Running back by committee
By Grant Ramey | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee running game, or lack thereof, that slowed a more than disappointing 2011 season to a crawl picked up the pace Saturday in the Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium.
The two squads combined to rush for 251 yards on 45 carries, accounting for three of the game’s four touchdowns.
“We feel like we made the progress we needed to make,” coach Derek Dooley said. “That doesn’t mean we are a great running team but it is something to build on. We got a lot of cutups we can watch from the spring and try to polish it up, and hopefully the players are seeing what it takes to be a good football team.”
Sophomore running back Marlin Lane led the cast of running backs, running for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns on nine attempts.
“I just wanted to come out this morning, execute every play, and play hard for my team and my side and dominate the run game,” Lane said. “I focus on running physical and not worry about looking for holes and just reading the keys.”
Rajion Neal and Devrin Young combined to rush for 91 yards for the White team. Tom Smith had 10 carries for 49 yards behind Lane on the Orange team.
“I think we have three guys who all have different qualities that can help us move the football and you saw a little spurt of all it today, so they’re all three good backs,” Dooley said. “I mean Marlin’s experience back there showed up today and hopefully those three will continue to develop and we have a young freshmen coming in the fall too.”
Lane ran for 280 yards as a true freshman last season. Young, the former Bearden High School standout, ran for 25 yards on three carries in nine games last season.
At halftime Young was awarded with the Harvey Robinson Offensive Surprise Award.
“What builds my confidence is when Coach Dooley says ‘You’re going to be out there playing.’” Young said. “I’m grateful for the award, but there’s more to be done.”
“We knew what Devrin could do as a returner,” Dooley said. “He has had a great spring and is going to help us at running back.”
The problem with racking up rushing yards in a split-squad game is that it comes at the expense of your own defense.
“We have a lot of work to do to stop the run on defense,” Dooley said. “We played base defense and we gave up a lot of yards running the ball. We are going to have a hard time stopping anybody just lining up in a seven-man box.”
ROGERS FINISHES ‘GREAT SPRING’: Da’Rick Rogers started spring practice with a suspension and rumors of a possible transfer. Saturday Rogers ended the spring drawing praise from his head coach.
“Da’Rick really had a great spring, I’m proud of him,” Dooley said. “His attitude was awesome. You know he had that one little hiccup but other than that I think his biggest improvement is just his commitment to the run game. Blocking, being a good team player, his attitude has been great on the field, competing well, and maybe gelling with his teammates. I hope he stays down that path and we need him to. Da’Rick has a lot of leadership qualities. He has an ability to affect people and we need him to affect them the right way.”
Rogers led all receivers with 74 yards on five catches in Saturday’s Orange and White game. Justin Hunter was kept out Saturday, still rehabbing from knee surgery, after playing in last week’s scrimmage.
Rogers shook cornerback Justin Coleman to get open on a 51-yard reception that set up an early touchdown.
“He got Coleman on a double move and he had a good game,” Dooley said. “He had a good game but he’s had a good spring.”