KNOXVILLE - Tennessee's offense walked off the field inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex on Saturday night feeling good about its performance in the Volunteers' first preseason scrimmage.
The positives included a 98-yard touchdown run by tailback Rajion Neal and a 14-play scoring drive in which the Vols didn't throw a single pass.
After a morning practice of botched end-game situations and near misses in some difficult simulated scenarios, the Vols felt they were sharper in the second practice of the day.
"There was a few [missed assignments] during the earlier practice," quarterback Nathan Peterman said, "but I think we just needed to focus on fundamentals, focus on the plays and what we've got and calming down in those situations. As quarterbacks, our focus is always the same: Know the situation, know what we need to get, ultimately score [with] no turnovers and lead the offense down the field. It's a good learning process."
After focusing more on clock management in the morning, first-year coach Butch Jones geared Saturday night's scrimmage to "situational and overall football." He called the day "extremely productive" and praised the players' resilience and the way they "embraced" the first two-practice day of the month.
He did, however, lament missed tackles by the defense and dropped passes by the receivers.
"We have to start catching the football," he said. "Way too many drops. I've said it: A dropped ball in our offense is equivalent to a turnover. We have to catch the football."
Earlier Saturday, the receivers didn't have many opportunities to catch passes, as the quarterbacks narrowly missed on a handful of throws, but Jones laid most of the ineffectiveness Saturday night at the feet of the receivers.
"I thought [the quarterbacks] managed the offense extremely well," the coach said. "I'll know a little bit more when I watch the film, but I am starting to see a level of consistency. The area I don't like is our wide receiver corps and the dropped passes. Cannot happen, and we have to get it corrected.
"They're coaching each other, which is great to see," he said later of the quarterbacks. "They're taking advantage of the repetitions that they're gaining. It's been a great thing because I see the strides that all four are making."
As expected, Tennessee's passing game remains a work in progress.
"I think the rhythm's been fine, just getting on the same page, especially with the freshmen receivers that are here," junior quarterback Justin Worley said. "We've had all summer, and now that we've put on pads and had press [coverage] releases and things like that, it's been a little more difficult getting the rhythm down, but it's coming along fine. I think when guys get tired, we start having more [missed assignments] and things like that, but they're really grinding through it."
Tennessee's veteran offensive line felt it did well and created some running lanes for the Vols' backs.
"We just need to come out and execute," left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson said. "The biggest thing is execution. We keep on reiterating it: We're veterans now. We've got to execute in the run game, pass game -- we've got to be consistent all across the board.
"I felt like we've been consistent all camp."
Jones continues to be pleased by the play of his quartet of quarterbacks, who, he said, are gaining confidence and a greater command of the offense. He said they handled some of the situational work better Saturday night than in the morning session, when Jones harped on late-game penalties and sacks as "catastrophic" errors.
"We had a situation where it's third down and long and we're down by three in the red zone in an overtime," he said. "We throw the football away instead of forcing it into coverage, and we kicked a field goal to send it into a second overtime. Those are all valuable lessons in the development of that position, and in the development of our entire football team."
Said Worley: "I think we need the situational things, because when else are you going to practice them, except in a scrimmage or in practice? If you don't practice for them and it happens in a game, you may not know what's going to happen or what you need to do in that situation. I think it's good for me as a quarterback, as a management position, just knowing what to do in certain situations."
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