A day after being carted off the practice field with severe cramps, Tauren Poole proved to be a major pain for Tennessee’s defense.
The sophomore tailback ran for touchdowns of 75 and 44 yards and caught a 20-yard screen pass that also went for a score in Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
“Shows up every time we come in here,” first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin said.
Poole ran for 144 yards in UT’s first preseason practice in full pads.
The sophomore receives little publicity because of the depth around him.
“I have to give credit to the O-line,” he told UTsports.com of Saturday’s results. “They worked hard up front opening those holes for the running backs, and the receivers were blocking on the outside. I just hit the hole today and it came out good.”
Senior Montario Hardesty figures to be the starter and freshmen Bryce Brown and David Oku have gained notoriety through their recruitment to UT. Both were considered among the top 100 prospects in the nation when they signed in February.
“If he beats those guys out and performs better than all of them, he’ll be the No. 1 guy,” Kiffin said of Poole. “We’re not worried about how many stars a guy had or whether they’re a senior or a freshman.”
Poole played in every game as a freshman last season. He rushed for 86 yards on 22 carries for 3.9-yard average in 2008.
“I just knew I had to come in and work hard and just fight every day with those good tailbacks coming in,” Poole said in the release. “I’ve been listening to Coach (Eddie) Gran’s coaching and it’s gotten me a spark. I’m doing well.”
Kiffin has long said he’d give freshmen the first shot in fall camp. Poole has evidently withstood that for now. He and Hardesty took the majority of first-team snaps on Saturday.
“For him to be able to make plays when he gets his opportunity, that’s good,” Gran said. “That keeps him, obviously, in a position to get touches.”
Poole also showed the ability to make the first would-be tackler miss on Saturday, which turned intermediate gains into long runs.
“That’s how you get big runs and create big scores and explosive offenses,” Kiffin said.
Said Gran, “This offense is all about explosives (plays). That’s what we preach. That was good to see.”
Kiffin said part of the reason his defense pulled off so many long runs is that UT’s offensive linemen were given free reign.
“Those big runs don’t usually happen in practice because we’re not cutting guys,” Kiffin said. “A lot of people wouldn’t do that … but our defense needs to be able to play cut blocks and we have to learn to do it.
“We treated it just like a game today and the results were good.”
Hammerin’ Again: Despite a Heisman Trophy campaign, safety Eric Berry admitted that he was unsure of his surgically repaired shoulder — until Saturday.
“I can really unload on people now and I’m not scared to do it,” Berry said.
Berry hadn’t hit someone with full power since November in the Kentucky game. He was limited in spring practice after his shoulder surgery.
Berry said he tested his shoulder a bit this week when the Vols donned shoulder pads but the joint passed the ultimate test when he laid into Hardesty early in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“It was just a relief to be honest with you,” Berry said with a smile. “Who else would you rather test it against? That’s one of the top SEC backs. If it could withstand a run from him, it’s good.”
Berry only played one series on Saturday.
The junior was named one of 31 defensive backs on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, which recognizes the nation’s top defensive back. Berry was a finalist in 2008.
Mad Man: After UT’s offense marched downfield for a score on its first possession; defensive end Chris Walker had had enough. The junior pulled UT’s first-team defense together and gave it an earful.
“It’s really tough to take, just that our offense went down and scored right away,” Walker said. “That’s something that our defense prides itself on, is being a real tough defense. We didn’t look real tough on that first series.”
The message was clear.
“Just told them that’s not our defense and that’s not how we’re going to play at Tennessee,” Walker said. “We picked it up.”
Walker said UT’s defense was “pretty basic” on Saturday but he was surprised by the number of long plays that the Vols gave up.
Well Centered: UT’s coaches split reps between seniors Josh McNeil and Cody Sullins. The two battled in spring practice but some thought that might have been staged just to motivate McNeil, who has started 35 games as a Vol.
Sullins said he’s pleased to still be receiving the opportunity to compete.
“It’ real encouraging,” Sullins said. “It shows that the coaches do actually believe in you. It kind of gives you extra incentive to play even harder.”
Sullins came to UT as a walk-on but has since been placed on scholarship.