Florida rout still fresh in Vols' minds

August, 2, 2008
8/02/08
12:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A few things to munch on (or chomp on if you're a Florida fan) from Tennessee's Media Day. The Vols open practice later today. Check back later, and I'll have a Q&A with the Vols' super sophomore, safety Eric Berry:

  • Despite making it to the SEC championship game last season, nobody on Tennessee's team has forgotten the 59-20 beating the Vols suffered at Florida a year ago.

The Gators never let off the gas pedal, as Tim Tebow was still in the game well into the fourth quarter, and Florida was still throwing the ball up four and five touchdowns.

"No one likes to lose by that type of deficit," Berry said. "Yeah, it's in our minds. It's like the third-grade bully beating you up last year. You're not going to forget that, come on."

Senior defensive tackle Demonte Bolden, who was furious following last year's game and angrily dropped an F-bomb in front of the cameras in the interview area, pointed out that the Gators have to come to Neyland Stadium this season.

The date is Sept. 20.

"Where are we at this year?" Bolden repeated. "We're at our house The last time we were at our house, they beat us by a field goal ... wow."

Bolden is also obviously tired of hearing about Tebow, who had 360 yards of total offense and four touchdowns against the Vols last season.

"Man, I don't care about Tebow," Bolden said. "Yeah, he's an All-American, but he's a regular player. Get him back on the field. You know what I'm saying. I made hits on him last year. This year, I'm going to get back to him a lot quicker. I'm not going to talk junk. I just want to play the game ... play the game."

Bolden, one of the Vols' most emotional and outspoken players, also said he wouldn't have voted for Tebow for the Heisman Trophy.

"I would have voted for Erik Ainge, Eric Berry, somebody on my squad," Bolden said. "Yeah, he's a good player. He brings the total package to his team, but I'm not hyped on him. He's a good quarterback, but he ain't on my team."

  • One of the first questions Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer fielded was one that's starting to become commonplace for the Vols this time of year.

What's it going to take to get back to the next level?

The Vols haven't won an SEC title since their 1998 national championship season.

"We've been to the (SEC) championship game more than anybody else," said Fulmer, referring to the Vols' five trips to Atlanta in the last 11 years. "The next thing we've got to do is win the championship, the SEC championship. That's been frustrating to everybody concerned. In this league, it's a few plays and a few players that make the difference."

  • Fulmer said there's still no official word on the eligibility of tight end Brandon Warren and linebacker/defensive end Gerald Williams.

Warren, a transfer from Florida State, still needs to be cleared by both the NCAA (didn't complete a year's residency at Florida State) and the SEC (progress toward his degree) before he's eligible to play. Warren will practice today. He transferred to Tennessee to be closer to his mother, who had a cancerous kidney removed and lives in nearby Alcoa.

Fulmer clearly is not pleased with the whole delay.

"We're still waiting on the SEC to give us some sort of response," Fulmer said. "Apparently, the commissioner is up to his neck and eyeballs working with the TV contracts. We have not gotten an answer back, which I think is long overdue."

Williams, who first signed with the Vols in February of 2005, has one more correspondence course he has to pass before he's eligible. He transferred from City College of San Francisco and will also practice today.

Fulmer said Williams would start out at middle linebacker, but would also get a chance as an end.

"He's a big, physical guy who can help in a lot of places," Fulmer said. "We'll see where he can help our team. He'll definitely get an opportunity on third down and early in practice to see what kind of pass-rusher he can be."

  • Tight ends will play a key role in the Vols' offense this season under first-year coordinator Dave Clawson, and Fulmer thinks they have four who can play.

One of those, Jeff Cottam, will miss the first two or three weeks of preseason practice after not responding to offseason surgery as well as Tennessee had hoped.

However, freshman tight end Aaron Douglas is ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery. The other two are sophomore Luke Stocker and Warren. Clawson said nobody on offense had a better spring than Stocker.

"We've got to get those tight ends healthy and get them eligible," Fulmer said. "That's a big question (in trying to be balanced offensively). You start trying to run the football without a tight end in the game and those edges get short."

  • What a difference a year makes in the Vols' secondary.

After playing a bunch of freshmen back there last season, the secondary should be one of the team's strengths this season. The competition at cornerback will be especially interesting, although DeAngelo Willingham has locked up one spot after coming over from junior college last year.

"DeAngelo Willingham has probably made as much progress in a year as any junior college player I've ever had, and he's taken on in his own quiet way a leadership role with this football team," Fulmer said.

Sophomores Brent Vinson and Dennis Rogan will battle it out with junior Marsalous Johnson and senior Antonio Gaines for the other cornerback job. Johnson and Gaines are both coming off injuries. The good news for the Vols is that all four have started games.

  • Junior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who's finally getting his chance after waiting in Ainge's shadow the last couple of seasons, said he has no interest in talking about the past.

"I'd prefer to talk about the future," said Crompton, asked how trying it was for him to sit and watch.

Fulmer said there's been a different focus with Crompton now that it's his job. Crompton will also give the Vols a dimension at quarterback they haven't had the last few years with his ability to scramble and run.

"I like what he brings to the table from a toughness standpoint," Fulmer said. "He stands in the pocket like you're supposed to. You don't want to take on too many linebackers, but he has that mentality.

"He needs a really good camp and some success in a game, and I think this team will absolutely totally rally around him, because he's shown every example of leadership that you could have."

Probably the best thing to happen to Crompton was starting anew with Clawson. Crompton's relationship with former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke, wasn't the best.

"He met Dave Clawson at the door, and they've been almost inseparable ever since," Fulmer said.

  • Berry has the names of his twin brothers, Evan and Elliott, tattooed on each of his arms.

They're both going on 13, and Berry said they're both better and more athletic than he was at their age.

That could be good news for Tennessee. Berry joked that Evan committed to the Vols when he did a few years ago and that he can't see his twin brothers going to different schools. Their father, James, was a running back and former captain at Tennessee in the early 1980s.

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