Dave Hooker audio
- DB coach Larry Slade talks about DB Dennis Rogan
- CB Brent Vinson talks about his fight with WR Josh Briscoe
- QB Nick Stephens talks about UT’s scrimmage
- WR coach Latrell Scott talks about Ahmad Paige, Quintin Hancock and Lucas Taylor
- QB B.J. Coleman talks about his performance in UT’s scrimmage
- Dave Clawson talks about UT’s scrimmage and the competition for the backup QB spot
- DE coach Steve Caldwell talks about Ben Martin
Tailback Montario Hardesty got back to being his old self during Thursday afternoon’s scrimmage in Neyland Stadium.
But Tennessee’s reserves on offense and defense appeared to take a step back.
“I don’t really know how to quite take this scrimmage,” UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. “I don’t think we were nearly at our best or even the intensity we showed (Wednesday). There were some good things on both sides of the ball, but it wasn’t what we wanted. It wasn’t exactly as crisp as I’d like it to be.”
Hardesty, though, seemed crisp as an autumn leaf.
In just four carries, the junior gained 79 yards and showcased the kind of moves that make him a threat when he’s been healthy. On his first carry, he burst up the middle and kept his balance to gash the second-team defense for a 31-yard gain.
After breaking free for 24 yards on his second carry, he unleashed a spin move in the secondary that ended with a 20-yard pickup. That move in particular showed what Hardesty has been saying since July: He’s feeling as good as he’s felt in a long time.
“There were some scrimmages where I might want to play a little bit more, but today I got some pretty good game reps in,” he said. “I’m still healthy, and I can still do some things.”
Receiver Quintin Hancock had his best scrimmage of fall camp, catching five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown from Nick Stephens while working on overtime situations.
Tennessee got a lot done with its pass rush as well, an area where the Vols struggled last season.
Defensive ends Robert Ayers, Wes Brown and Ben Martin each recorded a sack, and linebackers Nevin McKenzie and Ellix Wilson each had two against the second-team offense.
After Saturday’s scrimmage, defensive coordinator John Chavis wasn’t pleased with the way his team tackled. On Thursday, he said the first-team improved, but the second team had a ways to go.
“I thought first group was a little better, for sure,” Chavis said. “We were in better position and that’s part of it. The second group was not quite where we wanted it to be, but that’s why they’re second.”
Fulmer was more blunt in his assessment of the second-team defense.
“They were bouncing off him (Hardesty) like ping-pong balls,” Fulmer said. “We said we were going to improve our tackling, and that second-team defense didn’t tackle anybody.”
Fulmer continued to express his displeasure with some of UT’s reserves.
“We’ve got a group of guys on the second team that have no idea how to play at this level,” he said. “They have no idea. That’s very frustrating and very upsetting because they may be needed. They won’t see the field unless it’s absolutely necessary at spots, I can assure you of that.”
Tennessee’s offense wasn’t immune to its share of struggles Thursday, either.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton was again solid, completing 12 of his 23 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
He guided the first team on a three-play, 49-yard touchdown drive to open the scrimmage and found receiver Gerald Jones over the middle for the score.
But on the first team’s next possession, Jones dropped a pass on third-and-2 and on the drive after that, Crompton missed an open Jones on third-and-6.
Neither Fulmer nor offensive coordinator Dave Clawson liked that.
“To me, there were some plays to be made that we didn’t make,” Clawson said. “In games against good teams like UCLA, if we don’t make those (plays) it’s going to cost us games.
“We didn’t look bad, but I thought some of our red zone should have looked sharper. I thought we missed a throw and had a drop that we can’t miss.”
Still, Hardesty’s performance was the brightest spot Thursday, which marks UT’s last full-scale contact work before opening the season at UCLA a week from Monday.
“Montario Hardesty didn’t come out here unfocused,” Fulmer said. “He came out here very focused. I was really proud of Montario. He came out to play.”
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.