Tyler Bray's green, non-contact jersey that's a customary part of all Tennessee quarterbacks' uniforms looked nothing like Oregon's threads, but the Vols' offense at times did a fair imitation of the Ducks' high-octane brand of football Saturday.
Dictating but not sustaining an uptempo pace according to coach Derek Dooley in the team's second major scrimmage of spring camp, Tennessee's offense took the early fight to its defensive counterparts with a breakneck pace.
"Definitely, you know, the defense sometimes they're not even lined up," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "They're still looking for a call or they're doing something. That wears them down, gets them tired. That's definitely to our advantage."
Bray, who finished 13 of 23 for 180 yards, a touchdown and an interception, opened the Vols' lengthy matinee scrimmage with a quick touchdown march, capping it with a 50-yard scoring strike to Justin Hunter. Then, when the offense again was awarded possession, the Vols' defense got knocked back a bit by the pace, linebacker Herman Lathers admitted.
"Offense had a touchdown early and then came back and just started with a higher tempo and just got us out of sync and we just didn't get lined up like we needed to," Lathers said, noting he doesn't expect the unit to be as susceptible to the pace when it gets more settled into Sal Sunseri's defense.
Nonetheless, Lathers admitted that with Tennessee's weapons a quicker tempo could enhance the Vols' ability to tax other defenses. It's a major factor that led the Vols' coaching staff this offseason to study uptempo offenses, visit with other coaching staffs and devise ways to integrate elements into their system.
"It can create a lot [of havoc], especially with those running backs, Devrin (Young), Marlin (Lane) and Rajion Neal. Those guys are able to do a lot in space, and once they get those guys out in space and spread the field, it's going to be nice for our offense," Lathers said.
Added Neal, "I like the fast tempo because the tempo gets everybody off-guard, and it's kind of exciting to see everybody have a big gain and we get right back and we're ready to run another play. I think it's fun and exciting.
"I feel that's a big advantage to us, because we're coming fast. And it gives us a chance to catch them in off-defenses and it gives us a chance to catch them in defenses we want them."
That's where Bray's continued handle on the offense, as well as the group's ability to sustain itself, must improve, according to Dooley.
"Yeah, they did a real good job," Dooley said of the fast start. "But here's what happens: We set the tempo and we're rolling. But then, when the defense settles in, make a couple plays. Now, how do we get back going again, and that's where we're not there yet. Still, that's not something that changes over time."
But Dooley acknowledged the quickened pace can be an advantage --- as long as it is bothering an opposition's defense.
"Well, it depends on if the defense is stopping you or not," said the third-year coach. "There were a lot of times last year. I reflect last year, when we were in rhythm and had a nice tempo, when Tyler was in rhythm, we looked pretty good. And when we go out of rhythm and our tempo slowed down, we're thinking, we didn't look too good. So we're constantly preaching to maintain that rhythm. And that's important."
Bray said he noticed Tennessee's defenders struggling to keep up, playing landing verbal jabs on his counterparts.
"It does hurt them sometimes. The D-line I know gets a little tired and starts whining, so as long as we can make them tired, we're good. That's less rush on me," Bray said. "... I mean, yeah, if we get them tired and get them out of sync and get them missing calls from the sideline, that's always gonna benefit us."
Linebacker Jacques Smith noted how Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney can dial up the tempo of the offense when he wants to.
"Lately they have been pretty moderate," Smith said. "But I know how fast they can get when Chaney does call for that fast tempo."
Bray said the offense's ability to effectively operate at the heightened pace is a testament to the entire unit's offseason work and attitude.
"It just shows the work we put in in the offseason. We're trying to get that fast tempo," Bray said. "Where we missed last year, we were kind of slow and kind of lackadaisical at times. This year getting everyone going and keeping everyone up.
"I think it's the team put in the work. The offensive line has to run. I know they're big guys, 300 pounds, so that's not easy to move around. I'm 220, getting used to that. But I get to move around light where they have to run. It's getting everyone in the right tempo and the same tempo."
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