Can Vols get an 'A' in chemistry?

When Tennessee's football players discuss chemistry this spring, they aren't talking about a class that will help them graduate; they're talking about an attribute that will help them win.

There wasn't a lot of team chemistry in Big Orange Country last fall, as the Vols slumped from a preseason top-five ranking to a forgettable 8-5 season that ended with a 30-3 Peach Bowl loss to Maryland. As a result, Tennessee's players are making a conscious effort to become more close-knit this spring.

''Last year, we really didn't bond together as we should have, and I think that is a key thing,'' safety Rashad Baker said. ''This team has the chemistry to be better as a whole. We just need to hang out together and know we are there for each other.''

Linebacker Robert Peace touched on the same theme when asked what the Vols need in order to get back to being a championship-level program.

''We need chemistry,'' he said. ''We (veterans) are getting the young guys to follow. This is becoming a tighter unit. Obviously, this is not something that happens overnight. It (team chemistry) is definitely better than it was at the Peach Bowl.''

Defensive end Karlton Neal also emphasizes the Vols' need for a better attitude in 2003.

''We may have gotten the big head a little last summer,'' he said. ''We knew we were going to be rated pretty high and all. I don't know where they got it, but some guys thought they didn't have to work out as much because we were supposed to be really good. This year we are keeping it as humble as possible. If we start out No. 20, that is just fine. We can work our way up.''

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