KNOXVILLE — As he left the field after capping a surprising spring surge with a 101-yard Orange and White Game rushing performance Saturday, Tennessee tailback Alden Hill wanted an immediate assessment.
So the redshirt freshman walked off the field side by side with Robert Gilliespie, listening to what the Volunteers' running backs coach had to say.
Gillespie told Hill there was good and bad in his performance, but despite his emergence in Tennessee's in-flux backfield, Hill was thinking about the negative.
"I made some mistakes," the 6-foot-1, 219-pound Ohio native told the Times Free Press after the game. "They were minor, not too many major mistakes, but things I need to work on. I could have 300 yards, but I'm not really looking at the accolades; I'm looking at what I did wrong.
"You go back and fix the other things, because when we get into the games, that's what's going to kill you. I'm more focused on my mistakes than anything. That's critical."
When Tennessee began spring practice more than seven weeks ago, the Vols had known commodities at tailback in Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, a duo that combined for more than 1,700 yards of offense and 11 touchdowns last season.
There was a void behind Neal and Lane, though, once Quenshaun Watson left the program and Devrin Young moved to slot receiver. Hill established himself as the third option during the first half of spring, but Lane's suspension presented him an opportunity to make a move. A hard worker with a physical running style, Hill took advantage of the situation.
On 11 of his 18 carries Saturday, Hill ran for 4 or more yards and averaged 5.6 yards per run.
"I think that summarizes his spring," Jones said. "Alden Hill has been a great surprise. Does he still have a long way to go? Yes.
"Did he leave some yards out there, cutting off the wrong foot and all that? Yes, but he's been an individual who's had great consistency in his performance. He comes with the mentality to get better each and every day. He's become much more physical and I'm really, really encouraged by what I've seen from him."
At Marlington High School outside of Akron, Hill ran for 4,075 yards to set the school's career rushing record. A three-star prospect, he enrolled last January, but mononucleosis cut short his initial spring practice. Now he's the only one of the Vols' three-back 2012 class remaining following the departures of Watson and Davante Bourque.
How much of an impact Hill makes when the season arrives may depend mostly on Lane's future, but his progress this spring has to be a comforting development for the Vols.
"He's probably made the biggest strides," Gillespie said last week. "He was a long way from being a football player. He was a guy that was strong on the scout team, ran it hard and didn't understand what was going on.
"This spring he's definitely had a chance to understand football. I told him, 'Everything you thought you knew, throw it away, and let's build it from the ground up.' He's done a good job accepting that ... and the building process has been fun with him."
Hill said Tennessee's new offense under Jones better suits him than the system the Vols ran last season. Marlington's offense relied primarily on triple-option and zone-read plays out of the shotgun. The Vols' new ground attack consists predominantly of zone-read plays.
"This is perfect," Hill said. "Last year I wasn't really used to coming out and running the power under center, but I think I made the transition well, and we do a few plays like that now. Zone [plays], you've just got to read it, flow with it and be physical.
"I feel like last year's last year, but I feel very comfortable with how we're doing this. I feel like I've progressed with the offense and the change. I think it's fitting me pretty well."
Hill said he's also adapted quickly to Gillespie's demanding coaching style.
"He's very straightforward, and I like that in coaches," he said. "I used to have, in high school, coaches that were very tough on me and pushed me, kind of like a father figure. He demands the most out of you.
"He won't tell you when you do good a lot of times, and it's more your mistakes. He's here to critique us, he's not here to be our friend and I need that. I like guys that push me and tell me negative things and what I've got to work on, and he's good at pushing us and getting results, and I think it's been proved in our work."
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 ...