“Oh yeah. They got a lot of film study to do.”
Dallas Thomas, Tennessee offensive lineman, on the Vols' defense
Tennessee offensive tackle Dallas Thomas wore a broad smile as he walked off the Neyland Stadium field Saturday, the result of an offensive effort that was unanimously considered a major improvement from the previous week.
Meanwhile, a number of UT defensive players trudged toward the tunnel in silence.
Thomas was in their position last week, when the defense came out with more enthusiasm and prompted a number of red flags to be raised about the Vols’ offense. He knew what the next few days would entail for them.
“Oh yeah,” Thomas said. “They got a lot of film study to do.”
The offense’s gain was the defense’s loss Saturday. Such is the double-sword effect in an inter-squad scrimmage.
“We couldn’t expect to come out and beat them down like we did last week again,” defensive tackle Daniel Hood said. “Everybody’s mind should have been prepared for that. I just felt like we weren’t there mentally today. I don’t know what caused it but we’ve got to get it fixed.”
The day wasn’t without its highlights for the defense. Brent Brewer and Raiques Crump both forced fumbles, second-teamers Rod Wilks and Dontavis Sapp each had interception returns for touchdowns and even big defensive tackle Montori Hughes picked off a pass.
After allowing 223 rushing yards in the previous scrimmage, the UT defense surrendered just 161 on 39 carries.
There were just too many big plays, too many touchdowns, too much inconsistency and not enough enthusiasm.
“We just got to come out ready to play,” Hughes said. “I think the offense came out ready to play and the defense had to pick it up along in the scrimmage. So I think if we come out ready to play we’ll be all right.”
Coach Derek Dooley said he was worried about the defense, but Saturday’s result wasn’t the reason. Asked if any second-teamers had been playing well to make him feel better about the unit’s depth, Dooley laughed.
“Well, they’d be on first team because we don’t have 11 first-teamers,” Dooley said. “So if anybody was showing something on second team that wows you they would be on the first team. We’re a little thin. We’re not where we need to be from that standpoint.
“We need improvement.”
LBs Injured: An already-thin linebacking corps could be two bodies shorter for the final week of spring practice.
Senior Austin Johnson injured his knee and junior Greg King suffered what appeared to be a concussion, Dooley said. Each player’s prognosis was unknown immediately after the scrimmage.
“It’s too premature right now,” Dooley said. “We’ve got to first see what the status is on both of them and then we’ve got to make a decision based on what we would do during the season, what would we do if this happened.”
Johnson has worked at both middle linebacker and outside linebacker this spring and has been a constant fixture on the first team. King, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his UT career, is a second-teamer.
“It would be a good opportunity for somebody else to get in there,” Dooley said. “Get in the lineup and show what they can do.”
Walk-on Shane Reveiz appeared to do just that, as he finished with a scrimmage-high nine tackles.
O-Line Determined: Thomas said the offensive line took tailback Tauren Poole’s stat line from last week’s scrimmage personally, as the senior rushed for just 21 yards on nine carries.
Saturday, then, was filled with redemption for the unit, as Poole led the way with 70 yards and a long of 23.
“We broke out and he did what he had to do,” Thomas said.
Poole has been harsh on himself throughout the spring, but Dooley hasn’t. Earlier in the week, Dooley said Poole was one of the team’s most improved players and again praised Poole’s effort Saturday.
“I don’t know what his standard is, but he was productive,” Dooley said. “For the most part he did what we need him to do for the offense.”
Special Delivery: Dooley doled out praise to both of his specialists Saturday, as kicker Michael Palardy and punter Matt Darr both performed well on yet another windy afternoon.
Palardy, one week after missing a field goal, was 2-for-2 on Saturday while Darr, who has been hampered by a sore hamstring, improved the average distance on his punts by 2.5 yards and hit a long of 50.
“It looked like you had two good young specialists out there,” Dooley said.
Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble