"People ask me, ‘Well, are you going to do some extra practicing for the young guys?' My answer was, ‘We don't need to. In normal practice, we practice our young guys because that's all we've got.'"
That's only a slight exaggeration. Six Vol freshmen are first-teamers and 10 more finished the regular season as second-teamers.
The first-teamers are quarterback Tyler Bray, offensive linemen JerQuari Schofield, James Stone and Ja'Wuan James, fullback Channing Fugate and safety Brent Brewer. The second-teamers are offensive linemen Zach Fulton and Daniel Hood, wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da' Rick Rogers, defensive ends Corey Miller and Jacques Smith, defensive tackle Joseph Ayres, linebacker John Propst, cornerback Eric Gordon and punter/place-kicker Michael Palardy.
These 16 freshmen already got plenty of practice repetitions, so Vol coaches are unlikely to learn anything new about them during bowl preparations. The staff could learn a lot, however, about the few newcomers who played sparingly or redshirted.
The former category includes tailbacks Rajion Neal and Toney Williams, wideout Matt Milton, guard Kevin Revis, defensive tackle Arthur Jeffery, linebacker Raiques Crump and safety Dontavis Sapp. The redshirt group includes offensive tackle Marques Pair, quarterback Nash Nance, defensive tackle Greg Clark, defensive end Martaze Jackson, defensive back Ted Meline and punter Matt Darr.
The 15 bowl practices will provide these players every chance to make progress and perhaps make an impression on the coaching staff. Even the freshmen who played key roles during the regular season will benefit from the extra workouts.
"It's a good opportunity for us to continue to coach and develop all these freshmen who've contributed so well this year but who need so much more development," Dooley said. "So we're happy about that."
During the Phil Fulmer years, Tennessee generally played around 25 percent of its freshmen and redshirted around 75 percent. Those figures essentially have been flip-flopped the past two years because of UT's depth problems. With fewer redshirts than usual to assess, Dooley will spend less of Tennessee's bowl preparation time gearing up for the future.
"If we had more guys redshirted, we would have a little more time to integrate them into the practice," the coach said. "We don't have to do that. So I'm not sure we'd have a lot more practices, but they would be structured a little differently."
When Dooley was an assistant to Nick Saban at LSU, the Tigers always devoted a good portion of their bowl preparation to analyzing the unproven freshmen. As head coach at Louisiana Tech the past three years, however, Dooley encountered much the same situation that he faces this year at Tennessee.
"It was similar at Tech," he recalled. "We didn't have any guys when I went there, either. It was pretty depleted.... We went through this same sort of deal there."