Vols run through first scrimmage
Posted: Monday, April 9, 2012 7:00 pm
KNOXVILLE (AP) — The Volunteers have stressed this spring that they want to run the ball better, and Rajion Neal did just that Friday during Tennessee’s first scrimmage of spring practice.
Neal rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries after splitting time last season between running back and wide receiver but is working exclusively in the backfield this spring.
Vols running backs combined for 260 yards on 50 carries in the 134-play scrimmage.
“Pretty typical first scrimmage,” coach Derek Dooley said. “Like most scrimmages, some good things and some things we’ve got to work on. I felt like we really showed a lot of improvement running the ball, and that’s been our emphasis.”
The Volunteers averaged 90.1 rushing yards per game last season, ranking 116th out of 120 FCS teams, and also must replace two-year starter Tauren Poole.
Devrin Young had eight carries for 60 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run, and caught three passes for a scrimmage-high 59 yards. Marlin Lane, the Vols’ second leading rusher last year, had eight yards on seven carries, but scored on a 1-yard run.
Each of Tennessee’s running backs brings different strengths to the backfield.
Neal and Young are explosive and fast backs. Both joined Tennessee’s track team in February. Lane is more of a between-the-tackles runner and also plays quarterback in a wildcat package. Tom Smith, who had six carries for 18 yards on Friday, is a down-hill, power back, as is early enrollee Alden Hill.
“It is good to know that our backfield is so versatile,” Young said. “We have a man that can do everything..”
The addition of first-year running backs coach Jay Graham has brought a noticeable difference, especially in practice, to the unit. In the two previous years under Dooley, a graduate assistant worked with the running backs.
Coaches have also seen an improvement from the offensive line and the wide receivers in the run game. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James said the offensive line needs to play with more consistency.
The Vols return all five starters from last year’s line, and have seven players who have started at least five games. Dallas Thomas started every game the last two seasons at left tackle, but has slid inside to left guard this spring, allowing sophomore Antonio Richardson to play left tackle.
Richardson played in 12 games last season in a reserve role, and has shown leadership skills to go along with his 6-foot-6, 329-pound physically-imposing frame.
Right guard Zach Fulton has been limited this spring rehabbing a foot injury. James Stone has worked with the first team in Fulton’s absence.
Quarterback Tyler Bray was 13-of-32 for 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the scrimmage. Bray said his accuracy was off on Friday, but garnered praise from Dooley with his check-downs in the passing game.
All-SEC wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers didn’t catch a pass, but “worked his tail off,” according to Dooley.
“I didn’t have any catches today, it was all blocking for me,” Rogers said. “That is just the unselfishness you have to have to have a good run game. I’m really trying to put more work into that.”
Dooley said the passing game wasn’t where it needed to be, but added the emphasize on running the ball, as well as inexperience at wide receiver as reasons. Tight end Mychal Rivera tied for a scrimmage-high with four catches for 45 yards and the only receiving touchdown.
Several players were held out of the scrimmage, including wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee), linebacker Curt Maggitt (shoulder), defensive back Prentiss Waggner (shoulder) and defensive lineman Maurice Couch (concussion).
Published in The Messenger 4.9.12