Wednesday, July 23, 2014 · 2:04 p.m.

Vols trying to avoid staying in neutral during bye week

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KNOXVILLE – With five games down and seven games remaining on Tennessee’s schedule, there could be a temptation for players and coaches to mentally relax on this bye week.

That’s exactly the mindset coach Derek Dooley wants his team to avoid.

He sent a clear message on Tuesday that even though the Vols aren’t preparing for an opponent on Saturday, this is a crucial week for the program to continue moving forward.

“If we can all stay focused on defining a purpose for this week, we’ll come out it a better football team,” Dooley said after practice on Tuesday. "We really want to have a defined objective for every player and for every unit. It is so important that these guys learn how to have a purpose every day.”

Senior linebacker Herman Lathers said that the coach challenged the players on Monday to find two areas they can improve on over the bye week. They will have three practices – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – to show progress in what they chose.

“We went out today to work towards those goals and just get better as a person,” Lathers said. “I think we got better today as a team. We have two more work days to get better and then we get a little rest period. We're just keeping each other accountable at practice and practicing good habits at practice, trying to carry over practice into games,"

Georgia’s 51-44 win did highlight some areas the team must collectively work on. Defensively, tackling is a major concern after the Bulldogs had three runs of 51 or more yards on Saturday.

Dooley said that practices will remain physical this week in an effort to improve in that area. The Vols will have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off, so he’s not as worried about his players being too worn out with tough games against Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina the following three weeks.

"The open week is always a time to go reevaluate your fundamentals and what you aren't doing as well as you need to," he said. "Of course, the tackling, the open-field tackling and the space tackling is a real major concern where we need to make some significant improvement.”

Bray taking an early look at Mississippi State: A week off gives quarterback Tyler Bray an extra week to get ahead on studying film of the Vols’ next opponent, Mississippi State.

The No. 20 Bulldogs are off to a 4-0 start, and they will likely be 5-0 after facing Kentucky this weekend.

Mississippi State’s defense, led by All-America candidate cornerback Johnthan Banks, has nine interceptions on the season. Banks (3 INTs) is one of the best cover corners Bray will see this season,.

“It gives us an extra week of film to study on them," Bray said. "Their secondary is probably the best part of their defense so a lot of film study will help."

Dooley looking for the good in the kickers: Kickers Derrick Brodus and Michael Palardy have combined to miss four extra points this season. Dooley acknowledged that number as unacceptable, but he also pointed out that few people have credited them with combined to make eight of their 10 field-goal attempts.

“There’s not many coaches in college football that wouldn’t take that,” Dooley said of the field-goal percentage.“The problem is that we’ve missed three (note: Dooley misspoke, Vols have actually missed four) PATs … That’s what incites furor. Both are true. We can’t miss PATs, but then you look and we’re 80-percent – that’s pretty good.” 

While it is true the Vols have hit 80-percent of their field goals, the longest make of the season is 37 yards. The average length of the eight made field goals has been slightly under 28 yards.

Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.

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