Derek Dooley feels better about Tennessee's 2012 squad than his first two teams in Knoxville. (AP)
HOOVER, Ala. -- "As if these weren't painful enough, they added a couple more of us." Derek Dooley took the stage at SEC Media Days with his typical grim humor, but professed to be more confident in his Tennessee Volunteers than in his first two seasons.
"It's been a tough four years in Tennessee," Dooley said. "The SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times." But while he won't say the Vols have arrived, "I feel better today about where we are as a program than at any point since I've been in Knoxville. And I mean that."
"For the first time, we have a solid roster. We have a full 85 on scholarship. We have 19 starters back." Dooley cited the offensive line as a "microcosm" of the rest of the team: Two years ago Tennessee fielded a combined three starts on the offensive line; it has a combined 106 heading into 2012.
One notable exception is projected starting left tackle Tiny Richardson (whom you might remember from our spring visit
to Knoxville), who exceeded Dooley's expectations in spring prep but "hasn't been out in the fire yet," said Dooley. "He hasn't been sitting there on third-and-eight ... he's gonna have some growing pains." How much bigger a 6-foot-6, 329-pound lineman can expect to grow is perhaps best left to the imagination. Then again, reminded Dooley, when considering the freshmen-laden rosters Tennessee has worked with the past couple seasons, as a rising sophomore Richardson is "really a wily veteran."