The defense, well, it thrived as has been the usual this spring
The Volunteers’ defensive unit forced a turnover and recorded eight sacks and seven tackles for loss to highlight the Vols’ second major scrimmage of spring practice.
“That (No.) 1 defense is a special unit,” UT coach Lane Kiffin said. “You feel their confidence. That’s what you need your team to be.
“Our first defense is operating at a championship level right now. We’ve got to do a lot better job on the other side.
They certainly do.
Protection was the main cause of concern for Kiffin and his staff. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton, working with the first-team offense, was sacked seven times — once by Chris Walker in the end zone for a safety. Crompton fumbled on another.
It was that kind of a day for the offense, which only really got into a rhythm once practice was winding down. The scrimmage’s final series, a 65-yard scoring drive led by B.J. Coleman, highlighted the offense’s mixed bag of a day.
“We just can’t protect the quarterback right now,” Kiffin said. “I feel like we’re in the 1960s right now with our offense. We’ve got to run the ball or throw play-action. Right now, that’s about all we can do.”
A day after throwing at least four interceptions in a display Kiffin called “horrendous,” Crompton and Coleman kept mistakes to a minimum.
Crompton finished 8-for-11 for 91 yards with no touchdowns and no picks. Coleman completed 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards and a pair of scoring strikes.
Nick Stephens, seeing his first significant action this spring after recovering from a broken wrist, was 2-for-4 for 28 yards and a TD.
“We’re all just trying to become more comfortable with the offense,” Crompton said. “I think we’re doing a good job of it. Obviously we’ve got to get better; nobody’s perfect.
“We’re all going to go home this weekend, and I know everybody will get at their playbooks — I know that’s what I’m going to do when I get home.”
Kiffin praised both Crompton and Coleman despite the lack of real offensive production. Much of that had to do with the way the two closed the day.
A pair of precision passes on the run from Crompton — both to senior receiver Quintin Hancock — highlighted a 47-yard drive that stalled at the 18. The redshirt senior’s 23-yard hit to Gerald Jones two series later sparked a 45-yard drive that ended with a field goal.
“I thought Jonathan did really well,” Kiffin said. “He moved around well and made some plays. I think he’s got a shot to be pretty good.”
Early, Coleman got the offense out of a serious jam with a 13-yard completion to Austin Rogers from inside the 1-yard line. He later hit Denarius Moore for a 30-yard TD.
On the final series of the day, Coleman completed all five of his passes for 59 yards, including a 14-yarder to Ben Bartholomew in the corner of the end zone.
“I felt great out there today. I really did,” Coleman said. “I really trusted my offensive linemen up front, and the running game really complemented the passing game.
“Comfort comes with understanding the offense and I really feel like I’m getting comfortable in it. I’ve got a long way to go — by no means am I where I need to be — but at the same time I’m feeling good back there in the pocket.”
Tauren Poole, with the second team, led the ground attack. The sophomore carried 11 times for 80 yards and a touchdown, but fumbled twice. Starter Montario Hardesty rushed for 38 yards on eight carries.
Bartholomew, who recently moved from fullback to tight end, caught four passes for 53 yards. Hancock had three catches for 51 yards.
Still, the clear standout of Friday’s session — as has been all spring — was the defense.
In addition to his safety, Walker tallied two sacks and five tackles, three for loss. Nick Reveiz recorded seven tackles, while Rico McCoy closed with six.
Crompton, for one, wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“Our first-team defense is outstanding,” Crompton said. “That’s why they’re at Tennessee. They proved that last season.
“That’s what is expected from the defense. But we also expect a whole heck of a lot out of our offense.”