Q&A with Derek Dooley

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With the frenzy of National Signing Day in the rear view mirror, Tennessee coach Derek Dooley took the time to sit down for a one-on-one interview with InsideTennessee.

Before Dooley gets even deeper into the Class of 2013 and spring practice, he opened up to answer several questions at length:

InsideTennessee: For the first time since you got here it looks like you're going to have a full roster of 85 guys on scholarship. How nice is that to have?

Derek Dooley:It's the first time that I felt like since I've been here that we not only have a deeper team, but we have a more experienced team. So we feel like that we are starting to get the kind of depth at each position that you need to have to compete at this level and we certainly are going to bring back some experience that we haven't been able to do the last two years. So that's a positive thing because the lack of depth really reared its ugly head last year. When you lose a couple guys you can't have it totally transform what your team looks like. So hopefully we won't have that situation again.

IT:You have seven guys in this class on campus already, a third of the signing class. How competitive is this spring going to be?

Dooley:I hope it is going to be very competitive and I hope it makes our team better and I hope it makes every individual better. That's usually what competition does.

IT:Looking back at 24 months on the job, given what the roster was in the very beginning does it look worse now than even what you expected when you got off the plane and started talking with Mike Hamilton?

Rising junior Michael Palardy may be able to concentrate on kicking after also punting his sophomore season.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

Dooley:When I walked out my first spring practice, I knew that our roster was in a real difficult position because of the attrition that has happened. So we knew it couldn't get it fixed in a year by one signing class. I knew it would take several signing classes, but what we do feel good about now is that we've had three in a row that we think are quality signing classes and can compete at this level. The trick to this deal is stacking signing class after signing class after signing class. Then, over the course of time, you've got a good-looking football game that can get out there and compete.

I think we played 17-18 freshmen two years in a row. You hope you get into the spot where you don't play that many. You'd like to play about 8-10 at the most. So I don't know. We will see. If the freshmen are better then we are going to play them.

IT:Having to come in and play as a freshman, does that affect their mental psyche? Will it be a better football team when you have guys that have to sit 2-3 years to get on to the field that have to work and pay their dues before getting out there?

Dooley:I think what you're getting back to is really what is just your investment level into the program. The fact of the matter is the younger you are as a program, the less investment you you put in because when the clock starts ticking and you see this could be my last year there is an elevated standard that you kind of put on yourself. That just comes with maturity.

Everybody plays freshmen and they can make a difference but where it was challenging was when there was not much upperclassman leadership around them to help them and to support them and show them what good looks like. That's probably being a bigger issue more than anything not having older players around them who are all-conference type players and establish a standard of how you work, how you compete, how you represent every day. Not having that, they kind of have to go figure it out on their own.

IT:This past year and some of the seasons prior, there have been some issues with the kicking game that played into the final result. With coach Charlie Coiner joining the staff, does he have some special teams and kicking expertise where he can help with Matt Darr and Michael Palardy and those types of guys?

Dooley:We have kind of a structured approach with those guys. Of course all kickers and punters have their own mentors and coaches that they grew up with. I think the biggest thing that's going to help those two guys is maturity and a year. We forget that Matt was a freshman out there punting. In fact, I was talking to Dustin Colquitt and he talked about his freshman year and how difficult it was. He said he averaged about 38 yards a punt and all the challenges that come with being young.

Of course this was the first year Mike had to go and assume both roles and go out there and do it and he is only a sophomore. I'm hoping that maturity level will help them. They are certainly very talented. We will continue to try to coach them as best we can.

Tennessee's roster is close to building the depth necessary to overcome injuries to key players.

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