Vols' offense picks up later

KNOXVILLE -- The defense started quickly. The offense finished well. The coach thought it was OK.

Derek Dooley's first scrimmage as University of Tennessee football coach had no major surprises -- at least none that he mentioned. Thursday's action in Neyland Stadium was closed to the media, and statistics were released through the school's sports information department.

"It was OK for a first scrimmage, and I think there were probably three good lessons coming out of it," Dooley said. "The first was the importance of managing the ebb and flow of a game. The defense was very dominant for a stretch, and the offense really struggled to get a first down. But then after the halftime -- and this happens all the time -- the defense was feeling pretty good, and they give up some big plays.

"We've got to learn not to get frustrated when things are down and learn not to get complacent when things are good."

The Vols return to practice Tuesday after going home for Easter weekend. They'll practice four days next week and have three practices the following week before the Orange and White game on April 17.

Dooley mentioned the number of new players on the field, particularly on offense, and noted that it would probably "take a long time" to develop chemistry.

"On the defensive side, there's a lot more familiar faces," Dooley said. "They've been out there together and encouraged each other. On offense, there's just a lot of new faces, so that's really going to be a work in progress.

"Overall, it was pretty typical," he said. "From an execution standpoint, it's not even close to where it needs to be. Throwing and catching it isn't, and the protecting isn't, and the running game isn't. And I'm sure we've got plenty to clean up on the defensive side of it, too."

Nick Stephens, who shares first-team quarterback repetitions with junior college transfer Matt Simms, accepted responsibility for the offense's poor start.

Stephens didn't throw an interception but was 3-for-9 passing for 6 yards.

"It is what it is, and it wasn't good today," Stephens said. "I did a good job the first five practices, and I don't know what it is now, but I'll figure it out and take care of it. Everything starts with the quarterback, and I've got to pick it back up.

"I think I'm putting too much pressure on myself right now. I'm going to be the first person to say that, no matter what anybody else says. I just didn't play loose today, like I did the first couple three practices. It's something I correct, and I'll get better.

"Honestly, I wish it was already Tuesday. I don't like having this taste in my mouth."

Stephens said he "anxious" at times, and Dooley didn't disagree.

"It certainly wasn't his best performance," Dooley said. "He was probably a little bit late on some reads, and there were some batted balls. It was just very jittery, it looked like.

"That's why you have a first scrimmage. ... It's important to learn to just relax and play and let the game come to you.

Budding free safety star Janzen Jackson made what Dooley called "just a great, phenomenal play" in intercepting Simms, and fullback-turned-linebacker Austin Johnson picked off a pass from January enrollee Tyler Bray in a two-minute situation.

Simms was 6-of-20 for 83 yards and a touchdown, and Bray was 8-of-13 for 69 yards and a score.

Johnson led the defense with eight tackles, two stops for loss, one sack and the interception.

"I'm getting there," he said. "I feel like a linebacker again."

Johnson and Jackson agreed with Dooley that the defense didn't finish well after a strong start. Young receiver Zach Rogers beat Jackson to catch a 22-yard touchdown from Simms near the end of the scrimmage.

"I got (Simms), and then he got me back," Jackson said. "I made a good play, and then he made a good play. That's football."

To hear the players say it, tailback Tauren Poole made the play of the day by taking a simple sweep more than 60 yards for a touchdown.

"It was beautiful," Stephens said. "It seemed like it took 15 seconds ... but not because he's slow or anything. He just made a lot of guys miss. It was awesome.

"Tauren always comes up big when we come in here (Neyland)."

Dooley offered cautious praise for Poole, who finished with 94 yards on nine carries. Backups David Oku and Toney Williams had 23 yards on 14 carries and 12 yards on seven runs.

"He's kind of been a real steady hand at the No. 1 spot," Dooley said of Poole. "He's got a lot of work to do as a runner, to be a good runner and a durable runner and an effective runner. But right now, he's our most productive runner."

January enrollee Jacquez Smith had the best statistical day of any young defender. The former Ooltewah High School star had six tackles from his defensive end position.

Herman Lathers, who started alongside Johnson and LaMarcus Thompson at linebacker, had seven tackles and a sack. Reserve linebacker Shane Reveiz and second-team defensive end Willie Bohannon each had six stops. Starting defensive tackle Montori Hughes had five tackles, and end Chris Walker added four with two sacks.

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