By Frank Gale
The football Vols are away from Knoxville at camp for a few days, but they are not the only team absent from Rocky Top. Coach Cuonzo Martin has his team in Italy for a ten-day excursion that will see them playing four exhibition games.
What a great time for these student athletes as they see things they previously only read about. It is also great for Martin to be able to get a jump start on the rest of the SEC. The trip certainly came at an opportune time for Martin to blend the returning starters with the talented newcomers. This should pay dividends later this season as the Vols are poised to make a run and challenge the conference’s best.
Only three weeks to go, Vol fans, until the start of the football season. Time is dragging now that we are getting close; however, I assure you the season will fly by. Still, the anticipation with the feeling that good things could finally be on the horizon for the Big Orange Nation make it tough to be patient.
The fall camp has seen Coach Derek Dooley looking to add depth to the tight end position. What had looked to be strength a few months ago was weakened when Cameron Clear was dismissed. Mychal Rivera tweaking his knee has caused Dooley to look for added depth at the position. Linebacker Justin King was given a look at the fullback/tight end hybrid position and defensive lineman Joseph Ayres was also given reps at tight end.
The good news in all this for Dooley is that he finally has enough depth on the team to move athletes around to strengthen the team.
The Vols finally have several players with break away speed that can make a difference on kickoff returns; however, the NCAA this season has instituted a few changes to cut down on returns. The kickoff has been changed from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line. After seeing too many injuries on kickoff returns, they are looking to have more touchbacks.
The NCAA has taken further steps to reduce those violent kickoff collisions. Gone is the running start by the kick off defenders in 2012. This season, the 10 cover men can not line up more than five yards off the 35-yard line. The only other change will be that touchbacks on kickoffs will be brought out to the 25-yard line. (Punts and other touchbacks from fumbles and interceptions will still be placed on the 20-yard line.)
Still no hype coming from our resident Vanderbilt cheerleader, Jim Butler, who is certainly maintaining a very low profile this pre-season. Tom Looney and Hoss Wyatt are starting to get worried that Jim might have taken last year’s overtime loss to UT harder than anyone realized. Rest assured guys, he will show up shortly (if not today) and be full of his usual hideous predictions.
While we are counting down the days (21) to kickoff against North Carolina State. The Vols are working hard and making the most out of the time they have to prepare for the season opener. That is great to hear, especially leading into a season that could be make or break for Dooley. Besides, "Rocky Top" sounds so much better when the Vols are winning. Go Vols.
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)