KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- After head coach Derek Dooley said that Tennessee had "a long way to go" following Saturday's scrimmage, the Vols took a step in the right direction when they returned to Neyland Stadium for Tuesday afternoon's practice.
"We had a real good practice today," Dooley said. "I think our players learned a lot from the scrimmage, went out here to try to improve in all the areas that we need to improve upon and had a good attitude. Blistery conditions always make it tough, but it was a good, spirited practice and I think we got a little bit better today. That's all we're looking for."
Sophomore running back Rajion Neal impressed during Saturday's scrimmage, rushing for 152 yards and three touchdowns. And although most of Neal's work came against UT's second unit, Dooley is satisfied with his development.
"I shouldn't take away some credit," Dooley said. "Rajion is getting better. I just told him that he's doing a lot of things a lot better and that's encouraging. He still does some things that are absolutely horrendous that we have to get out of his game. But he's making a lot of progress. He made some nice runs."
Dooley also heaped praise on Vols' starting running back Tauren Poole, who despite rushing for the 15th 1,000-yard season in school history in 2010, is only getting better.
"I think Tauren has improved as much as anybody in the first six practices," Dooley said. "He didn't get the results in the scrimmage and a lot of it wasn't his fault. But I think Tauren is running better, he's working harder and he's less affected when things aren't going his way, so I'm pleased with his progress. I think he's being a lot more decisive as a runner. He's not there yet, but he's on his way. He's doing things this spring that he didn't do all of last year, and that's good."
The Vols will return to practice Wednesday, marking the first time they've practiced on consecutive days since opening the spring with three straight workouts (Mar. 22-24).
...the development of Tennessee's quarterbacks:
"Sometimes it's hard to see the growth because the results aren't always what you want when you're throwing a lot at them and you don't have a nice, tight game plan that they can hone in on. It's like most players, if we just get a little bit better at something every day and you don't sweat over the things he's not getting better at, I think we're OK. As long as we're seeing a path of climbing and growing and we don't get too caught up in the results -- that's what we have to do. You have to trust it a little bit."
...Prentiss Waggner's left hand injury:
"No, I wouldn't call it significant because he's out there. I told him he didn't hit anybody anyway, so really he's still live. We're just actually blowing the whistle when he gets near the runner. Most of his work that he needs is pattern-match, covering, and he can still do all of that."
...the competition within the special teams unit:
"Mike (Palardy) is a lot further along than Matt (Darr) because he's been out there, and he was a little more mechanically sound anyway. I think Mike's big thing is he's working on his kickoffs, and we need some big improvement on that. He's been real steady in the field goals. Punting, the biggest thing with Matt is getting his rhythm, his tempo and his steps down. That's not an easy thing, and he doesn't have as polished a kicking background as Mike."
SMITH STAYS FOCUSED
As a freshman in 2010, Jacques Smith earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman Team honors and ranked fourth among UT's defensive lineman with 24 tackles. Smith, however, hasn't let the early success get to his head.
"This spring has been really hard," Smith said. "We're all thirsty to get some reps. The spots are open. Nobody is guaranteed anything. The only one that has a lot of experience is Malik (Jackson), really.
"Everyone else is just striving to get better and improve on their weaknesses. That's what I do every single day. I just study as much as I can, try to improve on something I'm bad at, and hopefully get better at something every day."
-Defensive back Prentiss Waggner's left hand was wrapped up but the severity of the injury is currently unknown. Waggner, who wore a red, non-contact jersey Tuesday, said he hurt it while tackling wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers on a reverse.
-Also in red was fullback Channing Fugate, who suffered a concussion, according to Dooley.