Tennessee returns to practice as former Vol speaks to team

KNOXVILLE - Former Tennessee All-American linebacker Leonard Little was in attendance at Haslam Field for Monday morning's practice and spoke with the Vols.

"We had Leonard Little today, which it's always good to have former greats come back," head coach Derek Dooley said. "He had a good message to the team about finishing every play in practice and working hard. It was a message we need because we're not there yet. We were a little sluggish today."

While Little was earning SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the 1997 Vols to the SEC Championship, most of the current UT members were playing Playstation for the first time. His message, however, still resonated.

"Leonard has his picture on the wall," Dooley said. "He's an All-American. He was a part one of those banners in there and that's what we're playing for. He's a guy who lived it and breathed it. I think he lost about four games in his career and then went on to be a great NFL player. He represents everything to me Tennessee is all about. The more guys that come back, I love it when they get in front of the team."

One of the Vols biggest problems defensively during Saturday's scrimmage was their inability to get off the field, allowing drives of 10 and 16 plays.

"The biggest thing that we saw out of the scrimmage was our ability to sustain mentally," Dooley said. "What happens is you're playing good and you're making the right checks. You're adjusting to the formations and then about the sixth or seventh play of the drive, fatigue sets in. Now all of a sudden, you're not thinking clearly. You can't think when you get tired unless you condition yourself to think when you get tired. We're trying to work on our mental stamina. When we get tired, being in the right spot and making the right formation call.

This gave the profound Dooley a research proposal.

"I always like to equate it. We talk about how smart people are. Go over there and run him. Run about 10 4-40s and then go do the math test. Do five problems, run some more and then do it. It's a little different. Anybody can sit there and think. There's a lot of thinking that goes on in football. But what compounds the problem is you're physically getting tired and you're breathing. Your mind starts thinking about that and not what you need to focus on. I think that would be our university to do. You have a big English test or physics test, run wind sprints, do two problems and then run more wind sprints and do two problems. See how they do. It wouldn't be easy."

Junior linebacker Greg King, who missed Saturday's scrimmage with an injury, was back at practice on Monday. He said it was frustrating to miss the scrimmage, but was back at Haslam Field, just days later. King missed the final nine games of last season after undergoing knee surgery, but said he doesn't let a past of injuries discourage him.

"I just go all out," said King, who has played in 13 of 26 possible games over the last two seasons. "When I feel healthy, I just go. I don't try to resist (going all out) because that's looking for an injury. I just try to go as hard as possible."

He is moving forward with his effort to earn more playing time. "I have been working at the WILL in the base (defense) and a little bit at MIKE in the nickel," said King. "I'm just getting my rotations wherever I can and trying to help the team."

With a talented secondary, senior Art Evans is a player that is not getting a lot of attention heading into his final season with the Vols. But the Lakeland, Fla., native continues to work hard every day knowing he can make an impact. That effort hasn't gone unnoticed.

"I've been pleased with Art. He's had a great attitude. He's worked hard," Dooley said. "We put him on the shelf and he jumped back off of it. That's a tribute to him. We're going to need him this year. We're going to need him on special teams. We're going to need him as a backup. He's going to have to get in there and cover some good receivers so I'm glad he's responded."

Evans played in the first seven games last season before being suspended for a violation of team rules. But he has returned and is helping the secondary to be what some considered the top unit on the team.

"I'm trying to start myself," said Evans, who has 60 career tackles, all over the last two season. "Mainly, I want to lead by example, do whatever the coaches have asked, make plays and be productive."

Being back on the field is something that is not lost on Evans.

"I'm blessed and I'm thankful," Evans said. "I'm at peace with everything and glad to be back with my brothers. Once you put on this orange, you are a Vol For Life and we know the responsibilities that come with it."

After spending a season learning from former Vol tight end Luke Stocker, junior Mychal Rivera enters the 2011 campaign on top of the Tennessee depth chart. As much as he has worked on the physical aspect of the position, Rivera has quickly learned that his success will be determined as much by his work off the field studying his playbook.

"The tight end position is pretty hard," Rivera said. "You have to kind of learn two different positions. You have to learn the O-line and all the blocking schemes and then you have to learn all the receiver route concepts and all the coverages. It's a pretty hard position, but if you study your (playbook) and dedicate yourself you can get into it. "I go through a routine every day. I go through my playbook before practice. I go through my playbook after practice. I'm always in my playbook, always discussing my routes and what we did wrong in our meetings and just communicating constantly with Coach Russell and all the coaches.

Although he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in 13 games last season, Rivera feels much more prepared for the upcoming campaign with a year in the UT system under his belt.

"I feel like I've come real far. Coach Russell and I were actually looking at some film a couple of days ago of me last year and it's like night and day with my fundamentals and things that I have learned over the past year."