Rajion Neal named starting running back

Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal shows off a dance move to teammates during media day at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer, copyright © 2012

Tennessee tailback Rajion Neal shows off a dance move to teammates during media day at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Know your Vols: J.R. Carr and his mighty mustache

Tennessee running back Rajion Neal knew a starting gig was up for grabs back in the spring.

Once he got his hands on it, he didn't let it go.

"You work hard always, but when you know it's wide open and everyone is going to get a fair shot at going out there and competing for it — the real competition begins then," Neal said Thursday morning, not long after learning he's slotted as UT's No. 1 running back on the team's official depth chart.

"I'm definitely happy, but know that there's still work to be done," he added. "I'm still in the process of proving myself."

In the open competition for the starting job, Neal got the edge on fellow backs Devrin Young and Marlin Lane after rushing for 100 yards on 15 carries in the team's first spring scrimmage in April. He never faltered, managing to make the spot his to lose.

UT coach Derek Dooley said Thursday, however, that Young is "going to play probably as much (as Neal)" and added that "(Lane) is still in the mix, too."

After finishing 2011 with the SEC's worst running game, Neal said experience will be the biggest difference between this year's UT attack and last year's. The Vols ranked 117th in the country in yards per carry — a paltry 2.76 — a year ago. Neal rushed for 134 yards on 27 carries — a 5.0 average.

"I definitely want to be a 1,000-yard rusher, but I want to do whatever it takes for them to win," Neal said.

In the spring, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney noted that Neal, "Needs to continue to work on ball security. … That's always been an issue with Rajion." On Thursday Neal boasted that he hadn't fumbled once in training camp or in the Vols' two summer scrimmages.

"It's by being more decisive," he explained. "There were times I was just doing too much. You've got to know what to do and when to do it. When you get away from that, you're running high, you're running loose and you're not where you're supposed to be. That puts you at risk of putting the ball on the ground."

* While the Vols have lost star wideout Da'Rick Rogers for disciplinary reasons, Mychal Rivera's full return to the passing game was welcome news. The Vols' starting tight end traded in his do-not-touch red jersey with one week remaining until the opener against N.C. State.

"Physically I'm 100 percent going into this game — I'm ready," Rivera said.

The senior said he's "been able to do everything these past four or five practices" after getting hit in the side of his left knee in one of the first practices of training camp.

* Other than the glaring absence of Rogers, Dooley's depth chart delivered few surprises.

Both Michael Palardy and Matt Darr are listed as the Vols' starting punter, while Palardy, who made nine of 14 field-goal attempts in 2011, retained kicking duties.

Speaking of sharing duties, sophomore Justin Coleman and senior Marsalis Teague are both slotted at left cornerback. Likewise, the strong safety position is listed as a toss-up between juniors Byron Moore and Brent Brewer.

Cody Blanc, a freshman from Knoxville Central, snuck into a backup wide receiver spot with Rogers' departure. The 6-foot-3, 202-pound wideout is listed behind Justin Hunter.

* Dooley has touted UT as a deep, experienced team throughout the spring. Rogers' suspension changes that perception.

Now, the Vols can claim only 20 combined career starts between their starting quarterback, running back and No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers.

UT's remaining returning wide receivers — Hunter and Zach Rogers — have combined for 31 career catches for 503 yards and three touchdowns. Dooley's returning roster as a whole caught 102 passes last year — just 35 more than Da'Rick Rogers pulled in by himself.

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 26

jarvol writes:

The countdown to a new coach has begun.

dvols writes:

hold on to the ball!!!!!!!!!!

voloffaith writes:

in response to jarvol:

The countdown to a new coach has begun.

Always nice to read how one is supportive of the whole team...that includes coaches....put the LID back on the JAR of cornsqueezins as it may have already affected your brain..

On topic,Rajon has the skills. If he will protect the pigskin running game will be average or better...

iowavol writes:

Good to see Neal get the chance. He'll put one or two on the carpet, but his upside is promising. Hopefully, the miscues won't hurt too bad. Our support is critical. To that point, just saw Arian Foster do a commercial. Nice to see that what should have turned out to be a high draft pick is a top RB in NFL.

BMSvol writes:

id be happy with 4ypc average if we never drop the ball. it would be an improvement over 2.76

5 ypc would equal 100 yards with 5 carries per quarter.... seems a reachable goal with the meat we have on the OL.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

I still think no RB coach played a role in both ball secrurity issues and the bad running game overall. Taking your best pure runner and putting him at WR didn't help either. I hope Neal runs for 1,000yds, he deserves it.

VolGrad writes:

That's what is so great about America. Everybody has a right to voice their own opinion. Some of those opinions are really messed up. But you have a right to voice them.

If that ever changes..., well, it'll be time for another revolution.

Go Vols!

tnfanincali writes:

in response to jarvol:

The countdown to a new coach has begun.

go somewhere else

AlpharettaVol writes:

How long will it be before we read that Marlin Lane -- who was a regular ball carrier last year -- is unhappy with his position on the depth chart and will be transferring to a school where he can get more playing time? It's amazing that these guys never look in the mirror to see why they have been moved down on the chart.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

I still think no RB coach played a role in both ball secrurity issues and the bad running game overall. Taking your best pure runner and putting him at WR didn't help either. I hope Neal runs for 1,000yds, he deserves it.

I would agree with that..Having Graham on the staff can only be a positive, but most of the problem was on the Oline..The small lanes that did open,closed quickly even against bad teams,leaving Poole nowhere to go..Looking forward to seeing Graham celebrating TD's much the same as Trooper did with his boy's

Cousin_Eddie writes:

He's also the fastest guy on the team.

lomas98 writes:

I thought Neal was our best potential back last season. He has the speed that successful SEC backs have. He does have ball security issues, big one against KY last year from the wildcat formation. Be careful Mr. Neal....most UT fans will jump on their own for a few fumbles not matter how successful you are on the field (see Mr. Foster). I do agree having Graham will help with those issues and he will also help in recruiting other backs. I think that is part of the reason we don't have a stud RB is we have had no RB coach (crazy). I like Devrin Young as a change of pace, but I don't think he is an everydown SEC back. he tries run to the sideline and outrun everybody to the corner and SEC defenses will not allow that.

clvolfan writes:

in response to dvols:

hold on to the ball!!!!!!!!!!

Time for Zach to step up,and I might add..please hold onto the ball.

TheVolSnake writes:

On our running game:

As most Vol fans know Rajion Neal averages 5 yards per carry his issue has been fumbling it appears Jay is working on this issue.” Graham might not be the most intense or intimidating coach, but he's demanding. Fumbling during drills required a sentence of 10 up-downs” Time as WR made Neal very valuable as a safety valve receiver out of the back field on 3rd downs or if Bray gets pressure. Neal has set records in the weight room. He has worked out some with the offensive line. Neal has the best combination of strength and speed of any of the backs on the roster. He has the ability to be an almost every down back.

Lane averaged 3.7 yards per carry but maybe too small at this time to be an every down back; if he gains some more weight he has the speed, and ability to break a long run at anytime. Size doesn’t affect his running it is the blocking that will wear him down over a long season. There were flashes of Lane's brilliance, though, and he had his best production in the Vols' toughest games. He caught a game-high six passes for 84 yards against Georgia; he tallied an excellent 7.2 yards per carry and an 18-yard run against LSU; At No. 8 Arkansas, Lane had a 45-yard scamper (a season-long for the Vols) and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Lane's challenge is to be a better constant playmaker.

Young is very fast and will be returning kicks and could be used this year in the slot position and see time as the backup tailback. He like Lane size is the issue. A year ago a broken collarbone put him on the shelf last August. The injury set Young back and prevented him from really ever being a factor as a running back with just 9 yards on 6 carries. Young must stay healthy. And the ability by doing a better job of making people miss.

Our O. Line will be dramatically improved for run blocking; Jay will fix the fumble issues.

1. Neal will be our every down back and will continue to average 5 yards per carry and the fumble issue will be fixed.

2. Young and Lane will be the backup tailback unless Neal starts fumbling and will average around 5 yards per carry also.

We will be much better running the ball this year because of a more experienced O. Line and a running backs coach that understands what it take to be a running back in the SEC, opposing teams will have to worry about the Pass first which will open holes for the running game.

I didn’t cover the other running backs because don’t know that much about them but will be paying attention during fall practice.

TheVolSnake writes:

Vol’s Wide Receiver’s:

J. Hunter a 6-4, 200-pound big-play wide out with 4.4 speed, and his highlight reel is filled with deep touchdown catches was lost for the year in mid-September with a torn ACL. On 17 catches in 2 games and 1 play had 314 yards and 2 TDs, for his career (1 year and 2 games)so far has 33 catches and 729 yards, 9 TD’s and is averaging a gaudy 22 yards per reception.

Hunter was leading the Southeastern Conference in receiving when he tore his ACL at Florida. Tennessee freshman-record seven touchdown passes in a reserve role in 2010 and believes he’s a better player now than he was last year because of an offseason of watching film and training in the weight room. Vols coaches breathed a big sigh after watching Hunter score on a 50-yard TD reception on the first possession of the second spring scrimmage.

Hunter is a spectacular talent: he has been timed at 4.42 electronically, has broad-jumped over 11 feet, and vertical jumped 41.5 inches. As a track athlete he has high jumped 7-3 and long jumped more than 26 feet.

C. Patterson a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, the blue-chip receiver from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

Patterson proved his physical talents with Hutchinson's track team this spring, recording a 10.33-second 100-meter dash time and a long jump of nearly 22 feet.

In football last fall, he ran for 390 yards and six touchdowns on 32 carries, caught 61 passes for 924 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns and the kick return facet of Patterson's game may be the most astounding averaged 51 yards on 10 kickoff returns with three touchdowns.

All of this helped Patterson accumulate 1,686 all-purpose yards for the Blue Dragons this season. He averaged a whopping 17.6 yards per touch.

The sophomore wide receiver was a two-time NJCAA All-American and set 13 school records while playing for Hutchinson Community College.

Patterson’s career records include: Total receptions (113), Total receiving yards (1,832), career receiving touchdowns (24), and career overall touchdowns (36), career points (216), career kickoff return average (41.9) and all-purpose yards (3,379).

Scouts write up on him: A big, strong target who is a mismatch waiting to happen on the outside because of his ability to go over smaller receivers, Patterson has prototype size and leaping ability. He's a bully on the outside, and that's meant in a good way. He attacks defensive backs with the ball in his hands, and with his long strides, he's deceptively fast. His size and skill make him a difficult cover.

TheVolSnake writes:

Other Freshman Receivers, how fast they learn the Offense will determine how much we see them this year.

Pig Howard 5-10, 175 4.4 speed (some say a bit faster) Talented WR prospect who finished his junior season with 546 rushing yards and 1146 receiving and 23 Touchdowns (don’t have is senior stats) will more than likely be a slot back and a kick return man. What Howard may lack in size, he more than makes up for in playmaking ability, speed and explosiveness. He is a human spark plug and what we love about him is that he is a tough guy that plays big and physical. He is a hybrid running back/slot receiver, there is a rumor that he may spend some time as tailback this year. I see that he will make his name this year as a return man and will be the explosive return man we need. Should be back by week 3

J. Crooms at 6-5 and 233 is a real weapon to contend with: Croom’s is a real weapon at wide receiver. He could be used there or in a hybrid role in college. He has very good size, he is athletic, he is tough to jam at the line of scrimmage, and he can be a real weapon inside the red zone. He still needs to work on exploding off the line, being more explosive out of his cuts, and running more crisp routes. Overall, he is an offensive weapon with versatility. Croom’s is a big, physical wide receiver that could end up developing into an H-back/tight end. He is an imposing prospect out wide with terrific measurable and a thick, sturdy build at this stage. He is physical and athletic with his size I think he could become a TE this year or could be used in the two TE sets at the Goal line.

D. Bowles 6-1, 205 Is a really good football player that is savvy, strong, well built and very productive. Bowles' ability level is not in question. He is thickly built, similar to Dez Bryant out of high school. He is fast and explodes out of the cuts, not afraid to catch in traffic and has great hands.

rckytop#227345 writes:

"UT's remaining returning wide receivers — Hunter and Zach Rogers — have combined for 31 career catches for 503 yards and three touchdowns."

That's not correct. Hunter has 9 career touchdowns himself - 2 last year and 7 his freshman year. I assume that you mean Hunter and Rogers had 3 TDs last season, but that is a big difference.

Regardless, a good article. There are still a lot of questions, but they will be answered soon enough.

exlineman writes:

in response to TheVolSnake:

Other Freshman Receivers, how fast they learn the Offense will determine how much we see them this year.

Pig Howard 5-10, 175 4.4 speed (some say a bit faster) Talented WR prospect who finished his junior season with 546 rushing yards and 1146 receiving and 23 Touchdowns (don’t have is senior stats) will more than likely be a slot back and a kick return man. What Howard may lack in size, he more than makes up for in playmaking ability, speed and explosiveness. He is a human spark plug and what we love about him is that he is a tough guy that plays big and physical. He is a hybrid running back/slot receiver, there is a rumor that he may spend some time as tailback this year. I see that he will make his name this year as a return man and will be the explosive return man we need. Should be back by week 3

J. Crooms at 6-5 and 233 is a real weapon to contend with: Croom’s is a real weapon at wide receiver. He could be used there or in a hybrid role in college. He has very good size, he is athletic, he is tough to jam at the line of scrimmage, and he can be a real weapon inside the red zone. He still needs to work on exploding off the line, being more explosive out of his cuts, and running more crisp routes. Overall, he is an offensive weapon with versatility. Croom’s is a big, physical wide receiver that could end up developing into an H-back/tight end. He is an imposing prospect out wide with terrific measurable and a thick, sturdy build at this stage. He is physical and athletic with his size I think he could become a TE this year or could be used in the two TE sets at the Goal line.

D. Bowles 6-1, 205 Is a really good football player that is savvy, strong, well built and very productive. Bowles' ability level is not in question. He is thickly built, similar to Dez Bryant out of high school. He is fast and explodes out of the cuts, not afraid to catch in traffic and has great hands.

Great posting, volsnake, this is what this site should be about, good informative posting. You obviously have done your homework, as your postings are always great.

62vol writes:

in response to VolGrad:

That's what is so great about America. Everybody has a right to voice their own opinion. Some of those opinions are really messed up. But you have a right to voice them.

If that ever changes..., well, it'll be time for another revolution.

Go Vols!

Amen regarding "opinions", I looked up the definition of "opinion" and it means a conclusion reached without the benefit of positive knowledge". If positive knowledge is used then the person is simply stating a fact. If no information is available, then the person is not qualified to have an opinion.
So, an opinion while interesting for conversational purposes really has little other value.

jobrando#216494 writes:

Dooley will be blessed if Neal and the line turns the run around this year. If not he's toast.

62vol writes:

in response to jobrando#216494:

Dooley will be blessed if Neal and the line turns the run around this year. If not he's toast.

Another area of needed improvement in the running game that will help will come from Bray if and when he learns to check to a running play when he should and when he developes better ball handling skills, etc. He has the God given talent to throw a football but it takes far more than that in the SEC.
Crompton who had a great arm threw the ball away on a 3rd and four against Auburn because no one was open. It never occurred to him to run and he had an open field.

USFBullVol writes:

Raijon reminds me of a faster Arian Foster. Enough potential to get you excited, but scares you at the same time with those painful fumbles. I hope he's able to turn it on this year. I think him and Devrin Young could be an amazing 1-2 combo. Go Vols!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

This article is way better than any of the others that are about the x vol.imho

ProfessionalHandicapper writes:

A trend that may develope is a NFL caliber player at a skilled position may start quitting school before their Junior year and start preparing for the draft while healthy. In a speed position injuries can ruin a career. Bryce Brown did well missing all the punishment as he is number 2 on the Eagles depth chart at RB. Rogers will also be drafted. He would have been better off to have just quit and hired an agent than get booted. But the NFL forgives alot. He may do better if he hires a trainer and starts preparing for the combines rather than risking injury on a team he knows is going nowhere but downhill. Darick needs a good agent who can get him the best training and showcase his talents. His numbers will turn heads as the top receiver in the SEC. He amy be dumb like a fox like Bryce Brown proved to be.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ProfessionalHandicapper:

A trend that may develope is a NFL caliber player at a skilled position may start quitting school before their Junior year and start preparing for the draft while healthy. In a speed position injuries can ruin a career. Bryce Brown did well missing all the punishment as he is number 2 on the Eagles depth chart at RB. Rogers will also be drafted. He would have been better off to have just quit and hired an agent than get booted. But the NFL forgives alot. He may do better if he hires a trainer and starts preparing for the combines rather than risking injury on a team he knows is going nowhere but downhill. Darick needs a good agent who can get him the best training and showcase his talents. His numbers will turn heads as the top receiver in the SEC. He amy be dumb like a fox like Bryce Brown proved to be.

This post is not as dumb as some of your offerings. However, you didn't mention how much money Brown lost by not being man enough to play in college. I have always been one to discount much of the hype for players. There is lots more to being a professional athlete than talent. Brown may have talent, but he lacked the college experience that could have made him a high draft pick. Rogers may get a look because of his physical talents and numbers when he played but he won't be the top-10 pick he would have been if he had just kept himself under control for a few more months. Given the brevity of the average NFL career, guys like Brown and Rogers may not last long enough to make up for the money they lost at the outset of their careers.

VolGrad writes:

in response to johnlg00:

This post is not as dumb as some of your offerings. However, you didn't mention how much money Brown lost by not being man enough to play in college. I have always been one to discount much of the hype for players. There is lots more to being a professional athlete than talent. Brown may have talent, but he lacked the college experience that could have made him a high draft pick. Rogers may get a look because of his physical talents and numbers when he played but he won't be the top-10 pick he would have been if he had just kept himself under control for a few more months. Given the brevity of the average NFL career, guys like Brown and Rogers may not last long enough to make up for the money they lost at the outset of their careers.

...and having a history of not finishing anything you've started doesn't help BB at all, either. What would any of us think as an employer with that kind of history on the person's resume?

Well, he did finish HS. So there's that much.

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