KNOXVILLE -- After more than two weeks, a weeklong road trip and hours on the practice field, Tennessee's football team finally finished training camp Monday.
And no one in the Volunteers' program appears to be happier about it than coach Derek Dooley.
"Do I appear edgy right now?" he asked with a smirk after lacing sarcasm into his previous answer to a reporter's question. "How long have we talked about this stuff? We're ready to talk about the next opponent. You guys are, too."
The next opponent is North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta in 10 days. Though the preliminary work began sometime during the summer, the true preparation for the Wolfpack will begin this week. With game week approaching and fall-semester classes beginning Wednesday, Tennessee practices just once (Thursday) between now and next week.
Rajion Neal, likely the Vols' starting tailback, admitted he was "too ready" for the end of camp.
"I wouldn't go back and do it all over, I'll tell you that," he said. "We got to it. We were physical."
Two questions about Tennessee's depth chart were enough to make Dooley ponder aloud how many more he might have to "dance around." The coach suggested his defensive line and secondary lineups would continue evolving into the season. The Vols will release a depth chart Thursday.
"We don't really know who's going to be productive on game day," Dooley said. "All we can do is suspect. Ultimately they've got to go out there and prove it."
Neal said camp was more challenging than in past years because of what the Vols feel they must prove.
"A lot of guys had a big chip on their shoulder," he said. "Nobody's dwelling on the past, but we all still kind of had that in the back of our minds how last season ended. A lot of guys came out ready to play.
"We had a great sense of urgency to be out there and want to learn and wanting to get this turned around quickly."
The Haslam Field speakers blared music during the early part of practice for the first time this month, as Dooley responded to players' requests for the artificial energizer. Dooley indicated the Vols had earned the "privilege" of in-practice music much like their night off from practice at Milligan College last week.
Tennessee used music during practices last year.
The playlist included mostly rap music, but Sam Cooke's 1964 "A Change Is Going To Come" jumped out since it was such a change of pace. It turns out the tune is more or less a theme song for the Vols. Unsurprisingly, the idea originated with senior linebacker Herman Lathers, who listened to the song as a pick-me-up during the injury-filled past year of his career.
"It's just to remind the guys we're not going back to the way things used to be," Lathers explained. "There's going to be a change this year. We're just putting Tennessee back where Tennessee needs to be."
Though the last to arrive, Quenshaun Watson was the first freshman tailback to earn unprompted compliments from Dooley with his play. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound dreadlocked speedster scored a touchdown in each of the Vols' two scrimmages, including a 61-yard burst in the first one.
Watson won Georgia's Class AAAA 100-meter dash in May and enrolled at Tennessee in July.
"He's a little light, and this is all new to him," Dooley said. "It probably would have helped him had he been here in the first session and gotten another five weeks of training, but he's got good skill sets. He's fast and elusive [and] instinctive."
Tennessee's tailback class is one fewer now with Davante Bourque's departure. His father, Kirk Landry, told the Crowley (La.) Post Signal that his son was transferring to Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. Bourque left the Vols before they headed to Milligan to return home following the death of his son's grandfather.
"There were just a lot of broken promises," Landry told the paper. "He was homesick and they didn't help it any by not being truthful when they were recruiting him. He was at the point where he wanted to just give up football, but I urged him to stick it out.
"I wasn't happy at all when he told me he was coming home. Everything that was going on had him so messed up in the head. He wasn't able to concentrate on football -- that's how frustrated they had him up in Knoxville."
Bourque was a four-star prospect who signed with Tennessee after reneging on commitments to LSU and Texas A&M.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
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 ...