Vols' Marlin Lane works on hitting holes hard

photo Tennessee running back Marlin Lane crosses the goal line on an 8-yard touchdown pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee tailback Marlin Lane knows he can't hesitate when the football's in his hands.

Doing so last fall cost him yards. Doing so this spring could cost him carries.

Lane's stats weren't pretty in the Volunteers' first scrimmage of spring practice last Friday, while backfield mates Rajion Neal and Devrin Young delivered eye-catching performances.

"My performance wasn't where I wanted to be," the rising sophomore said after Tuesday's practice about his seven-carry, 8-yard afternoon Friday. "But I'm working at it."

Coach Derek Dooley's pre-spring call for greater physical play from his running backs perhaps hit closer to home for Lane than anyone else in UT's backfield competition. As a freshman, the 6-foot, 205-pound Florida native danced in the backfield too much at times instead of hitting the hole. When holes weren't there, Lane tried to bounce runs outside as most first-year runners tend to do.

The result was an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Take out Lane's two longest runs of 45 yards (Arkansas) and 20 yards (Kentucky), and that average dips below 3 yards per carry. He knows he needs to pick that up.

"I would say I just focus on hitting the line with speed, hitting it as fast as I can, deciding as I'm running and not thinking before I get the ball," he said. "I did a lot of that last year."

Lane wasn't alone, either.

"It was all the backs, really," Dooley said. "That's been our No. 1 emphasis. Really hitting and playing fast.

"[Lane's] shown a lot of good signs in practice. [He] didn't scrimmage as well as I'm sure he had hoped, but hopefully he'll rebound this week and have a good scrimmage next Saturday."

Neal (15 carries for 100 yards) and Young (eight for 60) each had a good first scrimmage.

"Rajion is having a really good spring," Dooley said. "He just needs to keep going. He's playing a lot faster, he's playing with a lot more physicality and his numbers reflected that.

"[Devrin's] really blossomed a little bit at the running back position. We're obviously going to use him more there [because] he just can do something that a lot of guys can't -- has a lot of quickness and instincts and has a burst. He can really make some big plays for you."

Lane showed glimpses of that ability last season. He had two of the Vols' six total rushes of 20 yards or more and added two 18-yard scampers. He also was an effective receiver out of the backfield, catching 17 passes for 161 yards (9.5 yards per catch).

But he could never rediscover the form from his junior year of high school, when his stock soared and he was one of the most sought tailbacks nationally. A torn ACL in his left knee put a dent in his ability, though he returned to the field sooner than expected. The nagging pain in his left knee and experience combined to contribute to some of his struggles last season.

"It was just getting used and being thrown in the fire real quick," Lane said. "Fresh out of high school, just learning all the plays and performing at the same time, I was just getting used to it game by game."

Dooley said running comfortably has to be developed.

"It's something that they've got to form a habit of trusting what's going on up front and hitting the hole, then playing with physicality," he said. "There's going to be bodies in there hitting you."

Like the rest of UT's tailbacks, Lane has spent the spring trying to develop that attribute.

"I was taught 2 yards is better than zero," he said. "If it's not there, just fight for extra yardage. That's what I've been doing this spring. It's been working pretty well."