"This team ... I feel like we're still together," All-America safety and team captain Eric Berry said earlier today. "We kind of went our different ways last year - offense and defense. There was probably a little bit of finger-pointing last year. That's been a point of emphasis this year: We're not going to have any of that finger-pointing."
There was speculation that the '08 team became divided because the offense couldn't carry its weight. The offense is struggling again in '09 but there does not appear to be a rift developing between offensive and defensive players this time.
"Right now I feel we're still a team," Berry said. "We're still going out there working, and there hasn't been any finger-pointing. That's what I'm very proud of with this team."
Senior center Cody Sullins agreed that the biggest difference between the 2008 team and the 2009 team is its mental approach.
"I think the morale of the team is still pretty high," he said. "Nobody's down. Nobody's down in the dumps and thinking the whole season's over. The coaches are doing a great job of keeping us up and motivated. They're putting new stuff in the game plan and energizing everybody.
"There's not that much negativity going around, as there was in the past, and I think we'll be able to win a lot more games this year."
Asked if the players got down on themselves a year ago, Sullins shook his head.
"Not down, but it was just a different feeling," he replied. "Everybody was just saddened and sickened by the whole thing. It was just a down year for the most part."
Except for the Oct. 24 visit to No. 3 Alabama, the Vols have a reasonable shot at winning their seven remaining games - vs. Georgia, at Alabama, vs. South Carolina, vs. Memphis, at Ole Miss, vs. Vanderbilt, at Kentucky. The players believe the season is still salvageable.
As Sullins put it: "I just know that if we keep our heads up and keep fighting, keep working every day in practice, things will turn around for us this year."
Berry thinks so, too.
"We're still together, despite the fact we're 2-3," he said. "We're still in a position to win a lot of games. This is a long season and a tough division, so anything can happen."