KNOXVILLE—Maybe it was the windy conditions, the growing pains of a youthful group or simply a typical first scrimmage in April.
Whatever it was that Tennessee's offense did inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it didn't leave its coach in the best of moods.
“You always have some early conclusions when you scrimmage, and the first one is we're really a bad football team,” Derek Dooley said after the Volunteers scrimmaged for a littler more than two hours.
“I was really disappointed in the first half how the offense came out. The offense went about four straight three-and-outs and got kicked around the yard. The passing game is terrible, the running game is non-existent [and] I'm glad it's April.”
Quarterback Tyler Bray, a rising sophomore who completed 11 of 27 passes for 172 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, didn't totally agree or disagree with Dooley's rather blunt evaluation.
“I was not totally thinking it was terrible, but it was still pretty bad,” Bray said. “A couple of reads I probably shouldn't have thrown [and] I probably should have went to the other side. But we're still learning right now, getting the offense [and] we'll be fine.”
The Vols have the same personnel at quarterback, in the backfield and along the offensive line as last season, though that group is still predominantly underclassmen. Throw in Bray's new targets in the passing game, and any struggles this early probably aren't surprising.
“I'm not down. I didn't expect to come out here and look like a championship caliber football team,” Dooley said. “I'm not down at all. It's right about where I thought we were, and I didn't think we were any good three days ago. I just didn't say it — I wanted to wait until the scrimmage to see and [it] just confirmed what I thought.”
Backup tailback Rajion Neal (14 carries, 152 yards and three scores) and receiver Da'Rick Rogers (two touchdown catches) had the best days according to the stats provided by UT. Receivers Justin Hunter and Matt Milton each caught touchdowns, and true freshman quarterback Justin Worley tossed a score and an interception, though he was just 4-of-14 passing. Starting tailback Tauren Poole (nine carries, 21 yards) struggled, and most of Neal's yards came on a 63-yarder.
“We got yelled at a little bit,” said Rogers, a former Calhoun High School star. “We're like, ‘This ain't us; this ain't us. We make big plays, we move the ball — that's what we're supposed to do.'”
Rogers, along with Hunter, Milton and Zach Rogers, are still developing their chemistry with Bray, who had dependable seniors in Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore to throw to when he took over the starting job late last season. Bray is trying to take on more responsibilities, digest more of the playbook, tune his own game and improve in the cerebral area of the position.
But that's what April scrimmages are for.
“I've been struggling a little lately, a little slow on my reads [instead] of letting the ball the loose and just throwing it,” Bray said. “But other than that I've been improving almost every day. I'm going in [today] to watch this scrimmage and see mistakes and try to fix them and correct them in practice.
“It's an almost live game situation, so it's better than practice where they can stop and start plays and let you see defenses and tell you pretty much what defense they're going to run. It's live, and you've got make play happen real quick.”
The Vols still have two more weeks of spring practice to iron things out.
“I think it's our execution,” Dooley said of the passing game's struggles. “That's usually the hardest thing to get, the timing. We had some dropped balls, a penalty, sometimes the quarterback wasn't as accurate and we're all new. We've got all freshmen and sophomores out there and a sophomore quarterback, so it's just going to take time.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...