JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – It was just the first scrimmage of the fall for Tennessee, but there was some real progress shown in the run game. There might also be an emerging leader in the competition for the starting tailback job.

The Vols racked up 295 yards on the ground in Saturday’s scrimmage at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tenn. Running back Rajion Neal had the most impressive day statistically speaking. The junior ran for 134 yards and one touchdown on just nine carries. His 14.9 yards-per-carry average was aided greatly by one 68-yard scoring scamper.

“I think I did pretty well,” Neal said. “Those guys up front gave me a good opportunity to come out and have a good day. I feel the offense has a great deal of confidence in running the ball, but it still has room for improvement. It starts up front with those guys. They really gave all the backs, including myself, a chance to be successful.”

The starting line of Antonio Richardson, Dallas Thomas, James Stone, Zach Fulton and Ja’Wuan James has been under heavy scrutiny after the Vols struggled to develop the run game in 2011.


Tennessee averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in its 5-7 2011 campaign. James Stone, who appears to be solidifying his role as the starting center, said Saturday’s big results on the ground were a result of the offensive line working as one.

“Today, I felt like it was a more consistent day – it wasn’t just big runs,” the junior said. “We were breaking off chunks of five yards and breaking the big ones, too. I feel like we just had good team takeoff and I feel like we were on the same page. When we’re on the same page coming off the rock, there are going to be holes and creases.”

Coach Derek Dooley noticed the space the line created. He was cautiously optimistic, noting that some of the big runs came against the second-team defense.

“I’m happy, but I’m hoping we keep building on that,” Dooley said. “I’ve said we have three guys (Neal, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young) who can help us win running the ball. We have to do a good job around them blocking and throwing the football. We’re not going to line up, I-formation with two tight ends, and pound people. We’re not those kind of guys.”

Bourque’s status in question: Freshman running back Davante Bourque was an observer the first three days of practice while dealing with a neck stinger, but he’s been a no-show ever since.

He is still on the official roster as of Saturday evening, but 247Sports has reported that Bourque is currently away from the team. Dooley did not publically address the current status of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound freshman out of Crowley, La. after Saturday’s scrimmage.

Fellow freshman running back Quenshaun Watson had a strong first scrimmage. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound back out of Athens, Ga. rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on six carries. Watson has also been praised by assistant coaches and teammates for his ability as a punt and kick returner.

Perfect Palardy: Junior kicker Michael Palardy had a strong day on Saturday. He hit all four of his field goal attempts – from 31, 35, 37 and 48 yards. The 48-yarder was a game-winner with no time left on the clock.

“He kicked it really well,” Dooley said.

Freshman kicker George Bullock struggled, making only one of his three field-goal attempts. Punter Matt Darr averaged 43.3 yards per punt, an upgrade over his 38.1 yards-per-punt average in 2011.

Complete scrimmage stats:

PASSING: Tyler Bray 18-31-189 TD, 37 Long; Justin Worley 9-15-134 2 TDs, 24 Long; Nathan Peterman 1-4-4 INT, 4 Long; Matt Darr 1-1-2, 2 Long.

RUSHING: Rajion Neal 9-134 TD, 68 Long; Quenshaun Watson 6-60 TD, 61 Long; Devrin Young 7-36 TD, 11 Long; Marlin Lane 8-34, 8 Long; Tom Smith 9-19, 5 Long; Justin King 3-13, 10 Long; Alden Hill 2-6, 5 Long; Deanthonie Summerhill 1-0; Justin Worley 5-0 TD, 14 Long; Cody Blanc 1-(minus 1); Nathan Peterman 3-(minus 13)

RECEIVING: Da’Rick Rogers 6-105 TD, 37 Long; Jacob Carter 4-58 TD, 20 Long; Justin Hunter 7-47, 14 Long; Jason Croom 2-34, 24 Long; Devrin Young 3-26, 16 Long; Cordarrelle Patterson 1-26; Cody Blanc 1-17; Tom Smith 1-5; Tyler Drummer 1-4; Quenshaun Watson 1-3; Brendan Downs 1-2; Ben Bartholomew 1-2

PUNTING: Matt Darr 5-216, 43.3 average, 47 Long; Michael Palardy 5-174, 34.8, 38 Long

FIELD GOALS: Michael Palardy 4-4 (37, 35, 31, 48); George Bullock 1-3 (33 WL, 41 WR, 35)

SACKS: Channing Fugate 1-12; Corey Miller 1-10; Rod Wilks 1-5; Jordan Williams 1-3

INTERCEPTIONS: Naz Oliver 1-32

DEFENSE (UT-AT-TT): A.J. Johnson 2-8-10; Curt Maggitt 4-5-9; Brian Randolph 2-5-7; Channing Fugate 4-2-6; Byron Moore 3-3-6; Jacques Smith 2-4-6; Marsalis Teague 0-6-6; John Propst 2-3-5; Willie Bohannon 2-2-4; Naz Oliver 2-2-4; Deion Bonner 3-0-3; Justin Coleman 3-0-3; Daniel Gray 2-1-3; Rod Wilks 2-1-3; Vincent Dallas 2-0-2; Jordan Williams 2-0-2; Corey Alexander 1-1-2; Gregory Grieco 1-1-2; Daniel Hood 0-2-2; LaTroy Lewis 0-2-2; Darrington Sentimore 0-2-2, Daniel McCullers 0-2-2; Eric Gordon 1-0-1; Corey Miller 1-0-1; Dontavis Sapp 1-0-1; Maurice Couch 0-1-1; Raiques Crump 0-1-1; Danny O’Brien 0-1-1, Tino Thomas 0-1-1; Jaron Toney 0-1-1

TACKLES FOR LOSS: Channing Fugate 1-12; Corey Miller 1-10; Byron Moore 1-5; Rod Wilks 1-5; Willie Bohannon 1-4; A.J. Johnson 1-3; Jordan Williams 1-3; Deion Bonner 1-1; Jaron Toney 1-1; Naz Oliver 1-0

SACKS: Channing Fugate 1-12; Corey Miller 1-10; Rod Wilks 1-5; Jordan Williams 1-3

PASS BREAK-UPS: Marsalis Teague 4; Vincent Dallas 1; Naz Oliver 1; Donatavis Sapp 1

QB HURRIES: Jacques Smith 2; Darrington Sentimore 2; Willie Bohannon 1; Corey Miller 1