KNOXVILLE -- Barely three minutes into Tennessee's 41-10 win against Buffalo, Volunteers sophomore Rajion Neal had 34 yards and a score on two touches.
After starting the season at tailback, Neal has worked exclusively at receiver, and the Vols have used him on reverses and end-arounds in attempt to take advantage of his speed.
"There's a lot of things I can do. There's a lot of things that [offensive coordinator Jim] Chaney and them believe I can do, putting me out there in different places," he said. "Helping them the best way I can is something I want to do. I just had fun. It felt good to get back out there and get right into it fast.
"I like the role. There's more opportunities to help this team. It's not taking as much pounding. I can't complain."
Neither can the Vols (3-1) as they try to replace the production of Justin Hunter, the star receiver who's out for the year with a torn knee ligament.
"I know he can make some plays," head coach Derek Dooley said. "This was a start. This is what I had hoped we would have got the first game -- we are just about three or four games late. We will see how he develops."
Young at last
Freshman Devrin Young's collegiate debut started with a bang and ended with a thud.
The Knoxville native nearly broke the first punt return of his career for a touchdown, but he was tripped up at midfield after a 43-yard return. He added a 34-yard kickoff return and a 6-yard run on an end-around, but he also dropped a quick pass when he was lined up in the slot and fumbled on another kickoff return.
"I hope he can continue to [get loose]," said Dooley, who was on Young all week during practice about ball security. "It was good to get a little energy going in the return game. Hopefully that will energize guys blocking. But he put the ball on the ground, too. So now you know why I had him carrying the ball all week. It didn't help. Or maybe it did. Maybe he would have fumbled five.
"It was kind of good to get your feet wet, and we will see how he can progress."
Two other freshmen played for UT's defense Saturday, as end Jordan Williams and nose tackle Allan Carson made their season debuts.
"We need bodies," Dooley said. "They are doing a good job. It's just two more freshmen. That's 17 last year and 15 this year. I told the D-line we had to put a true freshman in to get a sack, and he got it."
Williams, a four-star recruit from Gainesville, Fla., got that sack of Buffalo quarterback Chazz Anderson on a third down in the third quarter. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder teamed with Corey Miller, Jacques Smith and Malik Jackson as UT's passing-down defensive line.
"I'm very happy for Jordan," Smith said. "He's a young guy that I feel like is in the same position that I was last year. I've preached it ever since he stepped on the campus. I'm like, 'Dude, you're going to be playing a lot this year.' First game playing, first game sack -- that tells you how the guy can play.
"Hopefully he can continue to do that for us. I'm excited about Jordan. I think he can definitely help out our defensive rotation and get some more fresh bodies in the game."
The Bulls' lone touchdown came on Anderson's 68-yard run on a zone-option keeper. Smith completely bit on the fake handoff to the running back, and Anderson escaped around the edge.
"It's a simple read, and it happens," the former Ooltewah all-stater said. "Next question."
The Vols began the game in their nickel package to combat Buffalo's spread offense, so senior linebacker Daryl Vereen and freshman safety Brian Randolph earned starts. ... Reserve linebacker Raiques Crump, who entered the game as UT's second-leading tackler on special teams, did not play because of an infection. ... Strong safety Brent Brewer left the game during the first half with an apparent leg injury but returned not long afterward.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...