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Tennessee’s Running Game Showed Signs Of Progress In First Scrimmage


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - One of the main focal points heading into Tennessee's 2012 spring was to improve the running game.

The results so far have been favorable for the Vols, evidenced by their performance on the ground during last Friday's scrimmage.

The Vols carried the ball 52 times for a total of 258 yards, an average of five yards per carry.

"It's good to have that kind of production," head coach Derek Dooley said after UT's Tuesday morning practice at Haslam Field. "I say we're not day trading but we're moving guys around because we're trying to evaluate them. Rajion (Neal) is having a really good spring. He just needs to keep going. He's playing a lot faster and he's playing with a lot more physicality. His numbers reflected that."

With 15 carries for 100 yards in UT's first scrimmage, Rajion Neal led the Vols in both categories, averaging 6.7 yards per touch.

"My big thing is that I want to keep competing, and show the coaches and the team that I am dependable," Neal said. "I want to be back in the backfield and help out as much as I can. Whenever my time is called, I'm ready and I try to take full advantage of it."

Also taking full advantage of his opportunities is sophomore Devrin Young, who used his shiftiness and explosive ability to lead Tennessee with 7.5 yards per carry on Friday.

"He's really blossomed a little bit at the running back position," Dooley said. "We're obviously going to use him more there. He can just do some things that a lot of guys can't. He has a lot of quickness, instincts, a burst and he can really make some big plays for you."

Marlin Lane, who was Tennessee's second-leading rusher in 2011 as a freshman, knows it's a crowded and talented backfield, but is focused on how it will further better the Vols.

"Every day we come out here, compete and we help each other," Lane said. "We're together on it, but at the same time we are competing for a starting position. It's a lot of talent and every running back has different abilities to do different things."

Tennessee's number one emphasis with the running game has been "really hitting and playing fast," according to Dooley. It's that aggressive style that has yielded positive results from the Vols' diverse backfield.

"I think it's just something they have to form a habit of trusting what's going on up front, hitting the hole and playing with physicality," Dooley said.

It's not often that a college player can see action for two teams in the same league. But that is the case for Vols junior transfer Darrington Sentimore. After beginning his career at the University of Alabama, the defensive lineman transferred to Gulf Coast Community College in Mississippi before joining the Vols this spring. Sentimore has two seasons left to play with the Orange and White is looking to make the most of his second opportunity in the SEC.
"I had to get back in the SEC," Sentimore said. "It was very important for me to get back in the SEC. There is great talent here in the SEC. A lot of good things go on in the SEC."

Sentimore saw action in 11 games as a redshirt freshman with the Crimson Tide in 2010 before heading to the JUCO route.

"I just want to win," Sentimore said. "I competed when I was over there (at Alabama), I compete here. Every day I get on the field I compete. I will compete even harder when we play Alabama."

Dooley has been happy with Sentimore's progress and has even run him with the first-team defense during spring practice.

"He's been good," Dooley said. "He's still working on his consistency like most of the guys on defense. Stamina is going to be an issue with him, like most D-linemen, big, heavy guys when they go a lot of snaps getting tired. He has knowledge of the system which I think has helped."

A major benefit for Sentimore is that he is the only member of the Vols to have previously played on a defense that new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was a part of. Sunseri was the linebackers coach at Alabama during both of Sentimore's seasons in Tuscaloosa. That has made the transition for the transfer more smooth than that for many returning Vols, who are playing for Sunseri for the first time.

"It is not a lot different," Sentimore said. "It is pretty much the same stuff. Coach Sal is a lot harder than he was at Alabama. I know what to do already and I know what he expects on the field."

Sentimore feels the move to a multiple defense including emphasis on the 3-4 versus the 4-3 run by the Vols for the past few seasons can be a positive.

"There is a lot of pro-stuff that we do," Sentimore said. "There are a lot of little lanes that we have to learn, that if you were in a regular defense you wouldn't have to learn. I already know all of them; it is a lot harder for the other guys to learn it. But I think they are adjusting well.

"We did good as a team in the scrimmage on Friday. I think we are doing good as a team. He is disciplines his guys well. I know we are going to win a championship over here with him as our defensive coordinator."

Linebacker Greg King has battled a number of injuries that have limited his effectiveness throughout his Tennessee career, but the redshirt junior says he is back to 100 percent and is finally "ready to rock and roll."
He backed up those words last Friday, leading the squad with seven tackles in the first spring scrimmage.

"Greg has had a good spring," UT head coach Derek Dooley said. "Greg was a guy who really nobody talked about until this spring. I think the move to the 3-4 really gave him a chance. He's a big, thick body. He can hold point in there. He's playing good for us.

"Greg's biggest issue is I don't know if he's practiced more than a week at a time since I've been here in two years. He has size. He has explosive power when he tackles. He has a good attitude. We just have to keep him on the field. I'm going to reserve judgment until we go through a spring without him getting hurt."

King agrees that it has not been the easiest couple of years, but says he is ready to make an impact on the field this season.

"The (injuries) kept coming back-to-back," King said. "You keep trying to get healthy and then you have another one that comes right after it. It was frustrating. I was practicing, no excuses, but sometimes your body doesn't tend to give as much so you breakdown. I was like a rusty chain on a bike, but I feel good now."

One thing that he feels will help him accomplish that goal is simply being able to participate in practice.

"I got a lot of mental reps, but there isn't anything like being out there physically," King said. "You see everything that is going on. Mental (reps) are a great way to learn, but you also have to have the physical reps."

The DISH Orange & White Game will take place on Saturday, April 21 with a 2:30 p.m., kickoff. Admission and parking will be free for all fans. In addition to free admission to the game, Fan Appreciation Day will feature an autograph signing with head coach Derek Dooley, assistant coaches and Vol players. The signing, held in recent years at Haslam Field, will be held on the field at Neyland Stadium from 12:15-1:15 p.m.

(On Tuesday’s practice)

“We were just trying to clean up some things from the scrimmage, but also moving into more third-down work today. The defense puts in more exotic blitzes, all the third-down pressures and that causes a lot of protection issues on the offense. It was good work today. We’re doing some more two-minute situations, which will help us. The team is having a good attitude and just carrying on from the scrimmage.”


(On what he took from Friday’s scrimmage)

“I think the two things that were kind of the headline is we’re showing a lot of improvement running the ball and we’re playing a lot more aggressive with some toughness on defense. There’s nothing more important than those two things. We didn’t throw and catch very well. It starts with the quarterback. Tyler didn’t play as well as he’s capable of playing. We have to do a better job at wideout against press when the DBs are challenging us. There are about three or four teams in our league that play it like that. It’s different. You can’t get frustrated. It’s not clean. They’re not giving you access. We have to work on that and then we just have to eliminate a lot of the mental errors.”


(On depth chart changes)

“I wouldn’t say anything significant. We’re going to take a look at Jaron Toney on defense, looking at him in a nickel spot. We’re sliding guys here and sliding guys there.”


(On Tyler Bray’s spring)

“I’m not disappointed in his off-season and his spring. He’s having a good spring. He just wasn’t as accurate or as sharp as he’s capable of being. I don’t think it was anything to start panicking over. He just didn’t throw it as well as he can. Not having Justin sometimes hurts. We have a lot of guys out there at receiver probably trying to do too much. I’m not that concerned about it because he’s working really hard to get better.”


(On Zach Fulton)

“It’s good to get him back. He’ll be in there battling with James (Stone) at right guard. We’ll see how he does.”


(On Mychal Rivera and UT’s tight ends)

“Mych is doing good. We have a good group of tight ends I think. Probably the hardest thing on them is the learning part. That’s the hardest position, using them in the backfield. We open them up, put them on the line and use them as pass protectors. Mych is doing what we thought he could do and Cam and Brendan are really coming on.”



(On what he thought of UT’s running game Friday)

“Everybody had good runs. (Marlin) Lane started off strong, Devrin (Young) continued the whole scrimmage, I had a couple good runs, Tom (Smith) did some good things, you saw Alden (Hill) get a couple runs, (Deanthonie) Summerhill and (Jaron) Toney. I feel everybody had a good couple runs and that was exciting to see, especially for the beginning of spring and how we started.”

(On how rewarding it was to run the ball successfully)
“It was a big reward. I worked hard this offseason. I really came in and learned under coach Graham. What he taught us and what he makes us study paid off. I was excited to get back out there and I was happy with the end results of that scrimmage.”

(On what he took from the scrimmage)

“Just staying focused through the whole game. I got in for the first two plays, had some good runs, but sat back for a couple plays. It’s just learning plays and watching the team.”

(On his aspirations for the running game)
“We want to average seven yards a carry. We averaged 5.6 Friday, so that’s a big step from last year. We are getting it done and progressing every day.”

(On playing the nose)
“I think I like the nose a lot better because I’m a big guy, so it fits me better than playing three-technique. In the three-technique, you are playing a lot more in space and that is really not suited for me. I’m more of a guy who can play man.”
(On applying what he has learned onto the field)
“It’s a good feeling. I feel like I finally have a chance to show what I can do and show that I can help my teammates out, that’s the most important thing.”

(On UT’s quarterbacks)

“We have three great quarterbacks right now. Nathan Peterman has come in and really turned some heads. It is great, friendly competition out there. We are all helping each other out on the field and we are really clicking as a group.”


(On his comfort level)

“My comfort level has been huge for me this spring. Being able to be out (on the field) and be comfortable leading an offense and throwing good balls is all about your comfort level. That has come from being able to have (game) experience.”


(On the improving running game)

“I do not think anything will ever be enough. We could have two, two hundred yard rushers in a game and I do not think that would be enough. It is all about perfection and right now we are trying to perfect each and every play. We are a long way away, but each day we are on the road to having a better run-game.”


(On spring practice)
Everybody is just having fun. There is a lot of fun and inspiration going on. The charisma on this team is just crazy.”
(On the 3-4 defense)
“I ran it in high school a little bit, but I just bought into it and go for what I know and that is playing ball. We have a lot of good things going on with this defense. I love it.”
(On what he is doing to stay healthy)
“Just treatment and staying in the training room. It’s a lot of stretching, just bended knee exercises, quad exercises so I can keep my lower torso as strong as my upper body is.”
(On Tuesday’s practice)
“We had a couple of days off so we came out with our legs fresh. We’re still trying to improve on the running game and today was a real physical day. We’re trying to get out there and hit the defense in the mouth and keep trying to pound the running game in the spring.”
(On his performance in Friday’s scrimmage)
“I always expect more from myself. There were a couple of missed opportunities, a dropped ball in the end zone I should have had, but a pretty good day overall. I’m just going to try to do better in the next scrimmage.”
(On the potential of the UT offense)
“This is the year that the offense is going to explode. We have those receivers coming, the tight ends are growing up, as well as myself and everybody is coming along. I feel like this is the year for the offense.”
(On the running game)
“We are improving bounds-and-leaps and we are moving forward, but I just want to keep improving off of what we did last year.”



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