KNOXVILLE—The Vols took the field Saturday for the first scrimmage of the year. This wasn’t a traditional scrimmage like Vol fans are used to seeing in the Orange and White game, but more of a situational practice where each rotation was scored. If an offensive unit won, they were given points; conversely, if a defensive group won, they were given points. In the end, the defense defeated the offense 90-89 on a final play sack of Justin Worley. There was some confusion on the final play, as Worley thought he completed a touchdown pass to tight end Brendan Downs before he was touched (the QBs wear red “no contact” jerseys, if they’re touched they are ruled down), but he was clearly tagged by a defender before he released the football.
Though the defense narrowly bested the offense on the scoreboard, Jones had to use some creative scoring methods to make the competition close at the end. “Everything is about sudden change, and how your players will respond to it,” Jones said. “Football is a game of sudden change, and I thought they did a great job with it. I like the way our players competed at the end…there’s a method to the madness.”
It’s clear the defense is ahead of the offense at this point, but that shouldn’t be surprising given the experience Tennessee returns on defense, and the new system the offense is learning. Though the defense is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the vast majority of UT’s defensive players are familiar with the 4-3 and were recruited to play in such a system.
Quarterback Nathan Peterman offered his thoughts on where the offense stands, “It (the scrimmage) was good for the most part. Anytime you install new plays the defense is going to be a little ahead of the offense, and kinda fly around a little more. Offensively I think we have a little to work on. It was a windy day today too, so that didn’t help with pass efficiency. We have to get better, watch the film,
and correct our mistakes.”
Both Worley and Peterman struggled with the wind (equipment was blowing all over the field at times), but each showed the arm strength to complete passes down field through the gusts. The quarterbacks also carried the ball several times in 11-on-11 situations, with Peterman breaking the longest QB run of the day. In the two hour scrimmage quarterbacks carried the ball more than they did during Dooley’s entire three-year tenure as head coach.
I asked Peterman about the quarterbacks being asked to use their legs to make plays, ”I don’t think they want to emphasize it too much…if the defense is going to let us run and squeeze down the running back then we’re going to take the ball and get some yards…it’s us letting the defense know that we’re a threat too and we can gain yards so they gotta be prepared for that.”
As far as the quarterback battle, it looked like Worley bested Peterman today, though not by enough to give him any kind of breathing room in the race. Peterman and Worley have been fairly effective and efficient in the offense for it to be this early in spring, and it looks like the team as a whole is starting to acclimate to the breakneck pace of practice.
“Compared to last year, I’d say we’re a lot faster. We’ve been doing this the whole spring so I think guys are starting to get used to it and get more conditioned and the receivers did a good job today being conditioned and running good routes, so we just gotta keep building on it,” said Peterman.
At receiver, Devrin Young, Pig Howard, and Cody Blanc stood out. Their routes were generally sharp, they got open, made plays, and caught the football. Young looks like he’s embracing the position change fully, and he caught a couple big passes from Peterman in 11-on-11 situations.
Jones spoke about Young’s development, “I see progress but a long way to go (for Devrin Young) from just the overall retention…where it becomes second nature. Where you get the play and you line up. Everyone thinks as a receiver you just line up and go catch passes. They don’t understand with the tempo and deciphering the play call, taking proper splits, coming off, blocking, route technique, depth, painting a picture for the quarterback. He’s one of those individuals who’s done anything and everything we’ve asked of him.”
Quote of the Day: “There are over 600 people here today; our football family coming together. That’s special. There’s only one Tennessee. People may try to emulate Tennessee; there’s only one Tennessee. Let’s make sure we understand that. We have to get Tennessee back to the standard and the expectations that are associated with this football program. That’s ongoing, that’s a work in progress. We have a long way to go, but anything that’s worth building…takes time. Our program has a lot of momentum right now.”
Here’s Justin Worley’s interview after practice. We’ll have more from practice in our “State of the Vols” column Monday.