Derek Dooley breaks down the Vols' first spring scrimmage
Struggling with his accuracy down the field, quarterback Tyler turned to shorter stuff.
Unable to get involved in the passing attack at wide receiver, Da'Rick Rogers instead focused on throwing a few blocks.
In both cases, running backs reaped the benefits.
The ground game was already a top priority for Tennessee heading into its first scrimmage at Neyland Stadium, and the early work in the backfield certainly seemed to help produce better results there on Friday morning. But with the Vols unable to generate much consistently through the air, the players in the backfield lent their hands in that area as well in making a strong impression at the midway point of spring camp.
"I felt like we really showed a lot of improvement running the ball, and that's been our emphasis," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "(Offensive) line was coming off, runners were running good and we generated a lot of run yards.
"We're showing improvement running the ball, and that's a good sign."
The statistics provided by the program from the closed workout reflected the move in the right direction after ranking among the worst rushing teams in the country last season, particularly with Rajion Neal again taking handoffs.
After splitting time at running back and wide receiver a year ago, Neal took advantage of his return to full-time rushing with a team-high 15 carries and 100 yards. And along with 60 more yards and a touchdown from speedy sophomore Devrin Young, the Vols were able to offset an uneven passing performance that included a 13-of-32, 142-yard outing with a touchdown and an interception by Bray.
With Bray admitting to having trouble hitting his receivers and his top returning target held without a catch, he and Rogers had to find other ways to get the offense rolling. Through the air, that meant checking it down to Neal and Young, who combined for five catches and 75 yards. And even with the Vols focusing on running the ball, Rogers searched for a way to make an impact — and a little contact.
"I didn't have any catches today — it was all blocking for me, and that's just the unselfishness you have to have, to have a good running game," Rogers said. "We're really trying to put more work into that. ... The passing is always going to be good with guys like Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers and Tyler Bray throwing it around, so the run game is what we really need to get going, and that's what we're trying to put a lot of emphasis on.
"But they really kind of make it easy when you've got guys with speed, like Rajion and Devrin, that can really get out there. Blocks aren't really that hard. You've just got to set the edge and let them go."
Neither player seemed to have much trouble finding his way past that edge as they each racked up yardage and made cases for more action in a heated competition for carries in the backfield.
According to the numbers, the pre-camp favorite to win the job wasn't able to do much against UT's new-look defense, as Marlin Lane finished with eight yards on seven carries with a short touchdown rush.
But he, too, found another way to contribute. And while the production wasn't quite as prolific, he added two more receptions to the mix as the running backs seemed to collectively steal the show and the limelight from guys like Bray and Rogers.
"You know, the maturity level of these guys is so much better," Dooley said. "I mean, Tyler's not in the tank because his stats aren't great. Da'Rick's not in the tank because he didn't catch a ball today.
"They're working on their game and improving for the team, and that's a real sign of maturity."
Based on what the Vols got elsewhere from the running backs, they might also have seen a sign of progress.
TD – Mychal Rivera 5-yard rec from Tyler Bray (Michael Palardy PAT miss) – 6-0
TD – Devrin Young 5-yard rush (No PAT) – 12-0
TD – Marlin Lane 1-yard rush (No PAT) – 18-0
FG – Derrick Brodus 35-yard field goal – 21-0
FG – Michael Palardy 37-yard field goal – 24-0
Tyler Bray – 13-32-1, 142 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Justin Worley – 11-20-1, 110 yards
Nathan Peterman – 4-8-0, 13 yards
Tyler Page – 2-2-0, 11 yards
Rajion Neal – 15-100-23
Alden Hill – 9-39-15
Devrin Young – 8-60-24, TD
Marlin Lane – 7-8-7, TD
Tom Smith – 6-18-5
Jaron Toney – 5-17-6
Deanthonie Summerhill – 2-16-6
Mychal Rivera – 4-45-16, TD
Jacob Carter – 4-38-18
Cody Blanc – 4-27-12
Devrin Young – 3-59-35
Zach Rogers – 3-35-18
Cam Clear – 2-20-16
Rajion Neal – 2-16-11
Alex Ellis – 2-11-6
Marlin Lane – 2-7-8
Brendan Downs – 1-5-5
Tyler Drummer – 1-4-4
Dakota Summers – 1-4-4
Jaron Toney – 1-4-4
Matt Darr – 4-166-41.5-50
Michael Palardy – 2-82-41.0-42
Michael Palardy – 1-2 (32 blocked, 37 good)
Derrick Brodus – 1-2 (33 wide left, 35 good)
Greg King – 4-3-7
AJ Johnson – 4-2-6, 1 TFL
Marsalis Teague – 3-3-6, PBU
Tino Thomas – 4-1-5
Willie Bohannon – 1-4-5
Byron Moore – 3-2-5, 1 TFL
Herman Lathers – 4-0-4, PBU
Rod Wilks – 3-1-4, 2 PBU
John Propst – 0-4-4
Raiques Crump – 3-0-3, FF
Steven Fowlkes – 2-1-3, 1.5 sacks-4 yards, 3 TFLs
Logan Honeycutt – 1-2-3
Max Arnold – 1-2-3
Eric Gordon – 2-1-3, FR, 1 sack-6 yards
Brian Randolph – 2-1-3, INT, FG block
Izauea Lanier – 2-1-3
Jordan Williams – 1-2-3, PBU
Justin Coleman – 1-2-3, PBU
Corey Alexander – 0-3-3
Tyrin Fairman – 2-0-2
Channing Fugate – 1-1-2
Dontavis Sapp – 0-2-2, 0.5 sack-3 yards
Nigel Mitchell-Thornton – 0-2-2, TFL
Joseph Ayres – 1-0-1
Jacques Smith – 0-1-1, 2 PBU
Allan Carson – 1-0-1, FR
Darrington Sentimore – 1-0-1
Marlon Walls – 0-1-1, TFL
Trent Taylor – 0-1-1, TFL
Gregory Clark – 0-1-1
Michael Cantwell – 0-0-0, PBU
Steven Fowlkes – 1.5-4 yards
Eric Gordon – 1-6 yards
Dontavis Sapp – 0.5-3 yards
Brian Randolph – 1-8 yards
Allan Carson – Fumble recovery
Eric Gordon – Fumble recovery
Raiques Crump – Forced fumble