With spring practice winding down, I spoke to Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley about a myriad of topics - some football, some not.
Here are his thoughts on his team and various issues facing college football.
On former UT quarterback Erik's Ainge's revelation that he is a drug addict and used painkillers extensively during his college career:
"It is a scary thing that is happening to our young people out there and I had a personal experience with a relative of mine who because of an addiction to painkillers was killed. This is a very close and personal thing to my life and we have a responsibility to have our antennas up. I even talked to our coaching staff about it. If there is a player using drugs and - even though we have frequent and very diligent drug testing - for whatever reason it isn't showing up, you also have a little awareness about what's happening by looking at them and by talking to them and seeing some mood changes. We have to know when something's going on out there that we can't turn a blind eye too. We are very proactive in trying t make sure something like that never happens in our program but most of all try to help the young people that might go down that bad path." (Ed. note - Dooley declined to provide more specifics about his relative's battle with drug issues.)
"I think in many ways we are not educated enough about the powers of addiction and so often we pass it off as something that happens to a bad person or who doesn't have much discipline. We don't understand what addiction has done to so many good people out there. I'm real proud that Erik is in a stage where he is not afraid to talk about it and work on recovery. When there is a player who might have an addiction we have a responsibility to identify it and support them and try to beat it."
On the NCAA's movement to punish coaches for severe violations:
"It's not fair that coaches can do things and leave an institution and the institution is stuck with some of the problems that they (former coaches) caused, so there is a natural feeling that a coach should be accountable for his own actions. The NCAA is doing a good thing by saying 'You know what we're going to hold the schools accountable, but we're going to hold the coaches accountable for their own personal situation.'
"We're not seeing just lying to the NCAA, but we're really going to see it when we start having secondary violations. There's a mechanism now where if a coach is found to have several secondary violations then the NCAA may suspend them. I think it is hopefully going to get the attention of every coach out there to play by the rules and to do it the right way. I think anytime you're suspending people for foul play it's hard to argue it's a bad thing, it's a good thing."
On the Vols' improvement in spring practice:
"It is exactly where I thought it would be. We ended the year with some exciting plays from young players and that generates a lot of enthusiasm going into next season. The challenge for the coaches is to get these young players to make those exciting plays down after down till they become dependable starters that can help us win a national championship. And we're a long way away from that."
On tailback Tauren Poole's improvement:
"Tauren has made tremendous strides in the first six practices. His numbers in the (first) scrimmage didn't reflect the improvement he has made. I feel like he is on his way to be considerably more productive than he was last year."
On quarterback Tyler Bray's leadership ability:
"(Bray) already is a leader. He makes a good impact in a positive way on the other players, but the most important thing Tyler can do to lead our team is play well and to play well consistently and that's what good quarterback play does; it elevates everybody's spirit. We've really tried to push him from an intellectual standpoint to see how much he can handle and playing quarterback is a journey. The more you take on the more you can get."
On Bray's early struggles in spring practice:
"You can't forget Tyler was throwing to three seniors (wideouts) last year and that made his job easier. Now he's trying to break in new wide receivers and a young tight end and they're not always where they're supposed to be."
On the off-season program in which UT focused on improving its players strength and explosiveness:
"We went through an eight week program before spring practice where we knew we had to improve on our strength and stature on our football because we had some guys that had size but they weren't playing with the kind of explosiveness and strength levels that their size warranted We've had a lot of guys improve their strength levels and it's showing up on the field already. But we have a long way to go in that area."
"It's not a practice that I would do and it's not anything our coaches would do. I think it was a unique circumstance where some guys on another staff knew, recruited and coached some guys on our team. I trust Gerald appreciates what Tennessee has done from him and appreciates the opportunity that he got from it and I think he had a good experience and he helped our football team."
On safety Janzen Jackson's potential return after he withdrew from school in January:
"He's doing well and I'm proud of how he is handling things right now, as long as he stays on the track he is on we expect him to be back this summer."