Dooley's prediction: 'You're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore'

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 19, 2012 

HOOVER, Ala. — Derek Dooley channeled his inner Elvis Presley on Thursday morning.

"A little less conversation and a little more action," the Tennessee coach urged as he took his turn on the dais at Southeastern Conference Media Days. "We have to go out and prove it, and that's what we intend to do this year."

The third-year head coach, known for his bright-orange, game-day knickers, made it clear that the Vols are working their way back up the SEC ladder.

"It's been a tough four years in Tennessee," he said. "The SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times. But there's a nice mood on our team right now that you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore."

Dooley made it clear, as Presley did so many years ago in that hit song, that all of this "aggravation ain't satisfactioning" him.

That "aggravation" includes a spot firmly in the well-worn coaching hot seat. Unlike Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips the day before, Dooley did not field any questions about his job security in Knoxville when he went in front of the main media room at The Wynfrey Hotel.

Strangely, Dooley's former boss, Alabama Coach Nick Saban, did field questions about the Tennessee coach's future and the job he's done at Tennessee, which finished 1-7 in conference last season.

One of those losses was a season-ending one at Kentucky, snapping the Volunteers' 26-game winning streak over the Cats.

"I think Derek Dooley has done a really good job," Saban said earlier Thursday morning of Dooley, who's gone 11-14 overall and 4-12 in conference while at Tennessee.

"He inherited a very difficult situation. A lot of things, a lot of lack of continuity probably created a difficult situation in terms of quality of personnel depth. I think Derek has done a lot of things to create a lot of program stability there. ... I look for them to have a much better team this year. I think that Derek is going to be just fine and do a wonderful job in the future at Tennessee."

Despite finishing in the standings cellar, the Vols were picked ahead of both Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the SEC media poll, which was released on Thursday.

UK was picked to finish last in the vote of media members attending this season's kickoff event.

That loss at Kentucky left a terrible taste in Tennessee's mouth this off-season, several of its players said.

"It definitely was a lot of frustration especially after the loss to Kentucky," offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said.

The UT players got together as a group and decided to reset, declaring that "We're on a mission this year to bring Tennessee back to what it used to be," James said.

Quarterback Tyler Bray, whose injury made last season even more difficult for Dooley, reiterated that mission.

"We haven't had the seasons Tennessee's had in the past, but we're going to try to change that. We have great leadership this year and a good offense and a good defense."

Dooley said special emphasis has been placed on improving the Vols' running game and getting more production from their defense, which forced just 18 turnovers last season, third lowest in the SEC.

"We needed to be a lot more aggressive to impact the game in a positive way," Dooley said. "We had some respectable statistics in some areas, but I never felt like we impacted the game from a negative play standpoint, from a turnover standpoint, from a sack standpoint. We're going to try to be a little more aggressive on defense."

But as Dooley said from the start, the Vols are tired of the talk.

They're ready to play ball.

"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," Dooley said.

Cats picked last

If Kentucky manages to make noise in the SEC East this season, it will be big news for the media members who voted in the annual pre-season poll.

The Cats were picked last by the record number of ballots (222) submitted this week to the SEC. The predicted order of finish in the SEC East: 1. Georgia; 2. South Carolina; 3. Florida; 4. Missouri; 5. Tennessee; 6. Vanderbilt; 7. Kentucky.

The top two teams in the West, Louisiana State and Alabama, also were picked 1-2 in the championship voting, followed by Georgia and South Carolina. Arkansas, Auburn, Florida and Ole Miss also received votes.

For the first time in five years, LSU was picked to win the SEC title. It's just the second time since 1992 that the Tigers were predicted to win the championship.

The predicted order of finish in the West: 1. Louisiana State; 2. Alabama; 3. Arkansas; 4. Auburn; 5. Texas A&M; 6. Mississippi State; 7. Ole Miss.

Kentucky had just one player, offensive lineman Larry Warford, picked to the media poll. Warford was on the second team.

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore was the leading vote-getter, showing up on 201 of the ballots. LSU had 13 overall selections, including seven first-teamers. That 13 selections was the second-highest ever, only behind Alabama's 16 this past season.

Warford on watch list

UK lineman Larry Warford picked up another pre-season nod on Thursday when he was named to the annual Rotary Lombardi Award Watch list, honoring the nation's best lineman or linebacker.

Warford also was named to the Outland Trophy Watch list last week. The Rotary Lombardi Award will be presented on Dec. 5 in Houston.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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