KNOXVILLE — Jim Chaney was disappointed he had to yell more than he expected.
"I was thinking on Sunday I'd come in here and be able to yell at one segment of the offense. [but] there wasn't one of them that did very good in the run game," the University of Tennessee offensive coordinator said after Wednesday morning's practice. "The running backs, O-line, tight ends, wideouts -- it was a unanimous decision that everybody on any given play were making too many mistakes. We've worked hard this week to minimize those mental mistakes and to win our individual battles."
The Volunteers' tailbacks averaged less than four yards per carry in a 42-16 season-opening against Montana last Saturday, and a promising offensive line struggled to push around the Football Championship Subdivision Grizzlies.
Repairing the inconsistent running game has been a theme this week as UT prepares to host Cincinnati, and the focus has been improving in each facet of the ground game.
"We get more technically sound and we outwork our opponents," Chaney said. "That's what we're trying to do across the line of scrimmage, and I don't just mean the offensive line. Perimeter blocking was not where we needed to be throughout the ball game, so we've got to improve that and the line-of-scrimmage play and run the ball better."
Tailback Tauren Poole admitted after the game he missed some holes, freshman Marlin Lane scored twice in his debut despite running just 35 yards on 10 carries and freshman Tom Smith was stuffed at the goal line late in the game. The Vols hope to use Rajion Neal more this week after a knee injury slowed him down at the end of training camp.
"We've got four [tailbacks] who have ability, but what we've got to do is turn ability into production and we haven't done that yet," coach Derek Dooley said. "It'll come in time, we just have to be patient.
"We act like our offensive line is the Green Bay Packers. These guys are four sophomores and a junior, so it's hard. It's hard to play up front, it takes time, it takes reps and they're going to be there -- but I don't know when."
The Vols said Montana used a number of different shifts, blitzes and alignments, including some that UT's offensive line hadn't seen on film. The Vols themselves kept it simple, but that's not an excuse for the poor showing.
"The big thing is they all have to see the same thing and take responsibility for what the fronts are doing and what the defenses are doing," line coach Harry Hiestand said. "It's a combination of people communicating. It's a combination of focusing too much on one thing and something else happens. It's really important that they learn from it and that we continue to work.
"I don't think we played like we are capable of playing."
Weary of the potent offense the Bearcats will bring to Neyland Stadium on Saturday, defensive Justin Wilcox said the execution at each level of his defense needs to significantly and quickly improve.
"We obviously had some misfits in the run game, we missed some pattern matches during the game obviously but as a whole I thought the guys played hard," he said. "But we've got make a big jump this week because the speed at which these guys play is going to be different than last week.
Chaney was pleased with quarterback Tyler Bray's performance against Montana.
"I was pleased with how he played in some situations," Chaney said. "He threw a couple balls up that I thought he probably shouldn't have, but for the most part he and I only had disagreements on two or three plays that I thought he played poorly. That's way down from the previous occasions I've had with Tyler."
Odds and ends
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said that senior cornerback Art Evans is "knocking on the door" after taking an interception back for a big play, though he added the Vols still "feel good" about using four cornerbacks (starters Marsalis Teague and Justin Coleman, Izauea Lanier and Evans)...Ball security has been a major point of emphasis in practice this week, Chaney said, after the Vols fumbled six times against Montana and recovered all six...defensive tackle Malik Jackson (illness) was back at practice after missing Tuesday's workout...Dooley said Maurice Couch (knee sprain) was integrated more into Wednesday's practice, but the defensive tackle remains day to day.
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 ...