Vols learn 'good lessons' in situational add-on

KNOXVILLE -- Another strong start from the defense. Another rebound finish from the offense.

Another first-team quarterback disappointed with his day.

Saturday's second major spring practice was apparently much like Tennessee's first -- though most reports demanded taking the Volunteers' word for it, since neither workout was open to media who didn't pay to attend UT's coaching clinic.

First-year coach Derek Dooley put the Vols through a normal scrimmage for most of the day before adding a situational period that focused on the final four minutes of a game.

"We had about three different situations, and it's just amazing what comes up," Dooley said. "There's some great lessons. I think that you look over the last two years, we've lost a number of games in the last three and a half minutes where we had a chance to win it.

"I think the teams that play the best in the last three or four minutes tend to win the most games, so we're going to spend a lot of time on it."

Saturday's results validated Dooley's point in his mind.

"We saw some penalties out there that could cost us the game at the end," he said. "There's breakdowns in some coaching errors. We had some substitution errors. There's breakdowns in clock management. There's breakdowns on special teams. So everything's important.

"We learned a lot of good lessons today, mainly that at the end of the day you don't have to do anything special down the stretch, but you have to do the simple things extraordinarily well, and that's what the good football teams do. So we have a long way to go from that standpoint."

Junior college transfer Matt Simms said he struggled through his "worst day" of spring practice in his first scrimmage as the primary first-team quarterback.

"This was our last real scrimmage -- the Orange and White game is more of a show, really -- so I wanted to do well today and finish strong," Simms said. "We started slow, but we got a little better."

Simms completed just 8 of 25 passes for 110 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

"I haven't watched the film, so I'm not quick to judge, but I would agree with Matt," Dooley said. "I think that's a good assessment of him. He looked a little anxious. He wasn't as accurate as I know he wants to be, but we'll look at the film and see why and go to the next day."

And they'll do so without panic, the coach added, along with a quip referring to quarterback Nick Stephens' midweek decision to leave the program.

"We don't make judgments on one practice," Dooley said. "He's been progressing very well. For 10 practices, he's really shown improvement every practice, and he probably hit a little dip today.

"There won't be any stories, and I don't expect Matt to want to transfer on Monday."

January enrollee Tyler Bray, working primarily with the second team, completed 10 of 19 passes for 87 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Rarely used reserve quarterback Nick Lamaison completed 2 of 4 passes for 34 yards and an interception.

"Tyler did some good things," Dooley said. "He continued to show that he's a very accurate thrower. He's got a good command. But he also makes a lot of true-freshman mistakes, which don't really discourage you as a coach.

"I'm pleased with the way Tyler's going. I think he's got a chance to be a good quarterback."

Big January enrollee wide receiver Matt Milton again showed up as a solid red zone target, catching four passes for 17 yards and two touchdowns. Rising seniors Luke Stocker and Denarius Moore, arguably UT's top two downfield targets at tight end and wide receiver, had 54 and 53 yards on two catches apiece.

Tauren Poole had another solid day in the running game, collecting 87 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. David Oku had 33 yards on 10 carries.

Dooley tempered the excitement surrounding Poole by saying he was inconsistent in each scrimmage aside from one "really big, really long run."

Fullback-turned-linebacker Austin Johnson led the defense for a second consecutive scrimmage with seven tackles. Prentiss Waggner, competing with Darren Myles to start with Janzen Jackson at safety, added six stops and an interception. Reserve linebacker Daryl Vereen had six tackles, starting defensive tackle Montori Hughes added four -- two for loss -- and young cornerback Eric Gordon broke up three passes.

The defense continued to mix up fronts, something Simms said has contributed to the offense's slow starts.

"I can't even explain some of the stuff they're doing," Simms said. "They're all over the board, but it's good that we're seeing those situations now, so we'll be more prepared down the road.

One particularly interesting formation featured the 6-foot-5, 317-pound Hughes as a bull-rushing middle linebacker.

"I've never seen anything like that," Simms said. "He just runs right up the A gap. It's ... uh ... different."

Said Hughes: "I wouldn't want to be a dude on the other side of the ball when we run that. I'm coming to get 'em, baby."

Defensive end Chris Walker said he "loved" the Vols' new defensive versatility, as long as everyone understands his role on every play.

"On offense, if one person doesn't do something right, it's second-and-10 or whatever," Walker said. "On defense, if someone doesn't do something right, it's a touchdown. We need to be really focused on what we're doing."

The Vols return to practice Tuesday in preparation for Saturday's Orange and White game in Neyland Stadium.

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