RB Rajion Neal shines during Vols' scrimmage
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Volunteers have stressed this spring that they want to run the ball better and Rajion Neal did just that Friday during Tennessee's first scrimmage of spring practice.
Neal rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries after splitting time last season between running back and wide receiver, but is working exclusively in the backfield this spring.
Vols running backs combined for 260 yards on 50 carries in the 134-play scrimmage.
"Pretty typical first scrimmage," coach Derek Dooley said. "Like most scrimmages, some good things and some things we've got to work on. I felt like we really showed a lot of improvement running the ball, and that's been our emphasis."
The Volunteers averaged 90.1 rushing yards per game last season, ranking 116th out of 120 FCS teams, and also must replace two-year starter Tauren Poole.
Devrin Young had eight carries for 60 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run, and caught three passes for a scrimmage-high 59 yards. Marlin Lane, the Vols' second leading rusher last year, had eight yards on seven carries, but scored on a 1-yard run.
Each of Tennessee's running backs brings different strengths to the backfield.
Neal and Young are explosive and fast backs. Both joined Tennessee's track team in February. Lane is more of a between-the-tackles runner and also plays quarterback in a wildcat package. Tom Smith, who had six carries for 18 yards on Friday, is a down-hill, power back, as is early enrollee Alden Hill.
"It is good to know that our backfield is so versatile," Young said. "We have a man that can do everything. I feel like that can be very frustrating to our opponents."
The addition of first-year running backs coach Jay Graham has brought a noticeable difference, especially in practice, to the unit. In the two previous years under Dooley, a graduate assistant worked with the running backs instead of a full-time running backs coach.
Graham, who is the Vols' seventh all-time leader rusher (1993-96), knows the recent struggles of the run game, but wants to focus on the future.
"The most important thing is what we do from this point going forward," Graham said. "The thing that is important for me is every day I am looking at and evaluating every drill, grading every practice. They have to understand that because we have to be perfect on everything we do technically."
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