Tauren Poole set an immediate tone for Tennessee’s offense on Tuesday, bursting through the line for a 49-yard run that certainly caught the attention of his head coach if not the entire team.
“If there’s one lesson coming out of this first scrimmage, it’s if you’re not mentally ready to play you’re going to get your tail whipped,” Derek Dooley said after the Vols worked for 90 minutes inside Neyland Stadium. “I thought the offense was mentally ready to play and the defense wasn’t. And the offense kept the pressure on — running the ball, play-action, making some big third-down plays.”
Matt Simms started at quarterback and completed 9-of-21 passes for 80 yards and a 3-yard touchdown to Luke Stocker. Freshman Tyler Bray added 11-of-22 completions for 153 yards and a tipped-TD pass of 49 yards later in the afternoon to Denarius Moore.
“Matt had a very good day running the offense,” Dooley said. “He hit some big third downs to Denarius. And Tyler Bray had a good day. He had some series with the ones and hit a big third down to (Mychal) Rivera. I was really pleased with the progress the quarterbacks are making.
“They’re both really doing well and they’re both different. Ultimately, we’re going to evaluate them on how well we move the ball and score points. It doesn’t matter how we get there and we’re going to need both of them. I’m happy with where they are.”
Poole carried just two times for 62 yards, his second touch of the football resulting in an easy 13-yard waltz into the end zone on that initial drive. David Oku added eight attempts for 37 yards to go with three catches for another 15 yards.
“I think the two runners have shown a lot of progress,” Dooley said. “David Oku, I think, has had an excellent camp his first seven practices, which we needed him too. I feel like he’s starting to get a little confident.
“And Tauren is just doing everything well. He’s putting every ounce in and he’s getting return. That’s what it takes.”
Dooley also liked what he saw from his kicking game, especially the punters. Senior Chad Cunningham fashioned a 44.6-yard average on three boots, while freshmen Matt Darr (2 for 49.5) and Michael Palardy (2 for 44.6) also made their presence felt.
“We punted three guys and every one of them averaged over 44,” Dooley said. “We’ve got some talented punters.”
Dooley said he was pleased with the performance of his first-team offensive line, noting that they established the line of scrimmage from the get-go. And while the defense regrouped during two-minute drills toward the end of Tuesday’s action, Dooley felt it already was an opportunity missed.
“You’re already down; you can’t wait,” he said. “You have to be ready on the first snap.”
Denarius Moore led the receiving corps with five catches for 85 yards. His touchdown reception from Bray came on a nice adjustment after the ball was initially deflected by Brent Brewer, who got the start at safety. Freshmen Justin Hunter (3 for 56) and Da’Rick Rogers (3 for 18) combined for six catches. Gerald Jones’ lone reception was a 30-yard catch and run off a Simms’ bootleg.
Defensively, freshman linebacker John Propst led the way with five tackles, while defensive back Marsalis Teague added four. Dooley seemed especially pleased with the play of redshirt-freshman cornerback Eric Gordon, who forced the day’s only fumble that was recovered by Nick Reveiz and returned for a 37-yard touchdown.
“Eric Gordon is one of those guys we needed to have a good camp,” Dooley said. “He’s into it and he’s competing. He’s probably had more pass breakups than anybody. He’s got a lot of things to work on but he’s competing.
“And Teague is having a good camp. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
Tennessee is taking Wednesday off from the practice field before its first set of two-a-day sessions on Thursday. The team’s next scrimmage is Saturday night.
Rushing Leaders (No.-Yds.-TD-Long) – Tauren Poole 2-62-1-49; David Oku 8-37-0-13; Toney Williams 4-14-0-6; Rajion Neal 6-14-0-7.
Passing Leaders (Att.-Comp.-Int.-Yds.-TD-Long) – Matt Simms 21-9-0-80-1-30; Tyler Bray 22-11-0-153-1-49.
Receiving Leaders (No.-Yds.-TD-Long) – Denarius Moore 5-85-1-49; Justin Hunter 3-56-0-28; Da’Rick Rogers 3-18-0-18; David Oku 3-15-0-15; Gerald Jones 1-30-0-30; Luke Stocker 1-3-1-3.
Defensive Leaders – John Propst 5 tackles; Marsalis Teague 4 tackles; Steven Fowlkes 4 tackles, 1 TFL (-2 yards); Tyler Wolf 4 tackles; Austin Johnson 3 tackles; Savion Frazier 2 tackles, 1 sack (-6 yards); Corey Miller 2 TFL (-11 yards), 1 sack (-8 yards); Willie Bohannon 1 sack (-8 yards).
Field Goals – Daniel Lincoln 1-of-1, long 30; Michael Palardy 0-of-2, 1 blocked.
Punting (No.-Avg.-Long) – Chad Cunningham 3-44.6-47; Matt Darr 2-49.5-50; Michael Palardy 2-44.6-46.
Offense – Tackles Dallas Thomas and Ja’Wuan James, Guards Jarrod Shaw and JerQuari Schofield, Center Cody Pope, Tight End Luke Stocker, Wide Receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, Fullback Ben Bartholomew, Tailback Tauren Poole, Quarterback Matt Simms.
Defense – Ends Chris Walker and Malik Jackson; Tackles Montori Hughes and Arthur Jeffery; Linebackers LaMarcus Thompson, Nick Reveiz and Herman Lathers; Cornerbacks Art Evans and Eric Gordon; Safeties Prentiss Waggner and Brent Brewer.
Injury Holdouts — DB Janzen Jackson, FB Kevin Cooper and DB Naz Oliver. DB Art Evans started but was limited.