Vols showing new commitment level

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HOOVER, Ala. — Following Tennessee's 10-7 loss at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats on Nov. 26, 2011, there were some serious questions as to what kind of leadership, if any, Derek Dooley's squad had last season.

However, it is evident that current players have taken the issue by the horns throughout the offseason program, after what some called an embarrassing loss, which kept the Tennessee out of the bowl circuit following the 2011 season.

"I think after the loss to Kentucky (we turned things around)," Herman Lathers told InsideTennessee. "During the spring we took it upon ourselves to hold each other accountable, be there for each other and do more stuff together as a team to unite as a team."

Lathers, who has been a crucial player in regards to team building this summer, added that the 2012 squad is far more united than any other in Dooley's tenure in Knoxville.

"Dooley has been here, I think he is going on his third year, this team based on the last two teams he has had, is really ahead of the past two teams," Lathers said. "There are a lot of guys stepping up and we have come together as a team.

"A lot of guys are trying to get guys together and do stuff as a team. So far we have had three or four cookouts at my house this summer. We are going to have one or two more at my house before fall camps starts. We do a lot of stuff as a team — last week we went and played laser tag as a team. We are doing a lot as a team just to build that bound and that trust."

Lathers, a redshirt senior, has undergone numerous surgeries during his time at Tennessee, including a season-ending ankle injury prior to what he thought was his final year on Rocky Top.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray isn't just a player anymore. He is a leader.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Dooley says that Lathers has become somewhat of a "father figure" to the current Tennessee players and his story has everything to do with his status among his peers.

"Herman is an amazing story, he really is," Dooley said Thursday. "You talk about adversity — he has been through it all. He brings a presence on that defensive side and really to our whole team of maturity that I think has spread through the whole team. They see what he has done and it is hard to complain about what their hurts are."

Lathers has been key helping his teammates adjust to defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's new 3-4 defense after watching countless hours of film and recalling his time at Scotlandville (La.) High School, where he ran the defensive scheme as a three-star linebacker prospect.

"I came in on my own with coach Sal and we had a lot of one-on-one meetings," Lathers said. "I studied it a lot. Most of it came easy to me because I have learned a lot of defenses here. I was able to help a lot of guys and our secondary right now."

Dooley has already seen signs that his team is taking the proper steps in the way of leadership, but things won't truly be settled the Vols are thrown into the inferno of their 2012 season.

"Every day in practice you want to see the level of commitment is, the level of work and how important it is to them," Dooley said. "You have some of those teams where you go out there and it's like you are punishing them going through training camp.

"Some teams come out and they can't wait to work because they are so excited. That is what I have seen from this team so far. Work is something that they want to do because they want to do well this fall."

One crucial piece to the Vols new sense of accountability has been junior quarterback Tyler Bray, who was thrust into the spotlight when he was placed on the list of players to represent the Vols at SEC Media Days.

"Last year I didn't bring him down here," Dooley said of Bray. "He has to get in this role. He is our quarterback and the face of our offense. He has to understand what it is like to stand in front of all these cameras and be accountable to (the media) just like he is accountable to the team."

Bray even took part of his offseason to learn from All-Pro quarterback and former Volunteer great Peyton Manning at his yearly passing academy.

"He went down to the Manning Academy," Dooley said. "I think that was good for him — getting around those other quarterbacks, getting around Peyton and Eli. Seeing what it means to be a quarterback. I have seen a lot of growth and I am proud of him, but he still has a lot of work to do."

Lathers, Bray and the Volunteers will put their new attitude to the test for the first time when Tennessee opens their 2012 season against North Carolina State on Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome.

Tennessee redshirt senior linebacker Herman Lathers addresses the media at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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