KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utsports.com) -- Sophomore tailback Rajion Neal set the tone early with a 63-yard touchdown run down the sideline and carried Tennessee's offense throughout its first scrimmage of spring practice Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
Neal, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry as a freshman last season, rushed 14 times for 152 yards (10.9 ypc) and three touchdowns.
"Last year, I showed glimpses that I can be a good back," Neal said. "This spring, they're really going to test me. They're going to push me to see what I can do, what I can stand and how I'll react. I feel it's time for me to show them that I can contribute to this team."
Neal also found the end zone for UT's second score of the day from three yards out after tailback Jaron Toney broke away on a 34-yard run and quarterback Matt Simms connected with early enrollee wide receiver Vincent Dallas on a 42-yard hook-up.
Just before the end of the first half, quarterback Tyler Bray found wide receiver Justin Hunter for a 15-yard touchdown, the first of three that Bray would throw Saturday. Hunter, who made three difficult grabs, finished with 44 yards and tied tight end Mychal Rivera and wide receiver Matt Milton for the team lead in receptions.
"I was really disappointed in the first half with how the offense came out," head coach Derek Dooley said. "It was a total dominating first half by the defense, and it was strictly because of more effort, more toughness, more enthusiasm, more spirit, all the intangibles. The offense went about four-straight three-and-outs and got kicked around the yard. In the second half, the good news is they responded with a little more energy and a little more emotion and went on a couple of good scoring drives. We have a long way to go."
Following a 25-yard pass from Bray to tailback Tauren Poole, Neal scored UT's first TD of the second half on a 12-yard run.
Bray's next three possessions were short. On the first play of the first drive, Bray found wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers across the middle and Rogers did the rest, taking it 70 yards for the Vols' longest offensive play of the day. Rogers led UT with 79 receiving yards and both of his receptions were TDs.
Defensive back Anthony Anderson made a one-handed interception on Bray's next throw and returned it 81 yards for the defense's lone score of the afternoon.
The final two TDs came on drives that were set up to begin at the 12-yard line. On his first throw since the INT, Bray hit Rogers for a 9-yard TD, while early enrollee quarterback Justin Worley connected with Milton for a 12-yard score.
Defensively, the Vols were led by Brent Brewer, who had a team-high six tackles and one of UT's four interceptions. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson recorded five tackles, three of which set the Vols' offense back a total of 12 yards, including a sack. Nigel Mitchell-Thornton registered a team-best two sacks and returned an INT 23 yards.
...whether or not he is down about his team's performance:
"I didn't expect to come out here and look like a championship-caliber football team. I'm not down at all. It's right about where I thought we were. I didn't think we were any good three days ago, I just didn't say it. I wanted to wait until the scrimmage to see. Today just confirmed what I thought, but I'm not down by any stretch. It just means we have a lot of work to do."
...if the defense is usually ahead of the offense at this point in the year:
"It usually just depends on what kind of team you have. I think that used to always be the case, but I think the times have changed a little bit. I don't know if any group is ahead -- we're just kind of chugging along. They're probably both behind. I don't know who we're behind, but we're not ahead of anybody."
...Tennessee's passing game:
"The execution of the passing game is always the toughest. We had some dropped balls. We had a penalty. Sometimes the quarterback wasn't as accurate. It was a little windy. We are all new. We are all freshman and sophomores out there with a sophomore quarterback. It's going to take some time."
BRAY SEARCHING FOR COMFORT ZONE
Bray led all UT quarterbacks, completing 11-of-27 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns, but the sophomore also threw a pair of interceptions. After losing his top three targets from 2010 in seniors Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore and Luke Stocker, Bray is adjusting to a new crop of receivers at the top of the depth chart.
"Last year, they had a lot of speed," Bray said. "It's kind of tough sometimes getting used to the receivers and trying to learn which way they're going to run certain routes. We're starting to get the chemistry down and our passing game should improve."
Bray said the most important factor will be repetition.
"Extra practice is always going to help, but we just need to get to where we're running the routes the same every time, I'm putting the ball in the same place every time so they know where the ball is going to be and I know where they're going to be all the time."
-Delivering the biggest hits of the day were Bray, Brewer and Daryl Vereen. Bray's came on a block as Neal was cutting back to the west sideline, while Vereen delivered a big block on Anderson's 81-yard INT return. Brewer's hit took place on a pass attempt.
-The scrimmage portion of Tennessee's practice lasted just under two hours.
-Tennessee's early enrollees made an impact Saturday. Defensive back Justin Coleman tied for third on the team with four tackles, while also contributing a pass breakup. Tight end Brendan Downs had the Vols' first reception of the day and finished with a pair. Wide receiver Vincent Dallas notched UT's second-longest reception of the day for 42 yards. Quarterback Justin Worley completed four passes and threw one of UT's four passing TDs.
-The Vols defense wreaked havoc in the backfield, totaling 14 tackles for a loss of 67 yards. UT posted five sacks.
Statistics from Tennessee's Saturday scrimmage at Neyland Stadium:
Rushing Leaders (No.-Yds.-TD-Long) - Rajion Neal 14-152-3-63; Tauren Poole 9-21-0-15; Jaron Toney 3-37-0-34; Deanthoine Summerhill 3-13-0-12.
Passing Leaders (Att.-Comp.-Int.-Yds.-TD-Long) - Tyler Bray 27-11-2-172-3-70; Matt Simms 7-4-0-62-0-42; Justin Worley 14-4-1-23-1-12.
Receiving Leaders (No.-Yds.-TD-Long) - Justin Hunter 3-44-1-15; Matt Milton 3-35-1-13; Mychal Rivera 3-23-0-9; Da’Rick Rogers 2-79-2-70; Vincent Dallas 2-43-0-42; Brendan Downs 2-4-0-4; Tauren Poole 1-25-0-25.
Defensive Leaders - Brent Brewer 6 tackles, 1 TFL (-3), 1 interception (4 yards), 1 PBU; Malik Jackson 5 tackles, 3 TFLs (-12, including 1 sack for -10), 1 QB hurry; Nigel Mitchell-Thornton 4 tackles, 2 sacks (-18), 1 interception (23 yards); Rae Sykes 4 tackles, 1 sack (-10), 1 PBU; Justin Coleman 4 tackles, 1 PBU; Austin Johnson 4 tackles, 0.5 TFL; Jacques Smith 3 tackles, 1 TFL (-1), 1 QB hurry; Raiques Crump 3 tackles, 1 QB hurry; Dontavis Sapp 2 tackles, 1 sack (-9); Steven Fowlkes 2 tackles, 1 TFL (-1); Willie Bohannon 2 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 QB hurry; Art Evans 2 tackles, 1 PBU; Daryl Vereen 2 tackles; Prentiss Waggner 2 tackles; Anthony Anderson 1 tackle, 1 interception (81-yard TD), 1 PBU; Marlon Walls 2 PBUs.
Field Goal Leaders - Michael Palardy 3-of-4, long 42.
Punting (No.-Avg.-Long) - Michael Palardy 3-41.0-44; Matt Darr 4-39.3-47.