KNOXVILLE - Within the last week alone, Derek Dooley used the words "terrible," "abysmal" and "nonexistent" to describe both phases of the University of Tennessee football team's young offense.
All that negative attention from the coach had a positive effect Saturday afternoon.
"You have a mindset of what you want to see, and it's hard for everybody to look good," Dooley said after the Volunteers finished their second scrimmage of spring practice at Neyland Stadium. "I had a mindset: We've got to start showing some things on offense with consistency, and we did that today. It doesn't mean we're any good - it just means today we improved. We'll see if we can build on it."
UT's defense controlled the first spring scrimmage last Saturday as both the passing and running games floundered. Projected to start just one senior (Tauren Poole) and one junior (left tackle Dallas Thomas) on offense, the offense's spring growing pains aren't surprising, but it was important for the group to show signs of improvement heading in the final week of spring practice and next Saturday's Orange and White Game.
"I know Coach Dooley holds us to a standard, and we've got to continue to hold ourselves to a standard to become a better team," Poole said after following his nine-carry, 21-yard performance in the first scrimmage with 70 yards on 13 runs Saturday.
"You'll know he's trying to challenge you and trying to get you better. That's how we've got to continue to take it, because he's not going to change. He's going to get after you. That's what you've got to love about him, because he wants you to be the best."
Quarterback Tyler Bray completed 17 of his 30 passes for 258 yards with four touchdowns and an interception by defensive tackle Montori Hughes. Former Calhoun (Ga.) High School star Da'Rick Rogers caught six passes for 120 yards and an opening-drive touchdown, receiver Justin Hunter added five catches for 77 yards and a score and tight end Mychal Rivera hauled in two scoring passes.
"The reason I was emphasizing the offense so much is because we're so young there," Dooley said, "and what I wanted to see was a jump in maturity. These guys hadn't been counted on day in and day out at the skill positions like we needed them to, and we got better at that."
The dilemma of a good day offensively is the defense's bad day, though reserve safeties Rod Wilks and Dontavis Sapp returned interceptions by backup quarterback Matt Simms for touchdowns.
"There's always room for improvement," cornerback Marsalis Teague said. "With this scrimmage there might be a little more things we notice, but all in all we're still out here just trying to improve, and that's the main thing."
Reserve linebacker Shane Reveiz had a team-high nine tackles. Starting safety Brent Brewer, who had six tackles in the previous scrimmage, had five Saturday and forced a fumble. Daniel Hood had five tackles in his second scrimmage at defensive tackle after moving over from the offensive line before the spring.
Two linebackers went down with injuries: Austin Johnson had six tackles before hurting a knee, and Greg King left as a precaution after suffering a head or neck injury, possibly a concussion. The extent of both injuries isn't known.
"I'm worried about the defense," Dooley said. "There's some young guys on defense, but a lot of those guys played last year. Our whole secondary's back. We need improvement. I'm not feeling good about the defense."
But at least he's feeling better about his offense, which was sharp from the start after Bray, who's admitted he's had some trouble this spring in taking on more of the playbook, tossed touchdowns on his first two drives.
"He's been struggling," Dooley said. "It's a combination of putting a lot on him, and you've got all new [receivers]. Our defense is doing some more stuff confusing him. But today the game got simple for him; that's the way it's got to be."