KNOXVILLE – A week after the Vols’ defense dominated the second scrimmage, UT returned to Neyland Stadium for their final scrimmage tune up before the Orange and White Game next week Saturday.
Coach Butch Jones saw a more balanced effort that showed some signs of the team's progress as spring practice begins to wind down.
“The big thing is I really like the way our players approached today,” Jones said. “I could feel the energy. I could feel the intensity right from the get go in our meetings to warm-ups. That's a step in the right direction. That's progress.
“We're going to be a football team that our fan base is going to be proud of the way we play and the way we represent this institution and this state, and everyone across the country. But it's going to be a work in progress in terms in how we play, but I thought we took a step in that direction. It's the little things and mistakes that we can't have."
Some of those mistakes included three turnovers by the offense – including a costly fumble by receiver Pig Howard near the goal line.
"I was just trying to make something happen, and I made a mistake that I plan on improving,” Howard said. “I saw the defender coming and I tried to spin out of the hit. At the end of the day, he got a good lick and I didn't protect the ball."
But despite some typical spring mistakes, the offense responded from last week’s poor effort enough to make it a more competitive outing. The Vols have two more practice sessions before the spring game and Jones thinks they can build on how they competed Saturday.
“There can be no off days,” Jones said. “You get 12 opportunities [games] a year hoping to get to 13 and 14. Everything is a level of consistency so that's why I was really encouraged because we really challenged our players on Friday of really come out here and I thought they brought it."
• Jones confirmed that running back Marlin Lane is away from the team for disciplinary reasons and his return his uncertain. Jones, however, didn’t rule out the possibility of the junior returning to the team in the coming week.
• Redshirt freshman Alden Hill took much of the backup running back work with Lane out. "He continues to be steady and continues to improve,” Jones said of Hill. “I think he has to continue to learn he is a physical style running back and he needs to learn how to play that way. I think that's an ongoing process but I've been really encouraged with what I've seen and he's been a great surprise this spring."
• Former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson spoke to the team on Saturday. Johnson sustained a life-threatening injury while making a tackle against Air Force in 2006. Though the injury ended his playing career, he’s gone on to a career as an author and motivational speaker. "[Johnson’s message] was tremendous and our players needed to hear that," Jones said. "It's a pride and that's who we are and it's what makes us different than any other program in the country. That's why we're Tennessee – because of individuals like Inky Johnson.”