Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee quarterback B.J. Coleman runs the ball in the first half of their game against Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. Tennessee won 20-10.
KNOXVILLE — A few things have become clear through Tennessee’s first few football spring scrimmages.
For instance, the first-team offensive line can’t block the first-team defensive line. And Chattanooga’s B.J. Coleman is much more effective with the second-team offense than Jonathan Crompton is with the starters.
How connected are those two facts?
Answers will be hard to find unless next weekend’s Orange and White game features a different format. As is, the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense have generally controlled full-contact work, including Friday’s midday scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
Crompton completed 8 of 11 passes for 91 yards and no interceptions, but other statistics weren’t as kind. Two of the possessions he directed finished with field-goal attempts but none reached the end zone, while two others finished with a safety and a lost fumble — caused by defensive end Ben Martin’s sack and recovered by surging freshman defensive tackle Montori Hughes.
First-year coach Lane Kiffin seemed to place more blame on the first-team offensive line, maintaining that Crompton “did really well.”
Kiffin also praised top tailback Montario Hardesty’s 8-carry, 38-yard day, saying the senior-to-be did “everything he could do.
“Our pass protection right now ... we’ve got a long ways to go,” Kiffin said. “I feel like we’re in the 60s right now with our offense, and we’ve got to run the ball or throw play-action right now. That’s about all we can do.”
It certainly wasn’t a stretch to compliment Coleman. The former McCallie School star went under center on five possessions. Three finished in the end zone, and a fourth ended with a field-goal attempt.
“B.J. made some plays when things weren’t there,” Kiffin said.
Coleman was 11-of-16 for 151 yards, no turnovers and two touchdown throws — a 30-yard slant to speedy wide receiver Denarius Moore and a perfectly lobbed 14-yard play-action toss to tight end Ben Bartholomew.
“I felt great out there today. I really did,” Coleman said. “I trusted my five offensive linemen up front, and I think the run game complemented the pass game big time. I like the way we’re moving the football right now. I think comfort comes with understanding the offense, and I really feel like I’m getting comfortable with it and learning from the coaches.
“I’ve got a long way to go. By no means am I where I need to be yet, but at the same time I feel very comfortable back in the pocket right now.”
Crompton was more defensive, but it was hard to blame him. Coleman didn’t spend the afternoon attempting to avoid a front four of Chris Walker, Dan Williams, Hughes and Martin.
“Our first-team defense is outstanding,” Crompton said. “That’s why they’re at Tennessee. They proved last year that they were good enough. Especially with the defensive staff that we’ve got in this year, that’s what we expect.
“But we also expect a whole heck of a lot out of our offense, too. That’s part of it, so we’re going to come out here and compete every day.”
Walker — the team’s spring MVP, according to several coaches and teammates — had five tackles, three stops for loss, two sacks and a safety.
“I’m only 235 pounds, so I’ve got to get off those blocks if I’m going to do anything,” said Walker, who has been deemed “unblockable” by Kiffin and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron this spring.
“Those O-linemen are like 100 pounds bigger than me, so I do whatever I’ve got to do to get around them as fast as possible,” Walker added. “Why stand in there and fight when you can just run around them and hit somebody that’s not 100 pounds bigger than you?”
Hughes — a 6-foot-5, 312-pounder who looks and plays nothing like the 18-year-old he is — added four tackles, two stops for loss, a sack and forced fumble. Martin and Williams occupied the backfield plenty of times, too.
“That No. 1 defense is a special unit,” Kiffin said. “It’s a special huddle. You feel their confidence. That’s what you need your team to be. When you eventually get your whole team that way, you become a championship team.
“Our first defense is operating at a championship level right now. We’ve got to do a lot better job on the other side.”
Reserve safety Derrick Furlow led the Vols with eight tackles, and first-team middle linebacker Nick Reveiz added seven.
“There’s a lot of times where I can just run around and fly around,” Reveiz said. “I didn’t even get touched a lot of times, and I give (Hughes and Williams) the credit. Those two guys are just holding two guys each for me, and I can just run around. It’s incredible. That’s sacrifice right there.
“I can’t praise those guys enough.”
Kiffin gave the players Easter weekend leave, and they’ll report back for next week’s final few days of spring practice, capped by Saturday’s Orange and White game.
Tailback Tauren Poole continued his solid-running, turnover-prone spring with 80 yards, a touchdown and a lost fumble on 11 carries. January enrollee Toney Williams had trouble finding holes against the reserve defense, toughing out 30 yards on 14 runs.
“We’re all just trying to become more comfortable with the offense, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it,” Crompton said. “Obviously, we’ve got to get better. Nobody’s ever perfect. We’re going to go home this weekend, and I know everybody will get in their playbooks.
“I’m going to go home and work on a paper and get in my playbook all weekend and just try to get better.”