"Well, the one thing, you always have some early conclusions when you scrimmage — the first one is we’re really a bad football team."
Coach Derek Dooley
Tennessee Stat Book
Derek Dooley got exactly what he expected.
And the Tennessee coach quite obviously wasn’t pleased with it.
The Vols dropped passes, made poor decisions with the football and tossed a few interceptions on a blustery afternoon in Neyland Stadium, apparently confirming suspicions about his offense which Dooley had largely kept to himself at the midway point of spring camp.
At least until after UT wrapped up its closed scrimmage on Saturday.
“Well, the one thing, you always have some early conclusions when you scrimmage -- the first one is we’re really a bad football team,” Dooley said. “We have a long way to go, we really do. The passing game is terrible from an execution standpoint. The running game is nonexistent, and really that’s about it. The kickers and punters were below average.
“I think our (passing) execution, that’s usually the hardest thing to get -- timing. We had some dropped balls, we had a penalty, sometimes a quarterback wasn’t as accurate. It was a little windy, so you know, and we’re all new. We’ve got all freshmen and sophomores out there and a sophomore quarterback, so it’s just going to take time.”
The Vols have loads of it before they have to play a meaningful game, and one rough outing won’t lower the expectations for all those young players. But it did provide an indication of how much work there is to do on offense -- starting with sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray.
His spot at the top of the depth chart is secure, but UT will ultimately be needing Bray to deliver something more than the 172 yards on 11-of-27 passing with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions he was credited with according to statistics provided by the program.
“I was not totally thinking it was terrible, but it was pretty bad,” Bray said. “There were a couple reads that I threw, I probably shouldn’t have thrown them and gone to the other side. We’re still learning right now, still getting the offense right now.
“It was an almost-live situation, so it’s better than practice where we can start and stop plays to let you see defenses and it will tell you pretty much what defense they’re going to run. Now it’s live and you’ve got to make plays happen real quick.”
The Vols made a few of them, including a 70-yard strike from Bray to fellow sophomore Da’Rick Rogers -- one of two scores for the rapidly improving receiver to go with touchdowns for Justin Hunter and Matt Milton.
But a sloppy first half that opened with four consecutive three-and-outs, an ugly completion percentage for Bray, five sacks allowed and the three interceptions collective interceptions seemed to overshadow the highlights. And they also served as reminders that UT is rebuilding its offense with youth, and the process is still in the early stages.
“The stress level is probably still high,” Bray said. “We’re called veterans now, and we’re in our sophomore seasons. We’re supposed to be the veteran leaders of the team. Stepping into that is always kind of stressful, but I think we’re going to come through and we should be all right.
“Extra practice is always going to help, but we just need to get to where we’re running the routes the same every time, I’m putting the ball in the same place every time so they know where the ball is going to be and I know where they’re going to be all the time.”
UT doesn’t appear to have reached that point yet based on the numbers and the disappointment Dooley plainly showed when the first of two significant scrimmages was over.
But it also would have surprised him if the Vols had suddenly arrived there on Saturday.
"I’m not down,” Dooley said. “I didn’t expect to come out here and look like a championship-caliber football team. I’m not down at all, it’s right about where I thought we were. I didn’t think we were any good three days ago, I just didn’t say it. I wanted to wait until the scrimmage to see.
“Today just confirmed what I thought, but I’m not down by any stretch. It just means we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.