Not unexpected, the Tennessee offense has been a work in progress during spring practice.
The unit, comprised of mainly underclassmen, was shown up by the defense in last week’s scrimmage, but rebounded on Saturday to get the best of its counterpart.
UT coach Derek Dooley used the words “terrible” and “non-existent” to describe the Vols’ passing and running games seven days earlier, but was more optimistic on Saturday.
“It was a lot better performance by the offense and really a lot better scrimmage by the team from an intangibles standpoint,” Dooley said. “The effort, toughness, discipline and execution was a lot better. The offense really came out and controlled the tempo. We looked good throwing the ball. We ran the ball a lot better.”
Sophomore wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers — the team’s leading receiver, hauling in six passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, according to the stats released — noticed a difference in the offense’s demeanor.
“Last week, I want to say we were sluggish out of the huddle, in and out getting lined up slow,” Rogers said. “It looked like we hadn’t even been playing together all year, (and) really, just being more fluid, more together this week.”
Rogers was on the receiving end of one of four of Tyler Bray’s touchdown passes. The sophomore signal-caller finished 17-of-30 for 258 yards and four touchdowns with one interception.
Bray and Rogers, along with fellow sophomore Justin Hunter, helped lead the Vols’ offense in the last five games last season with highlight-reel plays, providing an optimistic look at the future. UT will again rely on the young players, especially at the skill positions, in the upcoming year.
“You always worry about what they call a sophomore jinx,” UT wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. “This being those guys’ second year and they have to take the full load, it’s a little bit different than last year when they came in and did some clean-up work or did a few plays here and there. It’s a little bit different when you’ve got to go full-time.”
One of the few players returning who was a full-time starter last season is senior running back Tauren Poole. Despite a ground attack that never seemed to please coaches, Poole ran for over a 1,000 yards a year ago.
“I thought he was productive today,” Dooley said of Poole’s scrimmage on Saturday. “I think he averaged more than five yards per carry. He had an explosion or two. He didn’t go out there and have 10 carries for 200 yards. I don’t know what his standard is, but he was productive and for the most part did what we needed him to do for the offense.”
Poole shouldered much of the load in the backfield last year, but sophomore Rajion Neal is making a push to garner more carries this fall. Neal turned some heads last week, rushing for over 150 yards and three scores, albeit against the second-team defense.
Still, the running backs are making strides and garnering praise from up front along the offensive line.
“The running backs are making a lot of yards,” sophomore center James Stone said. “They are making a lot of yards after contact, and I feel like they’re really working hard. They worked hard this off-season, and it’s really showing up in the scrimmages and in practice.”
Showing up in the scrimmage on Saturday was something the coaches emphasized to the whole team, but especially to the offensive players who were hoping to rebound from a lackluster first scrimmage.
“All week they (the coaches) preached this week was a game week, treat it like a game week with being more focused,” Rogers said. “Last week, we might have been laxed, treating it as a scrimmage, practice.
“This week, we made it like a game week, more of a priority.”
Linebackers Austin Johnson and Greg King were both injured on Saturday.
Johnson, a projected starter at the “will” position, suffered a knee injury. King, one of the more physically impressive of the Vols’ ’backers who has battled numerous injuries for much of his career, hurt his head or neck, according to Dooley.
The extent of both injuries is not yet known.
Orange and White Game
The Vols practice three more times this week before concluding spring practice this Saturday at their annual Orange and White Game. The spring finale begins at 2 p.m. on April 16, and “Fan Day” will take place from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Haslam practice field.