If you’re Derek Dooley, there’s plenty of reason to be cautious heading into the 2012 season. You’ve got a new defensive coordinator who’s looking to slowly indoctrinate a new defensive scheme (3-4), several star players, returning from major injury, who will be counted on to spur the offense and pick up where the defense may sputter (Justin Hunter among them), and a fan base who may or may not be getting a little tired of seeing you wearing the (orange) pants in the Volunteers’ family—despite what your mama has to say about it.
That said, no one can ever accuse Dooley of being unrealistic. If anyone knows how much is on the line next season, it’s him, and he’s certainly not taking anything for granted.
“We’ve got to learn our new scheme and try to fit our personnel within that scheme. That’s not going to be an easy thing to do.”
He said a mouthful there, didn’t he?
Truthfully, despite all the returning talent, he’s got question marks on both sides of the ball because where his new defensive coordinator (former Alabama assistant, Sal Sunseri) will be cutting and pasting the new defense together, his offensive coordinator will likely be hoping that one of his brightest stars—Justin Hunter—can regain his 2010 form in a hurry.
Some might say that even if Hunter doesn’t live up to expectations early, there’s always reason to believe that Da’Rick Rogers will be able to step in and be that guy for Bray. But, I wouldn’t hold my breath too long on that one as Rogers still has some work of his own to do if he hopes to convince his coach that he’s worthy of star status.
“I’m not going to go into all the individuals,” Dooley said when asked about reports that Rogers missed offseason workouts for disciplinary reasons. “We had a lot of guys who missed a workout or two whether it be for academic reasons, whether it’s discipline or injury. We had a ton of that. It’s managing a hundred guys.”
Dooley went on to say that he’s seen progress from Rogers. The Calhoun, Ga., native led the SEC in receptions (67) and finished second in the conference in receiving yards (1,040) as a sophomore.
“He’s like the rest of the team, he’s shown a lot of progress,” Dooley said of Rogers. “His numbers went up in a lot of areas. I think he grew as a player emotionally in a lot of ways, and he’s still got a long way to go in some things.”
From a layperson’s perspective, that statement doesn’t reveal much but if you’ve heard enough
bull coach speak over the years, you can likely translate it as such: He’s still a bit of a prima donna and those big numbers last season didn’t help to settle his ego down much, but we’re working on keeping him focused and trying to get him to understand that what he did last season is going to be irrelevant in 2012. So, I’d appreciate it if you guys didn’t continue building that pedestal you’ve propped him on as that’s not helping our cause much—next question.
Or at least that’s what I read…and I’ve been known to be wrong before.
Either way, Dooley knows the road ahead of him is long—and paved with tar and hot coals.
While he’s got plenty of offensive talent to make noise in a fairly open SEC East, he’s going to have to get out the gate early if he hopes to establish any type of momentum and stave off the naysayers who have already placed him in the unemployment line for this time next year.
His margin of error is less than zero and he’s got plenty of mountains to climb before game one.