Tennessee coach Derek Dooley gives instructions to his team as they practice during their first day in pads Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee football scrimmage Saturday didn’t focus on most statistics. Coach Derek Dooley chose not to disclose them to the media, who weren’t allowed to watch the Neyland Stadium workout.
Saturday’s focus was simple. Dooley put the Volunteers through various late-game scenarios.
The defense dominated again, according to the coach and players.
“It’s the plight of the head coach again,” Dooley said when asked if he was pleased with his defense. “I got on the defense because they weren’t creating enough turnovers. So now they create them, and I’m in the tank because we gave them up. ... They’re feeling good about that on defense, and they should be, because we’re going to need to get some this year. But we can’t spit them out.
“We’re going to have to create turnovers, we’re going to have take care of the ball and we’re going to have to be good on special teams just to have a chance to win. That’s where we are.”
Junior quarterback Matt Simms took another big step toward securing the starting position by throwing just one interception — and that was a spectacular play by defensive end Gerald Williams, who tipped the ball to himself at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s the SEC,” Simms said with a smile and a shrug. “Guys make plays like that. I made a mistake, but man, what a play.”
Freshman Tyler Bray, meanwhile, struggled immensely. The 6-foot-6 Californian threw at least four interceptions, with cornerbacks Eric Gordon and Anthony Anderson and linebackers Austin Johnson Savion Frazier as the culprits. Frazier, who was teased all week for dropping three interceptions in UT’s last scrimmage, returned his to the end zone.
“I guess our quarterbacks we’re thinking, ‘(Frazier) can’t catch, so if we’re going to throw it to them, throw it to that guy,’” Dooley said. “But he proved them wrong today.”
Added a beaming Frazier: “They kept telling me to put some gloves on, so I told them I’d wear some gloves today. ...And I’m never playing without them again.”
Dooley said Bray’s “freshmanitis” was on prominent display.
“When I talk about as coaches, our balances of pushing the envelope schematically versus keeping it clean and tight and easy so the players can play fast, there’s no better example than with Tyler,” the coach said. “Knowing what you really have to put on a quarterback to be successful and win versus you do too much on him, and you take away all the things he does well. That’s one of the things we’re really going to have to evaluate now going forward, with how he manages things.
“I’m not here to beat up Tyler. He’s (gotten) better. But we put him in about nine situations where you’ve got to go win the game or don’t screw it up, and that’s tough on a true freshman.
“Matt’s been the starter since coming out of spring, and that hasn’t changed.”
It wasn’t a total blowout. Dooley said the defenders, particularly the inexperienced safeties and defensive tackles, were far from flawless. He said sophomore safety Janzen Jackson — one of the Vols’ best players — hasn’t found top form since returning from a hamstring injury and “hurt us a lot” in the scrimmage.
“I think we did pretty good, but we need to improve in some areas on defense,” Jackson said. “We need to focus on communication and alignment. That’s the two main areas. We’ve got the players. Once we get in position and lined up, we can play with anybody.”
As for the defensive tackles?
“It’s still ... I mean ... it’s going to be like that for 12 weeks,” Dooley said. “I’m just going to play a bunch of guys.”
The defenders walked off the field in better moods Saturday — “They got the best of us today,” senior receiver Gerald Jones conceded — and Dooley didn’t mind that. But he didn’t hide his lingering concerns about depth at nearly every position.
“It’s hard to really view this scrimmage as where we are as a team,” Dooley said. “What it shows is where we are in the critical situations because, like I told the team, that’s where all your deficiencies get exposed. And we’ve got a lot of deficiencies. And the main ones are youth and inexperience. And the only thing that’s going to correct it is to come right out here and they’ve got to play.”
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