Rajion Neal moving forward in backfield

Tailback 'needs to keep going'

Justin Worley after practice

Rajion  Neal

Rajion Neal

The scorecard appeared to show a clear winner for the first round.

That doesn't mean the bout is over.

Perhaps an underdog because of his spot on the "organizational" chart Tennessee released before spring football camp started and the season he spent in limbo between two positions, Rajion Neal appeared to make an emphatic statement last Saturday in his first scrimmage since again becoming a full-time running back. But despite the clear edge on the stats sheet, the judges might not be quite ready for a decision yet in the battle for the top job in the backfield

And Neal isn't done fighting, either.

"You know, it definitely sits in the back of my mind, but my big thing is I want to keep competing and show the coaches and the team that I'm dependable," Neal said after practice on Tuesday. "You know, I want to be back in the backfield and help out as much as I can, so whenever my time is called, I'm ready and I try to take full advantage of it.

"Definitely there are still things to improve, but overall it was a productive (scrimmage)."

According to the numbers provided by the Vols from the closed workout, Neal's production in the running game stood alone in the first live work of significance as camp hit the midway mark.

The junior seemed to validate his return to tailback with 15 carries for 100 yards, both of which were team-high totals. Neal also added two receptions for 16 yards, but those likely came out of the backfield instead of lined up on the perimeter, where the Vols had tried to take advantage of his speed and playmaking ability at receiver a year ago.

Based on the returns so far, now they're getting it from Neal at his more natural position. And if it might still be too early for the Vols to pick a starter as he, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young jockey for carries, Neal has certainly given them something to think about at this stage.

"Well, I mean, it's good to have that kind of production," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "I say we're not day-trading, but we're moving guys around because we're trying to evaluate them. Rajion is having a really good spring, and he just needs to keep going.

"He's playing a lot faster, he's playing with a lot more physicality and his numbers reflected that."

Neal wasn't the only rusher posting some numbers that suggested progress for a ground game that was among the worst in the country a year ago, particularly with Young adding 60 yards and a touchdown on eight carries to go with 59 yards on three catches.

Lane wasn't able to keep up with either back statistically, though one rough outing with eight yards and a short touchdown on seven attempts isn't likely to send the pre-spring favorite to win the job into a free-fall down the depth chart.

But at a minimum, the other guys started building a case to climb it.

"It was our first scrimmage," Neal said. "Us as a tailback room, we're competing and I feel we're just going to get better and better as (running backs) Coach (Jay) Graham keeps coaching us, going over the film, showing us the cut-ups.

"He's giving us those little bit key points and techniques that we need to separate us from getting tackled or breaking a tackle to score touchdowns."

After the first round, all Neal is missing is one of those trips to the end zone that Lane and Young have.

But everything else seemed to point his way in the early going.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward

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Comments » 28

Bubba_Knows writes:

Proof will be when they go up against a great SEC defense, but glad they are working hard.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

Still wondering why they would move this kid to WR last yr. He showed tons of potential his freshman season. Would like to here an honest explanation, but we'll never hear one. Yeah he fumbled, so did Lane. This dude is capable of having a strong season. I hope he rushes for 1K+ and shows out.

Huttdawg100 writes:

Honestly, I don't know why he was moved to WR. I feel like Dooley made a mistake with that move. Kinda reminds me of the way he handled David Oku.

jack4444 writes:

They based last year on their passing game. Neal was moved to receiver to amp up the passing game. He's fast.

Now they got receivers- you see CDD mention CP?

Vol_in_GA writes:

We have running backs?

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to jack4444:

They based last year on their passing game. Neal was moved to receiver to amp up the passing game. He's fast.

Now they got receivers- you see CDD mention CP?

We had WRs last year. Everyone acts like he went off and was unstoppable at WR. We had zero speed at RB.

SmokeyFTW writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

Still wondering why they would move this kid to WR last yr. He showed tons of potential his freshman season. Would like to here an honest explanation, but we'll never hear one. Yeah he fumbled, so did Lane. This dude is capable of having a strong season. I hope he rushes for 1K+ and shows out.

With the loss of JH we needed another deep threat so they coudnt double up on Da'rick all game. DR did have a 1000 yard season, so it might have worked. It did not help the run game though. GBO

SmokeyFTW writes:

I still think Lane is going to turn in a good season but who knows for sure. Still will be nice to have both of them back there with Young and PIG waiting for there turns. Were building depth and thats always a good thing. GBO

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

in response to SmokeyFTW:

With the loss of JH we needed another deep threat so they coudnt double up on Da'rick all game. DR did have a 1000 yard season, so it might have worked. It did not help the run game though. GBO

Neal had basically been removed from the backfield before the season started. Either way, good to see him back at RB. He's gonna be good.

born2ride writes:

The Vols running game ranked #116 out of 120 teams. No wonder we finished last in the SEC east.

volsfanntn11 writes:

August 31 2012! Just Wait and See....Young-Pig-Neal-Lane...In the Backfield we should be Much Improved in the Run Game!....Return game should be on point this season! 142 days until.......FOOTBALL TIME IN TENNESSEE! GBO-VFL Keep up the Great Work Guys! Best of Luck this Season!

givehim6 writes:

I'v always liked neal, think on that black day in Nov of 2011 in Ky. he was one of a small group that tryed to win.

Snapshot writes:

in response to born2ride:

The Vols running game ranked #116 out of 120 teams. No wonder we finished last in the SEC east.

WE ???

DannyVol writes:

Neal has great speed, good size, and was rated as the #9 running back out of high school. This will be his third year just like Dooley, so what exactly is Dooley evaluating? You can't just look at a guy who fumbled as a freshman and see fumble written written all over him as a junior -- especially when he's the fastest back you have and you literally can do no worse running the ball than the previous year. Because if you do, it's clearly not a personell issue. I'm far from a Dooley naysayer, but sometimes he arms his detractors with phrases which sound like he's still in his first year. In other words, stop experimenting, get them lined up, and play ball.

TitanandVolfan4life writes:

CDD wanted him on the field as a WR to have more proven playmakers on the field consistently and that's why he was tried out as a WR.

You always want as many playmakers as you can get on the field as often as possible to have more options for playcalling and to hopefully get more big plays as you can during the game and to make it harder on the D to try and defend everyone.

We have more and better WR depth this year than we had last season so moving him back to his normal position to increase competition at RB is just logical.

Some people on here don't know much about college football or just like to gripe and spew garbage.

VFL...GBO!!!

gc_scvol writes:

Get them lined up and play two weeks into spring practice is not sound advice. Spring practice is for evaluation of your personnel and seeing wher the guys fit. Let coach Dooley do his job, and get excited about TENNESSEE football. Oh , by the way, you imposters really shouldn't say "we" when you refer to our football team. GBO VFL Get on or get out....

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to DannyVol:

Neal has great speed, good size, and was rated as the #9 running back out of high school. This will be his third year just like Dooley, so what exactly is Dooley evaluating? You can't just look at a guy who fumbled as a freshman and see fumble written written all over him as a junior -- especially when he's the fastest back you have and you literally can do no worse running the ball than the previous year. Because if you do, it's clearly not a personell issue. I'm far from a Dooley naysayer, but sometimes he arms his detractors with phrases which sound like he's still in his first year. In other words, stop experimenting, get them lined up, and play ball.

I can't say if you are right about Dooley's little quips? All I know is our running backs were very hesitant last year. They'd have room to run and hesitate at the line or wherever they got an opening and the defense then would catch up. I didn't get to see a lot of games but the hesitant running seemed to hurt us at times. I never saw the line problems as much in the games I watched. Obviously though we had some.

volfanz writes:

in response to DannyVol:

Neal has great speed, good size, and was rated as the #9 running back out of high school. This will be his third year just like Dooley, so what exactly is Dooley evaluating? You can't just look at a guy who fumbled as a freshman and see fumble written written all over him as a junior -- especially when he's the fastest back you have and you literally can do no worse running the ball than the previous year. Because if you do, it's clearly not a personell issue. I'm far from a Dooley naysayer, but sometimes he arms his detractors with phrases which sound like he's still in his first year. In other words, stop experimenting, get them lined up, and play ball.

I was thinking the exact same thing!!!

rockytn2jc writes:

ppl 4get that rajon neal wasnt fully healthy during the beginning of the season. Marlin Lane was getting his reps in practice, but when he got healthy he was a lil bit behind on a lot of things.

Tacamo01 writes:

in response to MrDonCorleone:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Just like last year, predictions before spring training is over. The arm chair quarterbacks on this site crack me up!

Bubba_Knows writes:

in response to MrDonCorleone:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

That could happen, but I like our chances better if Hunter is healthy to go along with All SEC Rogers. I don't think Florida has an answer for those two. I don't think they did last year either and the Gators were very fortunate that Hunter went down to a freak season ending injury early in the game. If you double team them both, that running game might look better.

NO_DIGGITY writes:

in response to MrDonCorleone:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Urkel,

That is the first thing you have said in a while that makes sense. They will be Florida again, Doug Dickey's Florida. The 20 year tradition Old Ball Coach and Rural Meyer started is Over.

gc_scvol writes:

SO many trolls, so little intelligence

hueypilot writes:

in response to MrDonCorleone:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

How about going to sleep with the fishes or the gators. Just leave. Go to you slimy lizard site and commune with all your Gator buddies.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

Break out year for Neal and the Vols!

Go You Mighty Vols!

AllVol1 writes:

Coach Graham will have these boys in much better position to take advantage of what our line can do. Neal, Lane, Devrin, with newcomers Alden Hill, Quenshawn Watson (speedster), and Pig Howard (Devrin-type slasher), and Devante Bourque stock the RB cupboard. How many of these newcomers are ready to contribute? We shall see.

But if Cordarelle comes in ready to play, there is no defense that can handle Cordarelle, Hunter, and Rogers and our line busting holes for these runners.

This could be truly explosive, but those are a lot of question marks and answers won't really be known until game-time.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to hueypilot:

How about going to sleep with the fishes or the gators. Just leave. Go to you slimy lizard site and commune with all your Gator buddies.

It's amazing that these two florida high school girls are still on this site. You can almost see the lightbulb going on over their heads as they post. Their insistance in STILL being here after the florida slide gets more obvious with every story coming out of gonesville, is just proof it's starting to sink in. Further proof is the 60-3 posts are giving way to 14 point wins.

We'll pass them on their way down THIS YEAR, but these two are so infatuated with TENNESSEE football they will still be here trying to explaining how florida will be relevant again. These two young women are too worried about trolling to understand the swings and shifts of college ball.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to MrDonCorleone:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Maybe you didn't see the game, but Hunter went down in the open field with no Gator within five yards of him; he just landed awkwardly after a first-down catch. No reason for him to hide; he didn't hide last year. But by all means, miss no chance for another fact-free rant.

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