Tennessee mailbag: What’s wrong with strength and conditioning?
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee arrived at the halfway point of the season 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the SEC with a pair of last-second losses, a last-second win, a historic beatdown and two uninspiring wins over patsies.
The Vols have not been a fun team to watch, and the frustrations of fans are boiling over to the point where some want the head coach fired immediately. Just when you think it can’t get worse, Tennessee travels to mighty Alabama on Saturday, where the nation’s No. 1-ranked team and top defense awaits a redshirt freshman QB making his first road start.
The point spread of 34 points — believed to be the largest in the history of this once-prestigious rivalry — has several Vols fans holding their breath in anticipation of what has the potential to be another embarrassing loss.
Tennessee entered the season picked to finish third in the SEC East, with Las Vegas setting an over/under win total at 7.5 — and that was before injuries took down the starting linebacking corps.
The Vols, with six players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, were already in somewhat of a rebuilding mode. But now with seven starters out, the team’s depth is being tested.
Tennessee is particularly taxed in its defensive front seven. Defensive end Darrell Taylor is suspended indefinitely, and backup Deandre Johnson is sidelined by injury. The Vols have lost two starting linebackers to season-ending injuries, and the third, Austin Smith, didn’t play his first game until last week and still wasn’t 100 percent.
Tennessee football Question of the Day
What has happened to the strength and conditioning program? I understand when the defense is tired the whole second half after being on the field the whole first half, but that is no excuse. — Timothy Joseph Doute
I absolutely thought our strength and conditioning would improve, but I can’t see a difference from years past. Am I missing something? — Dan Gosnell
Tennessee hired former Los Angeles Rams strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson in January, making him one of the 10 highest-paid strength and conditioning coaches in the nation with a two-year contract worth $375,000 annually.
The Rams had the fewest starts missed due to injury last season, and they ranked among the NFL’s top 10 in fewest starts missed due to injury in six of the past 10 years.
The Vols, however, were in rough shape when Gullickson arrived.
“This is a two-year project,” Gullickson declared after sizing up the condition of the program.
Indeed, the Vols led the nation with 52 starts missed due to injury last season, including 17 starters missing time.
No fewer than 10 of the current Tennessee starters underwent surgery in the past year, some on account of recurring injuries that originated before Gullickson arrived.
The Vols had 23 players miss the Orange-and-White game because of injuries — Gullickson had just eight weeks to work with the team before spring drills began.
Tennessee had seven weeks of strength and conditioning this summer, but former Vols’ strength and conditioning coaching Johnny Long has said it takes “two or three years” for a new strength program to really take effect.