Vols D shows growth, needs more

Tennessee's defense stayed in control Saturday morning, regardless of the late-game situational drill barked out by Butch Jones.
John Jancek's bunch, both first and second teams, kept Mike Bajakian's offense, regardless of rotation or team, off balance ― incomplete passes, mismanaged clock, tackles for loss, sacks, all included.
Saturday night, according to those on the field, was a little more offense-friendly. Or a little more unfriendly on defense, depending on which side players were standing on.
"We gave up a 98-yard touchdown run, we let the ball get outside our defense, we lost leverage and those are game changers," Jones said after the nightcap scrimmage inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex.
Another drive went 98 yards, including 14 straight run plays, with a rushing touchdown serving as the exclamation point for the second-team offensive line.
"The running backs made a good play for the most part, [there were] missed tackles, probably about one or two guys, but the running back made a good play," middle linebacker A.J. Johnson, who registered a sack on a free rush up the middle during the morning scrimmage, said.
"I think they hit one or two big passes, and then they had good runs," Johnson added later. "That was just them making good plays. We had people there, it was just the offense making a good play."
The defensive highlights included "a lot of PBUs," according to safety Brian Randolph, and a John Propst forced fumble that was recovered by Kenny Bynum, ending the scrimmage on a high note for the second-team defense.
"It was a good day," Randolph said.
It was a good day for Johnson, too, who began to respond to his head coach's demands.
"I saw some growth, I saw some excitement, I saw him trying to bring some other players along with him," Jones said. "And like I said, as a middle linebacker, from a leadership standpoint, is the equivalent of the quarterback on offense.
"You see Al Wilson, you see him and how he spoke to A.J. And we challenged AJ, that's one of the skill-sets he has to improve on and I see him making strides, making progress in that area."
Brian Randolph was making a routine play on the football Saturday morning, but it proved to be a play that would've ended in a 15-yard penalty, his ejection and a one-game suspension.
The redshirt sophomore safety broke on a throw toward the sideline, going high on freshman receiver Marquez North to break up the pass with a jarring hit.
With Southeastern Conference officials on hand for both of Saturday's scrimmages, Jones and his staff were able to workout that scenario with the officiating crew between the two-a-day workouts.
The consensus: 'targeting.'
"Well the great thing is, we had a full officiating crew," Jones said. "So when we went back in this morning, we met with the officials. We talked about the rule changes and that was a play we put on the video to discuss.
"It's the world of college football we live in, and that would've been a penalty. Unfortunately, it was young man trying to make a play with the ball in the there, and his helmet happened to get above the shoulder pads, and they're going to call it."
For Jones and his team, it's just another play to learn from in the film room.
"You know, it's a great teaching point because it's a one-minute situation, it was fourth-down-and-16," he said. "So it's an ejection from the game, it's a first down and it changes, obviously, the complexion of the game to come next week. And it's a point of emphasis.
"Again, Brian was just trying to play the ball in the air. But because where the contact occurred, and it being a point of emphasis, and also the definition of a defenseless player, those plays are going to be called."
Jones wasn't ready to give anyone the 'stepping up' label when it came to filling a pressing need at defensive end, a position decimated by injuries in the first week of camp.
"I'll see a little bit more when I watch the film," Jones said. "But like I said, that's the game of football, and unfortunately that's going to happen. But it's another individual's opportunity to come in."
Jacques Smith was lost 4-6 weeks with a fractured thumb. Corey Vereen's knee injury will sideline him until September.
Now Jones needs the next man up to step up ― and get to the passer.
"It's so much of having a mentality," Jones said. "It's like I talked to our defense, you have 1.9 seconds to run an 11-yard arc as a defensive end to rush the passer. Sometimes 2.7. So your margin of error is very small. It starts with your get off, your stance and your start. Understanding the situation, understanding the stance of a tackle.
"Those things are the things that I think with this young football team, and the development of this football team, is understanding the football intelligence that comes into play, understanding the fundamentals that go when you're tired."
That just doesn't go for defensive end or the defensive unit as a whole. That goes for the entire roster.
"We keep talking about your technique, owning your position, but understanding the techniques that go when you're winded," Jones said. "And also your opponent, reading those stances, reading the body language.
"The great players, that's what gives them an edge. So every single snap is a teaching opportunity and a development opportunity for every individual on our football team."
With Justin Coleman and Malik Foreman slowed Saturday morning, Randolph said the secondary was able to prove its depth over the course of the scrimmages. Coleman missed the Vols' morning breakfast and worked in the 'black hole' during that portion of the two-a-day.
"I feel like we're getting a lot more depth," Randolph said. "We had a couple corners go down today and we could put someone right in, it wasn't much of a difference.
"I think our depth and secondary is getting a lot better."