Vols' offense faces defense in Orange & White Game
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The format of Tennessee's Orange & White Game reflects the depth problems facing the Volunteers as they attempt to re-establish themselves as Southeastern Conference contenders.
Rather than dividing his roster into two complete teams and having them play each other Saturday in an exhibition game, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones is matching the offense against the defense. He has instituted a complicated scoring system that allows each unit to earn points for big achievements.
"Obviously we would like to have a draft," Jones said. "We would like to draft teams. But that is where we are at with our program right now. We don't have much depth, so it is going to be offense versus defense."
Injuries have decimated a receiving corps that already was trying to replace potential first-round draft picks Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. The offensive backfield took a hit when Marlin Lane sat out the last four practices for disciplinary reasons, leaving senior Rajion Neal as the Vols' lone experienced running back.
Tennessee's offense has spent spring practice adjusting to the faster tempo favored by Jones. The new coaches also have used plenty of creative methods to get the Vols accustomed to handling adversity.
"They do a good job of throwing a whole bunch of curveballs at us as far as our workouts and practice," Neal said. "There's so much stuff they throw at us, it's not even funny. We could be in a live team period, he'll blow the whistle and we're one-on-one fighting somebody. It's kind of fun. It's out of left field. You come to practice not knowing what's going to happen."
Tennessee's players have welcomed Jones' approach. They're eager to try anything that can add some energy to a program that's produced three straight losing seasons, the first time that's happened at Tennessee since 1909-11.
"He's really embracing us and we're embracing him," sophomore tight end Justin King said. "He wants to change it here. He loves this place more than anybody. That's what you want out of a coach, someone who really loves the place, loves to be here and loves us. At the end of the day, you want a coach you'd run through a brick wall for. All my teammates and myself, we'd do that for Coach Jones and this coaching staff."
That coaching staff still has plenty of questions to answer.
The most obvious one is at quarterback, where junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman have been battling for the starting job. Jones has indicated that competition likely will last well into the summer. But the Vols also have plenty of other concerns as they prepare for their Aug. 31 season opener against Austin Peay.
"Obviously, everyone wants to know about the quarterback, but I am more concerned about who is No. 6 on the offensive line? Who is No. 7?" Jones said. "Who is No. 5 and No. 6 on our defensive front? Heck, who is two and three? Then obviously our secondary. There are still so many (questions) that need to be addressed. A lot of those won't be answered until Austin Peay, but it gives us a better gauge moving forward."
The format for Saturday's spring game offers the chance for Tennessee's defense to show how far it's come since last year, when the Vols gave up the most points (35.7) and yards (471.4) per game of any SEC team.
That defense has been more competitive this spring while matching up with an offense trying to fill holes at key positions.
"You're going to see a defense that plays with more effort than anybody else in the country," senior safety Byron Moore said. "(We'll have) better tackling, better swarming around, a lot of high energy from the sidelines and on the field with guys chest-bumping and guys celebrating with each other, one big brotherhood."
That type of attitude has encouraged Jones as he takes on this rebuilding project.
Although he stresses the Vols still have a long way to go, Jones appreciates the way his players have responded.
"I like this team and I really do believe," Jones said. "Our margin of error is very, very small. But you know what, I really think our fans are going to like this football team. I think they're going to see a football team that - it's not cliche - they're going to give their all for Tennessee."
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