Sophomore Tauren Poole and the rest of Tennessee's running backs had a solid scrimmage Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium.
Aug. 22, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
The drive started innocently enough, with Tauren Poole carrying the ball up the middle for 9 yards. It ended six plays later with receiver Quintin Hancock breaking a tackle and making another defender miss on his way across the goal line for the offense's first touchdown in Saturday's full scrimmage.
But what happened in the middle is the kind of thing Tennessee wants to see once the season begins in two weeks.
"I think in a nutshell, yeah," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said about the Vols' seven-play, 60-yard touchdown drive. "We want to be able to dominate the run game and work the play-action pass off it. No question. That's us in theory, you bet."
That formula moved from theoretical to actual at times Saturday afternoon.
On UT's first touchdown drive, Poole ran twice for 9 yards. Bryce Brown, back on the field after missing three workouts with a hip injury, carried twice for 18 yards. And David Oku had two runs for 18 yards before Crompton hit Hancock for a 20-yard score.
And if the Vols are going to be successful this fall, the running game will be a major reason why.
"When you've got somebody like Montario Hardesty, Tauren Poole, Bryce Brown or Oku, whichever one, our offensive line has great confidence if we can get one crease for them, they can cut it (upfield)," guard Jacques McClendon said. "We've got great backs. We created the holes for them, and they busted it wide open."
Hardesty, who spent most of the day with the second team after accidentally oversleeping a team meeting, broke off a tough 11-yard run third-and-2 in which he broke at least three tackles.
All four of UT's backs showed flashes during Saturday's scrimmage, something that's encouraging for McClendon.
"When we're running more than we're passing, that's when we win games," he said. "That's what we've got to do - make sure our running game is very efficient. We're going to run before we pass. As long as we're doing that efficiently, we're going to be a good team."
Crompton, who made several plays in the passing game while on the move, has confidence in the running game as well.
"It doesn't really matter who's back there," he said. "In any good offense, the run sets up the pass, and that's what we're trying to do. We've got to have a good run game. Our O-line is doing a pretty good job right now, and the running backs are hitting the holes. That opens up the passing game for us."
And while the Vols will have plenty of corrections to make as fall camp wraps up next week, there's a growing sense of optimism.
"I feel the offense is sitting on cloud nine right now," McClendon said. "We've got a long ways to go, but from this time last year, we've had ourselves in a rhythm, and each day we're getting better with our rhythm. As long as we keep improving week-to-week like we have, the sky's the limit. We've just got to keep improving."
On the Quarterbacks: Crompton ended up taking more snaps Saturday, which wasn't by design, UT coach Lane Kiffin said.
"It wasn't done on purpose that way, it's just how the series went," Kiffin said. "(Crompton) made some plays on the move, which is good to see. Sometimes in practice those don't happen because the rush stops."
Kiffin also said the quarterbacks managed things well without him coaching from the offensive backfield.
"I thought we were pretty good for the first time out doing it," he said. "I thought the quarterbacks handled it well and managed it, getting the signals in and getting it called. There was a lot of first things today. We'll do it again a week from today."
Warren Impressive: Converted tight end Brandon Warren made several catches Saturday, including a 6-yard touchdown.
"I came out and competed and tried to take care of my responsibilities and take advantage of my opportunity when I'm out there," he said. "That's really been the key for me, just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get."
Edwards Shows Up: Defensive back Mike Edwards had a nice scrimmage as well. The true freshman returned a kickoff 72 yards after halftime and was an active participant on defense as well.
"Mike is very physical at corner for us, can cover, can do both," Kiffin said. "I think eventually he'll be a great player here."
Up High: As part of UT's game day simulation, defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza, graduate assistant (and former Minnesota and Syracuse offensive coordinator) Mitch Browning as well as Chaney coached from the press box.
"I'm going to be right up there eating a hot dog and drinking a Diet Coke, listening to Lane, (and saying), `Yeah I'm with you, boss,'" Chaney joked. "I don't mind the field, but I've been up in the box so many years, that's home to me. I think I can benefit and help coach better from up there than I can on the field."
Scrimmage Highlights: Brown only carried four times but scored on a 5-yard run despite having to shift away from the initial hole. ... Tyler Wolf blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown against the second-team. ... Eric Gordon deflected a pass and then intercepted it against Crompton.
Reach Drew Edwards at email@example.com.