August 11, 2012
Vols show signs of maturity in scrimmage
JOHNSON CITY --- The amenities on the bright yellow Bluebird school buses shuttling Tennessee the roughly six miles from Milligan College for its scrimmage Saturday at nearby Science Hill High School understandably boast no movie players.
Not that Derek Dooley had needed much time with his Vols on the bus to predict his team wouldn't duplicate a practice-field performance from Friday that quarterback Tyler Bray termed zombie-like.
"I could tell from when we got on the buses. There wasn't a word being said," Dooley said. "They were locked in and treating it like a game. I think that's a sign of maturity and of how important it is to them."
Stats from Tennessee's first major scrimmage of pre-season camp, particularly on offense and special teams, back up Dooley's assertion of better competitive spirit and simply the maturity to bounce back from a miserable day at the turf field office.
"(Friday) was a horrible practice. No one really showed up to play. We were kind of like zombies out there," said Bray, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 189 yards and one score. "(Saturday) we came out with some energy and had the tempo we wanted and ran all over the defense."
Added starting center James Stone, "I do think it's a sign of maturity that we were able to go look at the film after we had a bad, sub-par practice and able to then come out here and turn the scrimmage up and do it the way it needed to be executed."
Stressing it was far from perfect, Dooley nonetheless labeled it perhaps the most spirited scrimmage he's been able to generate in his 30 months as head coach.
"Yeah, since I've been here, just from a competitive standpoint. Execution
we've got a ton of work to do. Don't confuse that with, 'Man, we're good.' It's just a good sign for the team," Dooley said. "It's important to them. They're competing, but we've got to do a good job as coaches to clean up the execution. That's going to be a real challenge."
The Vols, however, said they took note of Dooley's challenge Friday, when he clearly was displeased with what they accomplished in their initial road-camp practice.
"Whenever coach Dooley says something like that, we take that to heart and we know we've got to come out and do a better job with that," redshirt junior defensive tackle Marlon Walls said. "So whenever he said that, I think guys actually locked in and stopped looking around so much and said 'Hey, we're going to go out here and play ball. What we came here to do.' It was a definitely better day and we cut out the distractions."
No one labeled the 100-plus play scrimmage a perfect day on Saturday, and Dooley without benefit of film already ticked off several items he recognized in need of immediate improvement.
"It was a really good scrimmage. I was pleased with the attitude, the competitiveness, the toughness and the effort that the players were playing with. That was a good thing to see. We had guys on both sides of the ball making plays," Dooley said. "I was disappointed in some of the game administration part of it. We've really got to clean that up. This was the first time we've worked with a real SEC (officiating) crew. We got too many knick-knacky penalties, some substitution issues that we've got to clean up, but that's why you scrimmage."
Rajion Neal, who yet again strode toward the starting tailback spot, busted loose for 134 yards, including a scintillating 68-yard touchdown run, on just nine carries. The powerful junior back from Georgia, who like Justin Hunter trained this summer some with John Lewis, brother of former Vols standout Jamal Lewis, said players needed this opportunity.
"It was a little edgy. We have been really going against each other and really nitpicking at each other in these practices," Neal said. "It was nice to get out there without the coaches and just cut loose to see who knows what and who can play without the coaches always in their ear."
The Vols, Stone said, should now possess the ability to more quickly move beyond bad days after two seasons of growing pains.
"We do have a lot more experience and age on the team as a whole than we did in the past, so I feel like it's easier for people to get on the same page," Stone said. "Everybody has a better knowledge of the game, this league we're in and what it's going to take to be a winning football team."
On Saturday, they took another step toward achieving that goal.
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