KNOXVILLE – Perhaps it was a bad omen for the offense when wide receiver Vincent Dallas crumpled to the field on the first live kickoff of Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium.
Dallas was held out for the rest of the scrimmage after the injury, but appears to have avoided any major damage.
The same can’t be said for Tennessee’s offense.
“Offensively, [I’m] not pleased at all,” head coach Butch Jones said after the Vols finished their approximately two hours worth of situational scrimmaging. “I didn’t think we were physical at the line of scrimmage. I was disappointed in the way our line came off the football. Disappointed with our running backs and obviously our receivers have a long way to go.”
The deficiencies at wide receiver were the most glaring on a sunny and more spring-like day in Knoxville. Playing without potential starter Jacob Carter (foot) and losing Dallas early, the young group struggled to make plays.
Freshman Paul Harris had a chance for a long reception, but let the ball go through his hands. Cody Blanc, who has been one of the stars of the spring, had three drops. There weren’t official stats kept, but there were clearly more misses than hits in the passing game.
“I am concerned about the completion percentage,” Jones said. “So much of that is on the shoulders of the quarterbacks, but it’s more than that. It’s the wideouts making the proper route adjustments, it’s the proper depths, it’s the rhythm and timing, it’s the protection – backs and tight ends.”
Quarterback Justin Worley led the first team while Nathan Peterman called the signals for the second unit. Both had some nice moments, but neither separated himself in the ongoing quarterback competition.
“I thought we did pretty good as a whole team,” Peterman said. “I thought I did a little better, judging by past performances, so that’s all you can hope to do, just come in and get better from those past performances and improve everyday. .We’re expecting to be the best, but we’re young – I’m young – we’ve got stuff to improve, the whole team needs to improve, so we’ve got to keep getting better.”
The good thing about an intrasquad scrimmage, from a head coach’s perspective, is that one side struggling means a victory for the other. That was true for the defense – which won the day by a score of 86-63 using Jones’ methodology of scoring practice based on which side wins in individual situations.
“I think we’re taking strides defensively with the mental energy and intensity that we need,” Jones said.
“I think it was just confidence, momentum and the sideline had high energy,” safety Byron Moore said of what was making the defense work on Saturday. “It was just an all-around good effort from the defense. Guys are just confident – not too much thinking – guys are just out there playing football.”
Vereen temporarily ejected: True freshman defensive end Corey Vereen got in a minor scuffle after the whistle and Jones instantly told him to take off his helmet and shoulder pads and leave practice.
After tempers calmed, Jones met with Vereen and allowed him to return to practice after a brief one-on-one discussion
“Everything is a teaching moment,” Jones said. “Obviously with the rules changing in college football that – the fighting rule – that’s a one-game suspension, that was an opportunity to make a point to not only him, but also the entire team.
“He’s high character, he felt awful about it. He knew what he’d done was wrong. That was a great teaching point and I bet you that never happens again.”
Injury report: Jones didn’t reveal specifics about Dallas’ injury, but he was able to walk off the field and though he didn’t return to action, he didn’t appear to be in any major pain as he watched the rest of practice standing on the sideline. Fellow receiver Paul Harris also left the scrimmage early with what appeared to be an injured hamstring.
Defensive tackle Maurice Couch, linebacker Curt Maggitt, defensive tackle Allan Carson, receiver Jacob Carter, safety Jalen Reeves-Maybin, running back Tom Smith, tackle Tiny Richardson and tight end Justin Meredith all sat out.
. Kicker Michael Palardy hit 4-of-8 field-goal attempts, but looked really strong punting. Jones has regularly said that he has no problem with Palardy handling both duties if he’s the best at each spot.
. Vereen, Jordan Williams and Corey Miller each had a sack. Daniel McCullers and Jacques Smith each had a pass deflection.
. Drew Barker, one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation (No. 8 on 247Sports), was among the recruits visiting Saturday.
. Offensive play of the day: With the offense working on back-to-the-goal-line situations, running back Alden Hill had the longest run of the day, a 30-yard scamper that gave the offense one of its few situational victories. Honorable mention goes to Peterman, who had a nice scramble that bought him enough time to find receiver Drae Bowles for a nice gain.
. Defensive play of the day: In the same drill, linebacker A.J. Johnson had a crushing blow on running back Marlin Lane to dislodge the ball and give the defense another stop. Honorable mention goes to reserve safety Geraldo Orta, who had multiple big hits on the day.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga