For much of Tennessee's scrimmage Friday afternoon, Neyland Stadium morphed into something of a time machine.
The Vols' passing game at times looked like a lot like the one fans quickly became upset with last season. First-year coach Lane Kiffin, though, extended the anachronism back nearly a half-century.
"I feel like we're in the '60s right now with our offense," Kiffin said. "We've got to run the ball and throw play-action right now. That's about all we can do. It's pretty scary right now. We've got a lot of work to do."
Most of that work is concentrated around the line of scrimmage, particularly in pass protection.
Tennessee's defensive ends, led again by Chris Walker, ran wild during the first half of UT's 79-play full scrimmage.
All told, the defense recorded eight sacks, six of which came in the first 40 or so plays. Even more troublesome, UT's first-team offensive line - although largely effective in the running game - was still responsible for seven of those sacks.
When a reporter asked about junior Jarrod Shaw running with the first team at right tackle, Kiffin countered with a quick retort.
"Did you notice them running right around him?" Kiffin said.
For the defense, though, it was another day of highlight plays.
Walker, one of the biggest standouts this spring, had three sacks. Defensive tackle Montori Hughes added another, while end Ben Martin recorded defensive line coach Ed Orgeron's favorite play with a sack and forced fumble that the defense recovered.
"Before the scrimmage, Coach O came in the meeting room and told him he wants us to give him everything we've got today," said Walker. "I think that first part of the scrimmage showed that we came out and gave him everything we had, got after the football, got the sacks, got the tackles for loss and everything."
Those big plays mostly came early in the scrimmage, much like last Saturday's scrimmage in which the offense struggled early with ball security.
"We've got to move the ball," said receiver Gerald Jones, who caught three passes for 36 yards. "We can't have five plays and then get out. It was an awful sight to see the first half, but it was all about the protection and doing what we were coached to do."
UT's offense bounced back in the latter stages of the scrimmage, allowing just two sacks and moving the ball much more efficiently.
Jonathan Crompton, who was sacked and stripped of the ball on the first series after a short break, came back with a vengeance.
He completed six of eight passes on his last two drives, including a 15-yarder to Quintin Hancock, a 23-yarder to Jones and a 12-yarder to Austin Rogers.
Despite the fact that Crompton took seven sacks, Kiffin said the fifth-year senior showed poise under pressure. But the Vols are hoping to eliminate the amount of duress he faced Friday.
Tackles and tight ends coach James Cregg said his first impression without watching film was that one-on-one matchups at the line too often went the defense's way.
"What they're doing on defense is as hard as it gets," he said. "I don't really think today was more scheme. I think it was just winning the one-on-one battles."
UT's ends, particularly Martin and Walker, had a lot to do with that. And while they're running wild now, that could help when the games begin this fall.
"You have a weakness, they'll find it and they'll take advantage of it because they're well-coached," Cregg said of UT's ends. "You aren't going to get faster guys than that, I believe, in this conference."
There's plenty of work remaining in two more practices next week and then into offseason workouts and fall camp.
But the Vols don't appear to be facing the kind of gap offensively they did this time a year ago.
"I feel we're way past where we were last year," Jones said. "This time last year, we were still making mistakes all around. The receivers didn't know where to go. The quarterback didn't know where to throw the ball, and the linemen didn't know how to block."
That said, pass protection in particular remains a real concern with the end of spring practice a week away with next Saturday's Orange and White game.
"We've got to get better," Kiffin said. "Our pass protection, we couldn't play in a real game right now. We've got a long ways to go."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.