'Developing a brand'

Some coaches call it the team's identity. Some call it the team's personality. Derek Dooley calls it the team's brand.

Whatever you call it, finding it is one of Dooley's primary objectives in his first spring practice as head coach of the Tennessee Vols.

Noting that one of the most important tasks in the weeks ahead will be to "develop our brand of how we compete and how we play," he added: "We should never lose sight of that. I'm talking, not just schematically, but more so from an intangible standpoint.

"What kind of competitive spirit do we practice and play with? What's our discipline level? What's our toughness level? What's our effort level on every play?"

Growing in all of these areas is crucial, he said, so that "ultimately we're a team that's enjoyable to watch. Those are some short-term goals we're going to try to accomplish."

Dooley recently asked Vol upperclassmen what they envisioned their "brand" being. Their responses pleased him.

"I had a meeting with the seniors," he recalled, "and the first thing I talked about was 'What do you want people to say about our team when they see us play?' Words came out such as discipline - meaning they're doing what they're supposed to do, not looking sloppy, not having unnecessary penalties, not killing themselves. Words such as toughness - which this program has always been built on, physical and mental toughness. Words such as effort - flying to the ball every snap and playing with great team competitive spirit ... meaning you're never affected by things that go bad in a game and you don't get too excited when things go good.

"Those are the intangible values that I think all teams strive to have. Saying that's easy. The hard part is doing it, so how we structure our program and how we reinforce those values everyday is going to be important."

Offensively, Tennessee is going to have a new quarterback, a new tailback, four new starters in the offensive line this season. Defensively, there will be two new tackles, at least one new linebacker and two new defensive backs. With so many new faces in key roles, Dooley says he'll stress the fundamentals even more than usual.

"It always starts with everybody improving fundamentally at their position," he said. "Regardless of the year, that's the beauty of spring practice - to improve fundamentally."

With a new staff, new schemes and new terminology, much of the spring will be devoted to getting familiar with the new faces and new systems.

"Certainly, this year it's going to be a great chance for our team to learn and digest and become experts in all of our systems - on offense, defense and special teams," Dooley said. "That's a big goal. And, don't forget, we have nine coaches who are all kind of new to each other."

The new boss said the Vols have had "14 good workouts" in terms of offseason drills designed to assess quickness and athleticism. The real assessments take place once the pads go on, however.

"You can only evaluate so much in watching guys jump over bags," he said. "But we'll have a good feel for our personnel coming out of spring."

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