KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley typically ventures from position group to position group during the portion of the Tennessee football team's practice that's open to the media, but the Volunteers' head coach tends to hang around the running backs perhaps just a little bit longer than the others.
With starter Tauren Poole day-to-day with a hamstring strain, the Vols' bad rushing game and top-ranked LSU visiting at the end of the week, Dooley might want to hang around his backs even more.
Freshman Marlin Lane would take over if Poole, who was limited and exercised on the side during the open part of practice, can't play. Freshmen Tom Smith and Devrin Young are getting looks as well.
"They've looked the same," Dooley said after Tuesday morning's practice. "We've been looking at them -- we'll keep looking at guys, but there's not going to be an answer. We're not going to hand the ball off on Saturday and some guy rushes for 220 [yards] and go, 'Oh, now we've got it.' It's not going to happen.
"Let's don't start building excitement that there's some new answer on the horizon. It's a daily grind. We get better, we get better and we get better."
UT's runners must be better than they've been. The offensive line has gotten plenty of blame for the Vols' poor running game, but the top two tailbacks are averaging 1.5 yards per carry in Southeastern Conference play.
UT's defense has allowed opening-possession points against Cincinnati, Florida and Georgia, the three best offenses it's faced. The Bearcats scored a long touchdown and Georgia needed two fourth-down conversions to kick a field goal.
"I can't really explain it," said defensive back Prentiss Waggner. "We've just got to do a better job of getting off the field on third down and just playing more aggressively at the beginning of the game."
LSU has scored on its opening possession in all but one game this season, including first-drive touchdowns against Northwestern State, West Virginia and Florida. The Tigers have trailed for just 6:33 all season.
"We get out there with a lot of anxiety, just people excited to play the game," UT defensive lineman Malik Jackson said. "We've just got to calm down and go out there and play football and don't let the big-time stage get to us."
Waggner nearly forced two turnovers himself against the Bulldogs, but Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell's first-quarter fumble rolled out of bounds and the junior couldn't hold on to an interception later in the game. That left the Vols with just five takeaways this season, which is the lowest total in the SEC.
"Defensively we're doing a lot of good things, but as far as creating bad events ... we're not creating," Dooley said. "As far as that attacking, creating stuff, I think it comes in time. It starts with a lot of good players across the board who play confident and aggressive and not afraid to make a mistake. We've got to just keep getting better at that [because] we're not there yet."
Injured quarterback Tyler Bray was at practice Tuesday in warmups with the broken thumb on his right hand in a cast and his arm in a sling. The sophomore will miss an estimated six weeks.
"He's not having surgery. It just heals," Dooley said. "The only reason he's got that sling on is because they want him to elevate it. Tyler admittedly is too lazy to walk around and elevate it, so we put him in a sling to force the elevation."
Middle linebacker Austin Johnson and nose tackle Daniel Hood, two starters on defense, were in red noncontact jerseys during practice Tuesday, and though Hood was more limited he did some exercising on the side.
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 ...