How different is the atmosphere in Knoxville heading into your third season?
DD: We've had a lot of things holding down our program the last few years: the coaching changes, the new president, the new chancellor, the new athletic director, five strength coaches in four years, an NCAA cloud that's hovered over the program and the inordinate attrition that's forced us to play 32 true freshman the last couple of years. This was the first off-season that you saw a roster that was settled.
And that roster looks deep.
DD: The microcosm of our team, the offensive line, is a great example of that. When I got here, they had a combined three starts, and now we have an offensive line that has a combined 79 starts. We have a little depth of maturity in a lot of areas.
SI: HOW WILL THIS TEAM BE DIFFERENT FROM LAST YEAR'S?
DD: OUR NO. 1 EMPHASIS IS RUNNING THE BALL BETTER. IT [WILL TAKE] A COMMITMENT FROM EVERYBODY IN THE PROGRAM TO DO BETTER.
You're switching defensive schemes under Sal Sunseri. What has been the early response from the team?
DD: Positive. The players have embraced a new way of doing things. The biggest thing we wanted to improve is effecting the game on defense, as it relates to turnovers, sacks, negative-yardage plays. Even though we were statistically respectable [last season], we never really had a big-time impact on the game.