KNOXVILLE – There are usually two sides of the coin when assessing an intra-squad scrimmage.
If one side of the ball has a good day, that means, on some level, the other side struggled.
That was the case on Saturday evening as the Vols held a situational scrimmage in their indoor practice facility after heavy rain forced the Vols from their original plan of holding it in Neyland Stadium.
The run game was dominant. The defense struggled to keep up.
Senior running back Rajion Neal broke free for a 98-yard touchdown run and the second unit completed an entire 14-play scoring drive without ever throwing a pass.
“I think overall, we had a pretty good day,” said quarterback Justin Worley. “They did a great job up front – pass protection and they opened up some big holes for our running backs. A 98-yard touchdown run doesn’t come very easy if you don’t have a good offensive line.”
“I thought Rajion Neal really ran with some purpose tonight,” added head coach Butch Jones. “I like his pad level. Thought he showed some burst and acceleration.”
Neal’s 98-yard scamper was the buzz of post-scrimmage interviews. And while Neal, one of the fastest players on the roster, certainly got credit for his speed and vision on the play, the consensus was that the offensive line - the perceived strength of the team – made the play happen.
“I think it was great blocking up front,” Worley said. “Good vision from Rajion and good speed to run past some of the defenders trying to cut him off.”
“They gave it to me and I just had to finish,” said Neal. “Up front, they’re getting me started, so I’ve just got to break tackles and good things will happen.”
Jones praised reserve center/guard Dylan Wiesman for his strong effort on Saturday evening as well. The true freshman has been the most impressive of the three newcomers up front on offense, and it appears that his emergence is making Jones feel better about the depth question on the offensive line.
“The one individual I’m really, really excited about right now is Dylan Wiesman,” Jones said. “He’s really physical, he’s really intelligent and he’s playing himself into a rotation on our offensive line.”
While the offense was pleased with Neal’s run and the overall effort of the run game, Jones, as the head coach, had to think about the scrimmage from both perspectives. He loved what he saw from the backs and O-line. But he left the evening concerned with the other side.
“We showed way too many missed tackles on defense,” he said. “We gave up a 98-yard touchdown run, we let the ball get outside our defense, we lost leverage and those are game changers.”
Jones also addressed the amount of dropped passes by the wide receivers, saying they are as bad as turnovers for the offense. The missed tackles and the drops irked him, but he seemed, overall, upbeat about his team – a squad that now has less than three weeks to prepare for its Aug. 31 opener against Austin Peay.
“We have a long way to go,” Jones said. “But these individual are resilient and they’re prideful. We challenged them after their performance last night and they came back with a great mentality.”
Senior linebacker “weighing his options”: Senior linebacker Channing Fugate, who wasn’t present Saturday, is “weighing his options” of whether or not he wants to remain on the team, Jones said.
Fugate, a converted fullback, was a key special teams player and reserve linebacker in 2012, but wasn’t listed on the preseason depth chart this season and hasn’t been very involved in any practices thus far in fall camp.
A 3,000-yard rusher in high school, Fugate started five games as a true freshman at UT at fullback in 2010. After being replaced by Ben Bartholomew, he moved to the other side of the ball and made 19 career tackles on defense and special teams. As of late Saturday night, he remains on UT’s official roster.
. Defensive tackle Maurice Couch is day-to-day with a calf injury, Jones said. Couch was seen on crutches during Saturday morning’s practice.
. Jacques Smith (thumb), Corey Vereen (knee) and Justin Meredith (hamstring) were all out of scrimmage action on Saturday. LaDarrell McNeil, Malik Foreman, Curt Maggitt, Justin King, A.J. Branisel, Justin Coleman, Josh Smith, Paul Harris and Alex Ellis were among the players who were limited on Saturday.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga