April 6, 2012
While the first scrimmage of spring ball isn't supposed to be pretty, Tennessee showed progress in its 134 plays of action.
"It was a pretty typical first a scrimmage," head coach Derek Dooley said. "Like most scrimmages, there were some good things and some things we have to work on. I felt like we showed a lot of improvement running the ball and that has been our emphasis. The line was coming off and the runners were running good. We generated a lot of run yards.
"I felt like the defense was playing a lot more aggressive than we had in the past and that is what we want, especially in the secondary. So, a lot of things to work on and a lot penalties. Our pass game is not what it needs to be right now. We have a little work to go there. Overall, it was a good first scrimmage. We have to go clean it up."
With Tennessee's change in defensive scheme, one of the main questions throughout camp has surrounded the Vols' ability to adjust.
The Vols' defense impressed both mentally and physically.
"I was pleased," Dooley said. "There weren't a lot of mental breakdowns which allowed them to play fast. We have to do a better job stopping the run. We are playing a lot more aggressively. We're playing more physical and denying the ball in the backend a little bit better. As long as you are playing with that kind of aggressiveness and toughness, all the other stuff will come."
According to one member of the Tennessee defense, that progress has largely dealt with the "C" word.
"Today was everything that we expected out of our defense," junior Jacques Smith said. "We have been studying very heavily and we have been working on our communication and that showed today. Our communication helped us at times and whenever we had a lack of communication it beat us sometimes. That is just something we have to continue to work on as we make new installments within our defense. We just have to continue to get better."
The defense held the Tennessee offense to three touchdowns, two of which came when the possession started at the 20-yard line during red zone situations.
During a pair of two-minute drills, the offense got inside the 5-yard line before the Vols' defensive unit put up a stone wall.
"When you are in a defense like this it is all about communication," Smith said. "You have to hear the right calls and you have to be able to make sure you know your assignment, your alignment and know where the ball is going. Since we are a self-adjustment defense, you have to have those calls."
Junior quarterback Tyler Bray felt the Vols had an uneven day in their first scrimmage of the spring. The signal caller threw for 142 yards on 13-of-32 passes with a touchdown and an interception -- both of which came early on Friday. Bray saw positives and negatives.
"[We focused on] Tempo and getting the offense to run the way it needs to," Bray said. "There were some times we ran it good, our two minute drill was really nice. Other times it felt like a high school team."
After a slow start that saw Bray complete just seven of his first 20 attempts, he had a stretch of 6-of-7 including five consecutive completions as the Vols pushed the ball during a two-minute drill.
A major focus for Tennessee was getting its ground game ramped up. Tennessee gained 265 yards on the ground with Rajion Neal galloping for 100 on 15 carries.
"We want to establish a running game," Bray said. "That is where we struggled last year. If we can get that together, the passing game will come.
"Our offensive line is playing great, blocking well and our running backs have been running good."
Despite All-SEC receiver Da'Rick Rogers not having a catch, Bray was happy with some other aspects of the passing game including checkdowns. That was evident as sophomore Devrin Young had three catches for 39 yards including two big gains of 35 and 21 yards.
"The running game and checkdowns - our running games played great today," Bray said. "I hit Devrin on a little two-yard checkdown and it turned into a 30-yard play. Anytime we can run the ball and check it down to our running backs to make plays, that's always good.
Dooley echoed Bray's sentiments in terms of success with checkdowns.
"Quarterbacks are getting a lot better at that and it created some explosive plays," Dooley said. "They were some of our best plays. (Bray) is showing a lot of growth in some areas. But we didn't have those big plays down the field, like we are used to having. A lot of it is that our receivers weren't quite there yet, but he is managing the offense better than he ever has, he is hitting the checkdowns better than he ever has, and I think he is learning how to be a complete quarterback. He is on track."
Bray has high hopes for the Vols and feels better chemistry and camaradarie will be beneficial.
"I have been taking it seriously all three years, but this year it does feel a little different with this team," Bray said. "We are more of a family, more of a unit. That does help."
BETTER BLOCKING AIDS RUN GAME
With the Vols chalking up 265 yards in the ground, it was apparent that along with the running game performing at a high level.
"The guys that showed some explosive plays, Devrin Young and Rajion Neal did a really nice job," Dooley said. "I think Devrin is proving he can get out there and generate some explosions. He is a good change-up, pacesetter, he can get a big play. Rajion showed some good promise today."
Blocking played a key role in creating opportunities for the tailbacks. Specifically noted by Dooley was the blocking by Tennessee's receivers.
"They are doing so much better on the perimeter, all of them, and it showed today," Dooley said. "We just have to find ways to create a little air for them because when there is some air, they can go.
Dooley specifically pointed out Da'Rick Rogers and his improved technique.
"He has worked his tail off," Dooley said of Rogers. "He made some big blocks out there today. He didn't catch any balls. Obviously, that is not what we want in a game but it is good, it is progress and he should feel good about that."
Rogers understands the emphasis being placed on blocking.
"That has been one of the biggest things," Rogers said. "Last year our run game really wasn't as strong as it could have been and we feel like the perimeter could really help that out, so that was really being stressed all spring.
"I didn't have any catches today, it was all blocking for me. 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."
"They really kind of make it easy," Rogers said. "When you have guys with speed like Rajon (Neal) and Devrin (Young), they can really get out to the edge, so really the blocks aren't really that hard, just have to set the edge and let them go."