published Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Vols seek 'playmakers'

Quarterback Justin Worley hands off the ball to Rajion Neal during the Orange and White game Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Quarterback Justin Worley hands off the ball to Rajion Neal during the Orange and White game Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's offense scored one touchdown in Saturday's Orange and White Game.

In terms of the on-field product, that's perhaps the largest takeaway from the annual spring wrap-up for the 61,076 fans, the 500-plus former players and dozens of recruits in attendance.

First-year Volunteers coach Butch Jones saw it, too, though it wasn't the first time.

"What we have to find is playmakers," he said after the defense won the day under the coach's modified scoring setup. "I think everyone in this room sees the same thing I saw."

Later he added, "I think we do have some playmakers. I think it's just a level of consistency. We have to have the ability to spit a 5-yard throw out and turn it into a 25-yard gain."

That happened twice Saturday, when Rajion Neal took a well-executed screen pass 39 yards and Cody Blanc caught a 12-yard pass and turned a first down into a 58-yard scoring play.

"It was definitely a relief," Blanc said of his touchdown, "because we were struggling, too."

Tennessee's quarterback tandem of Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman combined to complete 17 of 41 passes for 221 yards. Worley tossed the pass to Blanc, but the rising junior also served up a ball into double coverage that safety Brian Randolph intercepted. Peterman led two drives that ended in field goals, and the athletic redshirt freshman wasn't able to showcase his running ability in his red noncontact jersey.

Tennessee's five healthy scholarship receivers combined to catch 10 passes for 158 yards, as the Vols young corps exits spring with plenty of work to do.

"Going into spring break, the two weeks leading up to it we felt like we were progressing a lot more than we have these last two weeks," Blanc said. "That week off definitely had an effect on us. The summer's going to be a time where we can refine details and everything little thing on our routes.

"I know have a long way to go before I can be a consistent playmaker on third and fourth down where the quarterbacks have enough trust in me to throw it out and me to go get it or throw it my direction and I make a play."

Randolph's recovery

After one practice three weeks ago, Randolph, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Florida last September, declared himself 80 percent healthy.

He looked pretty good on his leaping interception and the ensuing return.

"I felt 100 percent today," he said. "As the game goes on, I felt my knee start to get a little bit stiff. At the beginning of every practice and stuff, I feel like I'm full speed and everything.

"It's just trying to keep my leg loose as the game or practice goes along."

After playing with the second team during the early parts of spring, the redshirt sophomore again is a fixture on Tennessee's back line, where he's very valuable to the Vols.

"Brian's slowly starting to work his way back into really being in game shape," Jones said. "He's still hampered a little bit by the recovery of his injury, but it was very encouraging for me to see his play. I thought he really elevated his play today, and we're going to need that, obviously, down the stretch here in the summer and in the fall."

Sack party

In addition to holding its offense to one touchdown and three field goals on the afternoon, Tennessee's defense registered nine sacks, including eight in the first half.

"We figured," defensive end LaTroy Lewis said, "we probably had as many sacks as we did all [last] season in the first half."

The Vols finished with 17 sacks in 2012, and finding a consistent edge-rushing threat will continue to be a priority. Some of the possible options, such as Jacques Smith, Corey Miller and Jordan Williams, were credited with sacks Saturday. Freshman Corey Vereen finished with four to cap a good spring in which he's shown he can help the Vols.

"Corey Vereen is the type of individual we want to recruit to come here to Tennessee," Jones said of the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder. "He does well in the classroom. he's quiet, his game speaks, he has a great motor and he's going to do nothing but continue to get better and better and better."

Award winners

Tailback Alden Hill, who ran for 101 yards Saturday, walk-on tight end Alex Ellis and walk-on nickelback Max Arnold, who returned a Tyler Page interception 62 yards for a touchdown to seal the defense's win, earned the annual "Iron Vol" spring awards.

Center Mack Crowder and linebacker Dontavis Sapp took honors as the spring's most improved players on offense and defense, and Jones praised their consistency.

"As a football player, I just want to play," said Sapp, a senior special-teams ace who could start at linebacker this fall. "It don't matter where it's at. If I need to get on the field-goal team, I'll do it just to be on the field."

Extra points

"Athlete" Jaylond Woods from Lenoir City High School became the Vols' second 2015 commitment Saturday, two days after Coalfield High School offensive lineman Zach Stewart committed to Tennessee. ... Jones began a new tradition Saturday morning with what he called the "Captain's Breakfast," in which former players Charlie Anderson, Al Wilson and Erik Ainge spoke to the team. ... Former Tennessee tailback Arian Foster returned to Knoxville for the first time since his career ended after the 2008 season and spoke to the team Friday night. ... Not playing Saturday were receivers Jason Croom, Paul Harris and Jacob Carter; linebacker Curt Maggitt; left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson; safety Jalen Reeves-Maybin; cornerback Riyahd Jones; tight ends Brendan Downs and Justin Meredith, and defensive tackles Daniel Hood and Mo Couch.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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