KNOXVILLE — Tyler Bray paused in the middle of answering a reporter’s question after practice Thursday afternoon to ask Da’Rick Rogers a question.
“What was it, Da’Rick?” Tennessee’s quarterback playfully barked to his receiver. “We said we were going to hang 28 points on y’all in the first half?”
In any normal game, Bray and Rogers would be teaming up to try to score that many points. Today’s Orange and White Game, which pits Bray (Orange team) and Rogers (White team) against one another, is no normal game.
The Volunteers held a draft for the second consecutive year, with the seniors picking teams — all the way down from players to the people involved in the academics, recruiting and facilities aspects of the football program.
So not only will the Vols be missing six players (defensive end Jacques Smith, offensive tackles Ja’Wuan James and Marques Pair and linebackers Herman Lathers, Austin Johnson and John Propst) who could be key players in the 2011 season, they’ll play with the first and second teams split up.
“I don’t try to put too much stock in the Orange and White game because there’s so many variables,” coach Derek Dooley said. “It’s one of those deals where if a guy plays real well you get really excited, and if he doesn’t play well you go, ‘It’s no big deal.’ So you try to have it both ways as a coach; otherwise you’ll have nightmares all through the offseason.
“Yeah, he played well and we said, ‘Man, he’s going to be good.’ And then if guys play terrible we say, ‘Spring game doesn’t matter.’ That’s when we act like fans, too.”
The Vols likely will spend more time in the coming weeks watching video of the second spring scrimmage instead of the spring game, but to think that today’s proceedings will simply be the players going through the motions of a football conteste would be a mistake.
Dooley likes to harp on intangibles such as toughness, effort and discipline to his team. If post-practice interviews Thursday were any indication, the most important intangible this afternoon will be competitiveness.
“I just want to come out here and win,” said Orange team tailback Tauren Poole. “It’s not about my performance. I’m going to play hard regardless of what happens. I’m just coming out here to win, because that’s when we get the steaks.”
That’s right, today’s winner gets steaks. The losers?
“Hot dogs and water if you lose,” Poole said. “We’ve got to get after it. There’s going to be mouth all throughout the game. It’s been since we’ve known what team we were on. It’s a part of our nature.”
Said Rogers: “I don’t know if I want a hot dog or not. I had one today and it wasn’t too great, so we need to win to get those steaks.”
Bray admitted he was more interested in winning so he could talk trash to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, a White team assistant.
Whether or not the postgame culinary incentives were simply for fun or a means to get the competitive juices flowing, Dooley still will be looking for those intangibles amidst the split first and second teams and basic offensive and defensive playbooks.
“I feel like [Dooley] made it an arena for us to just play hard and compete and be physical by dumbing the offense down a little bit,” Rogers said. “That there just means play fast, play hard and compete.”
“I’ll be upset,” Dooley said, “if we don’t give the effort, don’t play with toughness. That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t want [us] to go out there and flop around. That’s not the purpose.”
That purpose might be to cap off a spring of individual and team improvement and development with a solid showing.
“Any time you can end it on a positive note, it’s great,” Bray said. “The last thing we want is a negative impact for the team going out [when] we need to come back and we have to improve so much. If we can just get a positive ending to this spring, it’d help a lot during the summer.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...