KNOXVILLE - Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley said Monday that fans should be upset with how the Volunteers have played during their 0-4 start in Southeastern Conference play.
At least one player agrees with his embattled third-year coach.
"People are entitled to their right minds," said linebacker Curt Maggitt, who played 62 snaps through a stinger and turf toe in a 31-point loss to top-ranked Alabama.
"Like Coach Dooley said, they shouldn't be happy [with] the way we've been performing."
Tennessee continued its preparations for Saturday's trip to 17th-ranked South Carolina on Tuesday morning and maintained its energy level from last week despite the mounting losses, fan frustration and chatter about the future of the program.
"This team's been like this all year," Dooley said. "Doesn't mean we're not all hurting a little bit. But we've got to dust it off and get a little confidence going.
"Every team's different. This team's been pretty consistent in its practice habits, so whether we play well or not, the practice has been good. Our biggest thing is on game day."
Game days haven't been kind to the Vols, who have the SEC's worst defense in yards and points allowed and a quarterback Tyler Bray who's turned the ball over a combined nine times in Tennessee's four losses to teams that are 27-1 combined and all in the top 12 of the latest BCS standings.
As some players said after the Alabama loss, Maggitt said the Vols are insulated to all the outside negativity and chatter surrounding the program.
"We like really don't think about it at all," said the sophomore. "It's not the coaches. It's the players.
"Coaches give us the scheme, and we go out there and execute it. We haven't been doing a good job of that at all. The pressure shouldn't be on [Dooley] as much, I feel like. We don't look too much into it.
"We don't think about it. We go out there in practice trying to get better. We know we have a big game coming up, and that's important for us and not worrying about the future."
Dooley said last week he talks to his team about avoiding the external noise, and one of his biggest challenges with five games remaining on the schedule is keeping up his team's spirit and having them ready to play.
"Coach Dooley does a good job with us handling it," Maggitt said. "He tells us he knows what we're capable of, and we just have to go out there and do it. We haven't been playing the way we can, and that's important. It's on us, definitely."
Hunter talks skid
Tennessee's Justin Hunter is the top-rated draft-eligible on ESPN analyst Toddy McShay's 2013 NFL draft board, but the junior has just nine catches in the last three games and had a brutal drop against the Crimson Tide.
Dooley was tough on his star wideout publicly on Monday, saying that Hunter hadn't performed to his lofty billing. A couple of tweets from Hunter later Monday that were quickly deleted indicated he was unhappy with his coach's comments, but Hunter cleared the air on Tuesday.
"That's my coach," Hunter said. "He sees me every day, so he knows what I'm doing and what I'm not doing right."
The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder also answered a question Tuesday on if the NFL chatter was a factor in his play.
"I just focus on now, what's going on now," he said. "I can't have my mind clouded and distracted by all that when I've got to have a season right here with my team. I try hard to not think about it.
"It has been brought up, and I just tell them that I don't feel like hearing it."
Said Dooley: "He had a great swagger coming into the year. We've got to get that back."
Alex Bullard worked with the first-team offense at right guard in place of Zach Fulton, who wore a boot at practice on his injured left ankle. Marcus Jackson also is getting looks at the position. Both players have been part of the Vols' offensive-line rotation this season.
Though he went through individual drills Tuesday, starting tailback Rajion Neal (ankle) still didn't look 100 percent. Marlin Lane, who started and tallied more than 100 yards of offense against Alabama, ran with the first-team offense during the open period of practice. Dooley said his leading rusher remains probable for Saturday.
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 ...