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July 19, 2012HOOVER | "It's been a tough four years for Tennessee."
So said Volunteers coach Derek Dooley, who is entering his third year at the University of Tennessee. In his first two seasons as head coach of the Volunteers, Dooley has turned in two losing seasons, a total record of 11-14. Not exactly up to Tennessee standards.
For Dooley, however, the 2012 version of the Volunteers will have the best chance to be competitive in the Southeastern Conference since he arrived in Knoxville.
"I feel better today about where we are as a program than at any point since I've been in Knoxville," Dooley said. "I mean that. And probably the number one reason for that is for the first time, we have a settled roster. We have 19 starters back, so we have a lot of experience."
Despite the veterans present on his team, Dooley said the Volunteers would have to make improvements from 2011, especially in the running game. The Volunteers ranked 12th in the SEC in 2011, averaging only 90 yards a game.
"Certainly on offense, it starts on the run game," Dooley said. "We have absolutely no chance at competing for an SEC title if we run the way we ran it last year."
Dooley said the improvements couldn't stop there for his team, however. For the Vols to have an impact on the SEC race, they will have to improve in every facet of the game from 2011. Tennessee ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in both scoring and total offense and scoring and total defense.
"We need to improve on just about everything," Dooley said. "Because we really weren't good at anything. On defense, of course, I feel like we need to be a lot more aggressive to impact the game.
"We had some respectable statistics in some areas, but I never felt we impacted the game from a negative play standpoint, from a turnover standpoint."
Still, Dooley said the talent and experience on his team in 2012 would help in that transition.
"That level of experience really gives you a lot of help," Dooley said. "We're certainly deeper than we've been. So it's so important to be deep and talented . We're certainly a lot more talented in many ways. (But) probably the biggest thing is the maturity level of this team."