Justin Worley after practice
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.