Scrimmage numbers give Rajion Neal confidence

Tennessee defensive back Tyler Coombes, left, runs into Brent Brewer, right, during practice at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee defensive back Tyler Coombes, left, runs into Brent Brewer, right, during practice at Neyland Stadium Saturday, April 2, 2011.

Tyler Bray comments on the Saturday scrimmage

Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal readily admits to a number of glaring weaknesses in his game, ones that he constantly is attempting to overcome and improve upon after a disappointing freshman season.

Breakaway speed, however, is not one of them.

“Once I get out there in that secondary and I see what’s going on, I’m pretty much going to try to get to that end zone,” Neal said. “I most likely will get there the majority of the time.”

Neal did just that in Saturday’s first scrimmage of the spring. Three times.

Neal was one of the few bright spots for the offense at Neyland Stadium on a day that was dominated by the defense. He carried the ball 14 times for 152 yards and three touchdowns, accounting for the vast majority of yards in a rushing attack that coach Derek Dooley still wasn’t pleased with afterward.

It took a half of action and some screaming from coaches, but Neal and the rushing attack woke up in the second half, players said.

“It was just that they had so much excitement and so much enthusiasm and we was kind of still going through the motions, wasn’t fully in the scrimmage yet,” Neal said. “We definitely got that right in the second half. Gave the defense a good little run today.”

Dooley disagreed. During his post-scrimmage interview session, Dooley looked down at the piece of paper in his hand, read off starter Tauren Poole’s stats line — nine carries for 21 yards — and shook his head.

“That was disappointing,” Dooley said. “You know, if anything I was disappointed in, it was our ability to run the ball. I expected us not to throw it well because we hadn’t in the first six practices.”

Poole said Neal, who thrived early last season but struggled through the end, has had a better approach at practices this spring. Neal certainly has the speed — he said he recently clocked a 4.36 40-yard dash — and the ability to make plays in the open field, but maintaining a high level of confidence has been his biggest weakness.

After Saturday, that should be a little easier.

“We just got to keep a positive attitude,” Poole said. “When we mess up, that’s because we’re young. He gets down but he can’t get down on himself because he’s a young back, but he’s growing just like all of us.”

Defensive Domination: UT’s defensive players had a tough time fighting back smiles and maintaining stoic faces after Saturday’s scrimmage.

No matter who was talking, it was unanimous that the defense had the better day.

“The past few practices, the offense has really been running all over us and throwing on us,” linebacker Austin Johnson said. “We knew what was coming and I felt like that was what we did. Our D-line got a good push and we were able to make plays early.”

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson spearheaded a defensive line that helped account for five sacks and six quarterback hurries. Jackson had five tackles, three of which went for a loss, and a 10-yard sack.

“Malik’s our leader right now. He’s a senior,” defensive tackle Marlon Walls said. “When I don’t know something, I look over and check. He tells me what we got.

“We expect him to lead. He’s a great player.”

Safety Brent Brewer led the team with six tackles and an interception. Linebacker Nigel Mitchell-Thornton had two sacks and an interception while cornerback Anthony Anderson returned an interception 81 yards for a touchdown.

“That kind of stuff brings a lot of energy to the team,” Johnson said. “And that’s what we need.”

Dooley reserved doling out much praise for the defense, which he said was “just kind of chugging along.”

“The (offense and defense) are probably both behind,” Dooley said. “I don’t know who we’re behind, but we’re not ahead of anybody.”

Crackback Quarterback: Quarterback Tyler Bray said it was much ado about nothing, but an apparent crack-back block he laid during a Neal run had a number of players, and his coach, buzzing after the scrimmage.

“It kind of hyped everybody up,” cornerback Marsalis Teague said. “We understand it’s football, but we got to mess with the quarterbacks by going out there and hitting because we can’t hit them.”

Walls, who identified the player Bray blocked as middle linebacker John Propst, said the defense retaliated with a big block of when Bray threw an interception later in the scrimmage.

“Hey, quarterbacks, we show no mercy,” Walls said. “When you’re out there hitting, everybody gets hit.”

Bray said he merely “stood in front of the guy and he happened to go down.”

“It could have been a lot worse,” Bray said. “I was just trying to free up Rajion.”

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble

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Comments » 11

gotbongy4ut writes:

keep it up Rajion!!

volsfan74 writes:

Seeing Bray's stats worry me. If we can't throw the ball it will make it much more difficult to run it. I hope Poole gets it together I really like the young man but if Neal keeps improving he may give Poole a fight for the starting role.

CHITOWNVOL writes:

FYI, since KNS has yet to add these to the article.
Rushing

Rajion Neal 14-152-3-63
Tauren Poole 9-21-0-15

Passing

Tyler Bray 27-11-2-172-3-70
Matt Simms 7-4-0-62-0-42

Receiving

Justin Hunter 3-44-1-15
Matt Milton 3-35-1-13
Mychal Rivera 3-23-0-9
Da’Rick Rogers 2-79-2-70
Vincent Dallas 2-43-0-42

Defensive Leaders

Brent Brewer 6 tackles, 1 TFL (-3), 1 interception (4 yards), 1 PBU;
Malik Jackson 5 tackles, 3 tfls (-12, including 1 sack for -10), 1 qb hurry
Nigel Mitchell-Thornton 4 tackles, 2 sacks (-18), 1 interception (23 yards)
Rae Sykes 4 tackles, 1 sack (-10), 1 PBU
Justin Coleman 4 tackles, 1 PBU
Austin Johnson 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Jacques Smith 3 tackles, 1 TFL (-1), 1 QB hurry
Raiques Crump 3 tackles, 1 QB hurry
Dontavis Sapp 2 tackles, 1 sack (-9)
Steven Fowlkes 2 tackles, 1 TFL (-1)
Willie Bohannon 2 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 QB hurry
Art Evans 2 tackles, 1 PBU
Daryl Vereen 2 tackles
Prentiss Waggner 2 tackles
Anthony Anderson 1 tackle, 1 interception (81-yard TD), 1 PBU
Marlon Walls 2 PBUs.

Field Goal Leaders

Michael Palardy 3-of-4, long 42

Punting

Michael Palardy 3-41.0-44
Matt Darr 4-39.3-47.

OrangePride writes:

Based on what I read in those numbers, the offensive line has a LONG way to go. And let me tell you, if that line does not raise its effectiveness 100% from last year, you can expect that this year will be just like last year. BUT......its early yet and there is a lot of time to get it right. I like Neal's numbers here......that kind of threat was not there last year, so it could be very exciting this fall. I guess the word is; "a work in progress."

dvhill100 writes:

No worries. Young team, early in spring, defense always is ahead at this time. We'll be fine.

UTbassdrummer writes:

1 scrimmage. I know that everyone is looking for stuff to complain about and worry about, but give it a minute or you look like a bunch of old grumpy whiners.

Go vols.

VOLS_SEC_RULES writes:

in response to UTbassdrummer:

1 scrimmage. I know that everyone is looking for stuff to complain about and worry about, but give it a minute or you look like a bunch of old grumpy whiners.

Go vols.

Great comment.

Pompey writes:

in response to PrideOfTheSouthlandBanned:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

...if Tyler Brays confidence level is all we had to worry about we would not have a care in the world......

Pompey writes:

in response to OrangePride:

Based on what I read in those numbers, the offensive line has a LONG way to go. And let me tell you, if that line does not raise its effectiveness 100% from last year, you can expect that this year will be just like last year. BUT......its early yet and there is a lot of time to get it right. I like Neal's numbers here......that kind of threat was not there last year, so it could be very exciting this fall. I guess the word is; "a work in progress."

....if the OL has a LONG way to go how did Neal get 152 on 14 carries...?

iadvol writes:

Poole had 21 yards on 9 carries and one of the carries was for 15 yards. That's not good at all!

HtownVol writes:

If Neal really runs a 4.3 40, he will see a lot of PT.

Somehow I doubt that time is accurate. CJ Spiller runs a 4.3 and from what I saw of Neal last lear his speed is not close to Spiller. Of course the only time he was in the open field was when he was running a wheel pattern and Bray overthrew him (Im sure there were more, but most will remember the play I am talking about).

Poole should be the man but it really seemed Poole and the run blocking took a major step back late in the season. Mostly because of the emergance of Bray.

I do know that next season Neal and Lane should provide UT with a heck of a 1-2 punch. By then all the talent UT has on the line should give UT one of the most explosive Offenses in the country.

GO VOLS!

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