KNOXVILLE – Running back Marlin Lane was assigned to the Orange team on Saturday-the side comprised of Tennessee’s second-team offense.
That didn’t stop him from using the Orange and White spring game as a showcase for why he should be the starting running back going into the fall.
Lane rushed nine times for 106 yards and added two touchdowns to lead the Orange team to a 17-14 victory over the White in front of 35,421 in attendance.
Lane’s performance, which included a 43-yard kickoff return and three catches for 32 yards, came primarily against the Vols’ second-team defense. Coach Derek Dooley was still impressed with what he saw from the rising sophomore.
“It’s good to see,” Dooley said at the conclusion of his third spring practice as the head coach of the Vols. “You would rather him do that than not do it. I try to judge the body of work over 15 practices and this game is important because it’s a true game setting.”
Lane’s biggest play of the day exceeded the expectations of even his own coaches. With just seconds left in the first half, he took a handoff out of the shotgun with the assigned task of getting the team into field-goal range.
Instead, Lane shook a tackle in the backfield, accelerated between the hash marks and reached the ball out over the goal line as the clock hit zero.
“Coach (Jay) Graham told me to get five yards for a field goal and I decided to try to get more,” Lane said. “I just kept breaking tackles and got down the field.”
Though Lane was strong for the Orange team, his primary position competition, running backs Devrin Young and Rajion Neal, had solid performances as well.
Both backs finished with an average of 4.9 yards per carry. Neal finished the afternoon with 10 carries for 49 yards while Young was equally as efficient with eight carries for 39 yards, both for the White team.
“I think we have three guys who all have different qualities that can help us move the football,” Dooley said. “You saw a little spurt of all of it today, so they’re all three good backs.”
Kicking game wide open
The Vols will break spring practice with more questions than answers in the kicking game.
Rising junior Michael Palardy missed his lone field-goal attempt much to the chagrin of the fourth-largest crowd in Orange and White Game history.
Reserve kicker Derrick Brodus wasn’t much better. He hit a 37-yarder, but missed a seemingly routine 27-yarder that could have given the Orange side a six-point lead with 2:05 left in the game.
“Brodus had a good spring,” Dooley said. “He has not kicked it as deep on kickoffs, but I think that is the first field goal he has missed all spring. He hit a good kick, but he just missed off the left hash. There is competition there. You have to perform – especially at kicker.”
Bray improves numbers in 2012
After a horrid 5-of-30 performance in the 2011 spring game, quarterback Tyler Bray had an effective game Saturday. The rising junior hit 14-of-26 passes for 157 yards and one touchdown.
“He is a lot more patient, he’s understanding the game, he’s understanding the level of intensity that it takes everyday to be good,” Dooley said.
“Did better than last year, so can’t really complain,” Bray added. “I couldn’t have done worse really.”
Run defense needing improvement
The positive steps for the rushing offense also meant a step back for the run defense in the intrasquad scrimmage format.
“We are going to have to do some things to stop the run,” Dooley said. “Nobody has really put their hand in the dirt on defense and on the defensive line and said, ‘We are going to line up and whip your tail.’ We are going to have a hard time stopping anybody lining up in a seven-man box.”
Carter, Blanc step up at receiver
Walk-on wide receiver Jacob Carter came into Saturday’s game as the leading receiver through two spring scrimmages with eight catches for 140 yards.
The Nashville native continued his strong spring with six catches for 42 yards for the Orange team.
“He’s been just a good, steady hand,” Dooley said. “I’ve been talking about his consistency for a few days now.”
Early-enrollee freshman Cody Blanc also had a solid day to wrap up his first spring with the Vols.
“Cody’s a bigger guy,” Dooley said. “He’s big and fast, he really is. His big deal is that he just didn’t play much. He’s a new, mid-year guy in high school. He is going to be a good football player, so it’s good to have out there.”