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March 27, 2014

Quick HiTs: Which side won short-yardage battles?

Tennessee tuned up for its second scrimmage of the spring with more work, including some heated fourth-and-1 situations near the goal line ordered by head coach Butch Jones Thursday when it returned for its seventh spring practice.

The Vols, who will scrimmage Saturday morning, again worked extensive fundamental drills but shortly after the team's stretch period, Jones ordered first-team offense to battle first-team defense in a fourth-and-1 situation from just beyond the 10-yard line.

The opening sequence saw Justin Worley at quarterback, flanked by Marlin Lane, and Worley was able to keep the ball around left end for a 1-yard gain.

On the second 1-yard showdown, Jalen Hurd easily bulled through for the first down after taking the handoff from Nate Peterman.

Joshua Dobbs provided the best play of the series, though Hurd's brutish run was impressive, when Dobbs beat edge rush from Curt Maggitt, reset his feet and fired a strike to Josh Malone.

The offense's only unsuccessful 1-yard attempt came when Riley Ferguson handed off to Alden Hill, and the Vols' second-team offense couldn't muster a push against the team's second-string defensive unit.

Tennessee soon shifted into various individual drills, with Jones instantly ramping up the challenge to his skill players on offense. But through the first five periods of practice, it wasn't exactly the best day for the quarterbacks. There were some overthrows, under-throws and not enough consistency.

"Individual, let's go. Quarterbacks and wideouts, this is the most important period of the day," Jones said.

After sitting in on quarterback meetings Tuesday and then watching his team practice that afternoon, Jones did tell VolQuest.com that repetitions could become less evenly divided at the quarterback spot --- if a player's performance dictates as much.

"They're going to earn their reps, so if they start performing they'll earn their reps. If individuals are struggling a little bit, we're going to back off their reps," Jones exclusively told VolQuest.com. "Everything is earned in our program, so they're going to have to earn their repetitions."

Perhaps most noteworthy of the first-team offense's look in early drills was that walk-on Jacob Gilliam, a redshirt senior from Farragut, opened at left tackle on more than one drill instead of Dontavius Blair. Coleman Thomas at right tackle and the remainder of the offensive line was unchanged. Coaches have been challenging Blair, who's big and athletic but is still adapting and trying to improve both conditioning and strength levels, to step up.

Tennessee did more extensive kickoff work Thursday afternoon as it worked toward Saturday's scrimmage, with the Vols practicing both coverage, returns and working on blocking lanes and responsibilities.

A number of players garnered chances in the return game, but Von Pearson and Malone continued to show good burst. Devrin Young also showed good acceleration and understanding of the blocking scheme on a couple of instances.

Jocquez Bruce, a 2015 running back from nearby South-Doyle High School, and Ethan Thomas, also a '15 prospect at running back from Elizabethton, were among the practice visitors Thursday, as were dozens of law enforcement officials. Jones helped the football program set up "Law Enforcement Day" and invited out area police personnel.

VolQuest.com will provide daily Quick HiTs from each of the Vols' spring practices. Additionally, we'll have in-depth videos, stories and analysis as well as updates on the message board and via staff twitter handles, which are as follows: @Brent_Hubbs; @VolQuest_Paul; @John_BriceVQ; @GrantRamey; VolQuest_Rob; and @VolQuest_Rivals.

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