Chaney all smiles at practice
By Grant Ramey | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ELIZABETHTON — Jim Chaney had a big smile on his face after Tuesday’s afternoon practice at Milligan College. It had to do with his offense — and nothing to do with scrimmage statistics.
Chaney’s Tennessee offense was the story in Saturday’s scrimmage, where seven Tennessee running backs combined to rush for 301 yards. Tyler Bray threw for 189 yards and a touchdown and backup Justin Worley threw for two more scores on 134 yards passing.
That’s not what has Chaney feeling good this preseason, though.
“I think some of these statistics in training camp can be so misleading,” Chaney said Tuesday. “I think we have our moments where a play looks clean and we block it. Next time we don’t block it well and they make a mistake and the stats might look good.”
Regardless of what the numbers are on paper, it’s how the offense has responded on the practice field in the first two weeks of training camp that has Chaney happy.
“I’m in a pretty good frame of mind right now,” Chaney said. “I think our guys are doing what we ask them to do and they’re responding to what we want them to do. So I’m good with that.”
The core of the offense — from Tennessee’s five lineman up front, to Bray and his talented receivers — has been on the field for most of the last two seasons. The experience from playing together is paying off now.
“The maturity of this group, they’re coming out and they’re going to work everyday,” Chaney said. “Sometimes you have to jump start them a little bit. It seems like in previous year it’s been a constant jump start.
“They seem a little more mature, a little more determined to be good and I’ve enjoyed that.”
The on-field maturity starts with Bray.
“He’s not throwing the ball to the wrong team,” Chaney quipped. “He’s making better and better decisions, and I’m comfortable with that. He and I are getting along fantastic.
“He and I haven’t been yelling at each other much lately.”
A new weapon in junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson has been evolving as the offense has been installed through camp, complementing Tennessee’s No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers.
“I don’t feel like he’s behind any other newcomers when it comes to that,” Chaney said of Patterson’s development. “It seems the month he had here over the summer with the other kids, it seems to work out pretty good. I’m pleased with where he’s at.”
“Obviously CP is an older newcomer guy,” wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw said Tuesday. “Obviously being an older guy, coming in as a junior, has more maturity and is learning at a high rate. He understands football really well.”
As fall camp goes along, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is finding guys that fit his 3-4 scheme.
“We’ve found some people that can rush the quarterback and we’ve found some people that can cover,” Sunseri said. “They’re just doing a nice job right now. We’re trying to get better at the basic fundamentals everyday. And they’re working on it. They’re concentrating on it. So they’re doing pretty good.”
A few names stand out more than others, though. Especially junior college transfer Darrington Sentimore.
“The guy that’s really come in here and done a fantastic job is Sentimore,” Sunseri said of the defensive lineman from Gulf Coast Community College.
“He’s in better shape. He’s being very, very reckless with his body. I’m extremely proud of him, the way he’s been practicing — kind of setting the tone for the defense.
“(Curt) Maggitt and A.J. (Johnson) have done a great job. In the back end (safety Brent) Brewer and (Brian) Randolph have done a great job.”
Runningbacks still working
Nevermind Saturday’s scrimmage stats, where Rajion Neal stole the show with 134 yards rushing and a touchdown on nine carries.
Running backs coach Jay Graham said his backs, Neal included, still have a lot of work to be done.
“(Neal) did some good things but there was also some things to improve on,” Graham said Tuesday. “So we went in the film room and meeting room and talked about those things. And I think he took it to heart, and in practice he’s been doing a pretty good job.
“These guys keep giving the effort — and I think that’s what I’m most excited about, the effort — to improve.”
Frehsman Quenshaun Watson had a 60-yard touchdown run in the scrimmage, but was held to (-1) yard on his five other carries.
“He did some good things, he did some really good things,” Graham said. “And then he has some things he needs to work on. He’s starting to learn the offense, and I think this week has been a lot better for him.
“I think that run was good for him, for his confidence, knowing he can do it. So now he’s just continuing to become more physical and understand technique of running the ball. It’s a whole lot different than running against the high school defenses he ran against. He’s starting to learn.”
Sophomore Devrin Young, who carried seven times for 36 yards and touchdown in Saturday’s scrimmage, has spent camp trying to become more than just a special teams specialist — becoming and every-down back instead of just a kick and punt returner.
“I’m pushing him to do all the things that he has to do to be an every-down back,” Graham said. “I think it’s important for him. He can make plays in the open field. He can make plays between the tackles. It’s just making sure he does everything it takes for a running back to be successful in this offense.”
Graham said it’s still too early to tell if Neal, Young or sophomore Marlin Lane had separated themselves from the pack of running backs competing for carries.
“I think Marlin’s out here doing a good job, I think Tom (Smith) done a good job out here. It’s a little bit too early. We’re going to get through the scrimmage and as we get closer to the game we’ll start making decisions.”
Depth beyond five
Sam Pittman’s offensive line is playing fast. And playing fast means playing more physical.
“I think we’ve always tried to play physical,” Pittman, Tennessee’s offensive line coach, said. “We’re doing some little things different, technique wise. We’re harping on trying to play fast and obviously with fast feet you’re going to have more power. So we’re trying to speed up everything so we can be more powerful.”
Tennessee has had a consistent front-five through training camp, but there’s still plenty of depth to be worked through.
“Marcus Jackson is a guy we would have zero problem with putting in a game as a guard,” Pittman said. “And Mack Crowder, we feel real comfortable playing him at the center spot.
“Alex Bullard is a guy we haven’t quite figured out what position to hone him in on. We’ve worked on him at a few different positions since spring .We know he can play center but we’re trying to allow ourself to have a little more depth at the guard and tackle spot on the right side by using him over there.”