KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Tennessee took part in its first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday at Neyland Stadium. Head coach Derek Dooley acknowledged that there’s a lot of work to be done before the Vols kick off the 2011 season vs. Montana on Sept. 3, but knows it’s early.
“It was a typical first scrimmage in a lot of ways,” Dooley said. “We have a long way to go as a team. There wasn’t much chemistry on offense and not much tempo. It’s like 11 parts out there not working together. We had a lot of delay of games. The administration of the plays weren’t very good.
“But we have some individual guys who can do some things. We need to make a lot of progress. Defensively, we had pretty good energy levels. It was a little sounder game than normal in our first scrimmage. We still have a lot of improvement to do from a tackling standpoint, but I think we’re improving there. We’re going to watch the film, evaluate it and then I know we need to make a big jump between now and Saturday.”
Four players caught touchdown passes as the offense posted 32 points. Freshman fullback Austin Bolen (1 yard), junior wide receiver Zach Rogers (15 yards) and sophomore wide receivers Justin Hunter (30 yards) and Da’Rick Rogers (19 yards) each hauled in a scoring pass, the last two from sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray.
Defensively, senior linebacker Austin Johnson paced the Vols with eight tackles.
To accompany strong individual performances, the Vols will be looking for an improved cohesive effort during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“You see some individual plays get made,” Dooley said. “You see (Tauren) Poole making his plays. You see Da’Rick (Rogers) and Justin (Hunter) making their plays. You see Tyler (Bray) making some throws. You see the guys on defense flying around a little bit better. Austin (Johnson) making some tackles and having a little command at the mike position. You see a little better pressure coming from the pass rush. So you see a lot of individual things that look a little better, but you don’t really see it as units if that makes sense.”
The defense came out strong, holding the White team to a combined four first downs in the opening five drives. Highlighted by a 15-yard connection between Bray and Poole on a fourth-and-two, the offense broke that streak with a 37-yard field goal from sophomore placekicker Michael Palardy to cap an eight play, 40-yard drive. Poole was UT’s second-leading receiver with four receptions for 47 yards, while also leading the Vols with 24 yards rushing.
From there, four of UT’s quarterbacks -- Bray, senior Matt Simms and freshmen Nash Nance and Justin Worley -- caught fire, combining for a 7-for-8, 100-yard stretch that was bolstered by three touchdown passes.
Nance used a 16-yard completion to freshman tight end Dakota Summers to set up the Vols’ first touchdown of the afternoon. Two plays later, Nance found Bolen in the end zone from one yard out.
On the second play of the following drive that started at the Orange 18, Simms needled a 15-yard strike to Zach Rogers.
Bray and the first unit joined the streak with a nice 67-yard drive. Finding Poole for an 18-yard completion on third down, Bray followed it up with a perfectly-placed pass to sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter for a 30-yard score.
On Bray’s next possession came the same result, different receiver, finding Da’Rick Rogers for a 19-yard touchdown. Rogers led the UT receiving corps with six receptions for 77 yards.
Senior placekicker Chip Rhome also added a 36-yard field goal.
“We have to keep working,” Dooley said. “It’s still early. We’re still young. Nobody is frustrated. Nobody is down or disappointed. We just have a lot of work to do. That’s all it is.”
Among the things that Dooley was most pleased with following Tuesday’s scrimmage was the focus of those wearing orange jerseys.
“There weren’t a lot of mental errors on defense, which was good,” Dooley said. “The fit was pretty good, which means there weren’t these gaping holes. They did a great job against the run. We didn’t run the ball very well and that was disappointing. That was a good job by the defense. Our tackling needs to keep improving. We hit guys and they fall for three yards instead of hitting them and it’s zero. The defense won the line of scrimmage. Usually when that happens, you’re going to be all right.”
Sophomore defensive lineman Daniel Hood had a similar outlook. While he saw glimpses of what the finished product can be, Hood knows there’s work to be done.
“I thought we showed some potential up front, but I don’t think we are anywhere near where we need to be,” Hood said. “There weren’t enough big hits and it wasn’t as intense as it needed to be. But at the end of the day, I felt the defense dominated and that’s our goal every game. I know for a fact, I got every call from a linebacker and I know our defensive line was communicating really well. That’s a good positive. Now, we need to trigger more.”
FRESHMEN LINEBACKERS IMPRESS
Freshmen played a large role for the Vols in 2010, and a pair of rookie linebackers are doing their best to make sure that’s a similar theme this season.
“It’s hard to say any bad things about A.J. (Johnson) and Curt Maggitt,” Dooley said. “Those guys are big, they’re physical and they’re playing fast and aggressive. They just bring a presence that we have not had at the linebacker position. They were out there running with the ones and they’re looking pretty good.”
JACQUES SMITH GETTING HIS FEET UNDER HIM
With a year under his belt, sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith feels like he is finally starting to get his feet under him a little, both figuratively and literally.
After recording 24 tackles and two sacks in 13 games as a rookie, Smith posted one of the best springs of any player before being sidelined by stress fractures in both of his feet. Back on the playing field this fall, the Ooltewah native says he is healthy and starting to get the hang of UT’s defense.
“I’m coming along fine and just working to continuously improve every single day,” Smith said. “We get out here and learn new things. The more snaps you get, the better you get at the game, so we are just continuously learning.”
Smith made a couple of big plays in Tuesday’s scrimmage, finishing with half a sack for -2 yards and forcing a fumble.
“I feel like I’m more comfortable out on the field with the scheme. I’m taking my time and just playing ball. I’m not freaked out. I’m just going out there, playing with my teammates, playing ball and just doing what I do best.”
Head coach Derek Dooley
(On potential of newcomers)
“It looks significantly different at a lot of positions. We have guys that are a little bigger stature and some talented guys, but still really not good football players yet. It gives you a little encouragement, but we have a long way to go.”
(On sophomore punter Matt Darr)
“He’s a lot different psyche. He came in as a talented guy that knew nothing about the art of punting. Now, you can see that he’s really invested trying to learn the trade, understand the trade and work at the trade. He’s certainly not polished up where he needs to be, but he’s on that track. He’s going to go out there and boom some and he’s going to go out there and not boom some - - shank some. He’ll get there.”
Senior tailback Tauren Poole
(On the Vols’ first scrimmage)
“Today’s scrimmage was OK. I can’t say we are where we need to be, because we are not. That’s the reality of it. That’s a good thing, because it shows we need growth and we need maturity. We need a lot of guys to step up. We need production out of everyone on this football team.”
Senior linebacker Austin Johnson
(On the freshmen)
“We had those freshmen in there and they held their own. I was really impressed with how they did. They are really picking up on everything. We are just going to keep working from what we saw today and keep getting better.”
Junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner
(On the Vols’ first scrimmage)
“I think overall, we played pretty good. I know the secondary came out telling each other to run the ball. Overall we did a good job running to the ball. As a defense, I think we did a good job of tackling today, for the first scrimmage.”
Freshman quarterback Tyler Bray
(On chemistry with his receivers)
It was OK. It’s been better. It’s still a scrimmage and you are going to have your lineman problems and throwing the ball a little inaccurate, but at the end of the day we’ll be fine. It wasn’t the best scrimmage we’ve had, but it also wasn’t the worst. We always need to get better. We’re never going to be perfect. We just need to keep working hard and getting our timing down.”