Dooley discusses the repercussions of Rajion Neal's knee injury
Instead of lining up for valuable repetitions with the offense, running backs Rajion Neal and Tom Smith pumped their arms and legs back and forth on stationary bicycles.
That activity wasn't unique to Thursday's practice. It's been like that for the past week with Tennessee's running backs, as most, including senior Tauren Poole, have been hampered by nagging injuries.
"It's tough," said Poole, who sat out Saturday's scrimmage with a minor ankle injury. "Coach (Derek) Dooley always says you've got to play like you're the starter, practice like you're the starter and study like you're the starter. I know he's talking to every single guy out here, and I've got to continue to take care of myself.
"All of us do. We've all got little nicks and bruises."
Neal, who had been pulling double duty at wide receiver, also sat out Saturday's scrimmage because of a knee injury. The lone returning backup with experience, Neal isn't expected to play in this Saturday's scrimmage, either.
"We miss Rajion," Dooley said. "It weakens us up at runner and it weakens us up at wideout."
Poole's and Neal's injuries allowed Smith, a true freshman, to pick up 10 carries for 80 yards in last week's scrimmage. But now that he's down with a knee injury, carries beyond Poole have gone exclusively to freshman Marlin Lane, a variety of walk-ons and even fullback Channing Fugate.
"We're nicked up at runner and we're nicked up at receiver," Dooley said. "That's affecting us."
Behind Poole last season, the Vols didn't receive much production. Neal and former Vol David Oku combined for 371 yards and a touchdown.
Poole is confident Lane, who is said to be fully recovered from a 2009 knee surgery that slowed him down as a high school senior, can make life easier for him as soon as the season opener.
"Every day he comes out to compete, whether it's Saturday's scrimmage or just a little walk-through," Poole said. "I like that about him."
Lane, after struggling to gain yards in the Vols' first scrimmage, ran nine times for 42 yards in the second scrimmage. Because of all the bumps and bruises, it's expected he will have even more opportunities Saturday.
"I see a guy that has a lot of ability, but he's got a long way to go," Dooley said. "He's probably not running with the confidence he needs to run with and probably the grind of camp has affected him physically.
"We've got to get through camp, get him fresh, tighten him on a game plan and see if he can do it under the lights."
Down Again: Wide receiver Zach Rogers was wearing a familiar color Thursday.
It was neither orange nor white, which meant he was back in a familiar place — out with an injury.
Dooley said Rogers, who had emerged as the team's top option at the slot receiver position, was nursing a deep bruise in his right triceps.
"He's got durability issues," Dooley said. "It's a concern. All we can do is play him when he's healthy and not play him when he's not."
The injury is not thought to be serious, but Dooley did not provide a timetable for a potential return date.
With Rogers out, the door opens wider for freshmen Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett, but Dooley cautioned that neither player was not yet able to fully replace Rogers.
"There's a big dropoff," Dooley said.
"We lose anybody on our team, it hurts. It's just where we are."
Nagging ankle, knee and shoulder injuries along with a concussion derailed most of Rogers' sophomore season, which began with promise.
Also held out of Thursday's practice were linebacker Greg King (knee) and wide receiver Antonio Jones.
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson's rehabilitation from a sprained knee remains on schedule, Dooley said. He will not participate in Saturday's scrimmage, but has increased his workload in individual drills.
A Gray Matter: Dooley said freshman Tino Thomas was not opposed to grayshirting the 2011 season.
Thomas, a defensive back from Memphis, enrolled at UT for the second session of summer semester.
Because of "major" offseason shoulder surgery, he had no shot at contributing this year, Dooley said.
"There was no sense in burning the year of eligibility, and it's a great thing," Dooley said. "This is exactly the positive of grayshirting that nobody wants to talk about."
Thomas will continue to rehabilitate the injury back in Memphis, Dooley said. He is expected to enroll for the spring semester.
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