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Tennessee Athletics photo by Caleb Jones / Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton scrambles for yardage during Thursday's first preseason scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium. Thursday also marked the first time Milton, a graduate transfer from Michigan, scrimmaged with the Volunteers.

Three weeks from their Sept. 2 opener against Bowling Green inside Neyland Stadium, the Tennessee Volunteers held their first preseason football scrimmage inside their 100-year-old facility.

Thursday also marked the first preseason scrimmage of the Josh Heupel era.

"It was a great day inside of Neyland Stadium," Heupel said in a news conference. "It's awesome any time you get to go in there. There is only one way that we should compete when we walk into that stadium, and I'm proud of a lot of the things that we did on both sides of the football. I thought we played with great effort and energy and strain defensively.

"We competed extremely hard and tackled well in space. Offensively, we showed glimpses but didn't string things together the way we want to or need to, but there will be a lot of things that we'll be able to learn from here as we move forward. You look at it, and we're already halfway through training camp."

The Vols will have an off day Friday before practicing again Saturday.

Sophomore Harrison Bailey, Virginia Tech graduate transfer Hendon Hooker and Michigan graduate transfer Joe Milton competed at quarterback, while redshirt sophomore Brian Maurer did not participate. Maurer wasn't spotted during Wednesday's portion of practice that was open to the media.

"I had an initial conversation with him a few days ago about the reps and how those things were going to be divided up," Heupel said. "I'll have a further update after we have a conversation on the off day here."

Bailey, Hooker and Maurer went through the 15 spring practices, but Milton did not commit to the Vols until April 26, which was two days after the Orange & White contest.

"I thought he managed things really well inside of the pocket," Heupel said. "For Joe, Hendon and Harrison, some of it's tough, because you're not in a live situation. I thought all of them did a great job of taking care of the football and were efficient in calling things. For the most part, their decision making was solid.

"At the end of the day, though, I don't think we collectively strung things together the way that we need to. Some of that is 11 guys doing their jobs at a really high level, so it's not just one position or one guy."

Heupel added that the quarterbacks rotated through the starting and backup groups and that their play counts were relatively close. When asked about his skill players, Heupel said Jabari Small and junior-college transfer Tiyon Evans are "playing at a really high level" and that redshirt junior receiver Cedric Tillman has made a lot of competitive plays.

The Vols scrimmaged Thursday with junior Darnell Wright at left tackle and senior Cade Mays at right tackle.

"I think Darnell is really natural on the left side," Heupel said. "He's athletic, and he's got the ability to bend. He's got the chance to be an elite pass protector as well. Overall, I feel good about where those two guys are at on the edges."

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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior offensive lineman Cade Mays (68) worked at right tackle during Thursday's first scrimmage of the preseason, while junior Darnell Wright practiced at left tackle.

Odds and ends

Fifth-year senior offensive lineman K'Rojhn Calbert, who has played in 32 career games with five starts at right tackle, had surgery for his biceps injury and "will not be with us here for an extended period of time," Heupel said. ... Heupel said the star position that includes fifth-year senior Theo Jackson and sophomore Deoneiko Slaughter has been really solid throughout camp.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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