
"Practice has gone well so far," Jackson said. "We have some new plays in that everyone's trying to figure out. As far as practice, everyone's running around and having fun. We've had a few scrimmages, so it's been a pretty good week."
Another new face at practice was Alex Bullard, a Franklin native and former Notre Dame offensive lineman who transferred to UT following his father's death in January. If granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA, Bullard would be eligible to play during the 2011 season.
"I put the waiver in, so we should know by the end of the spring," Bullard said. "I feel pretty good about it, so we'll just have to wait and see."
But Bullard isn't waiting right now. He will most likely spent the remainder of spring practice as the the first-team right tackle because starter Ja'Wuan James has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, a situation that has presented some problems for Dooley.
"We're going to put Bullard at right tackle, but we were really hoping to rep Bullard some at center," the coach said. "We were getting ready to do that to see if he could play center. But now, our hands are tied a little bit at tackle. We're really short on tackles without Ja'Wuan, and he was doing really well. That's disappointing."
Sophomore wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers are also a main focus during UT's spring practice. With the departures of Denarious Moore and Gerald Jones, the former top prospects likely will see an increase in playing time.
"It's really going to take maturity to replace Jones and Moore," Rogers said. "We know what we have to do to step up and replace them, and we just have to do it."
Rogers also credited wide receivers coach, Charlie Baggett, and praised Baggett's work with the receivers during the spring practice thus far.
"Coach Baggett has been on us even harder than last year," Rogers said. "The fact is, this is it. There's no, 'I need D-Mo (Moore), I need D-Mo.' it's just us now."