published Sunday, April 13th, 2014

UT Vols' defense 'disappointing' in spring game

Former Bradley Central player Austin Sanders (60) goes up against Allan Carson.
Former Bradley Central player Austin Sanders (60) goes up against Allan Carson.
Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The 129 points Tennessee's offense accrued Saturday certainly were misleading, given the modified scoring system used in the Volunteers' Orange and White Game.

The 514 passing yards and nine touchdowns allowed by Tennessee's defense at Neyland Stadium, though, were not.

It was quite the contrast from the third spring scrimmage on the same field one Saturday ago, when the Vols' defense was in control for most of the way.

"It's a little disappointing from where we were two practices ago and one practice ago and how we were dominating," defensive end Corey Vereen said. "I didn't really like our approach. I didn't like our tackling. I didn't like my approach, either. There's a lot of things we need to work on."

Second-year coach Butch Jones lamented his team's tackling trouble and the lack of depth evidenced in the performance of the second-team unit, but there were some factors that led to what the crowd of 68,548 at Neyland saw Saturday.

All-SEC middle linebacker A.J. Johnson barely played beyond the first series or two of the game, and safety Brian Randolph has been missing all spring after offseason shoulder surgery.

"We've seen A.J. play enough football," Jones said. "Obviously he needs to continue to progress and get better, but I wanted to see who our backup linebackers would be. Would they show on video? When we welcome more true freshman linebackers, the individuals that were here in the spring, we know exactly where they're at."

There were some bright spots. A blitzing Devaun Swafford hit quarterback Riley Ferguson from behind to cause a fumble recovered by Danny O'Brien, and cornerback Malik Foreman intercepted Ferguson late in the scrimmage. Justin King, basically a forgotten man this spring, registered 1.5 sacks. Promising outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin showed up with seven tackles.

Though the first-team defense allowed only a field goal, forced two three-and-outs and a fumble and stopped another drive on fourth-and-short in the scrimmage's first half, Tennessee's defense allowed touchdowns of 49, 59, 50 and 79 yards and quite a few other big plays.

"It was a tough day for the defense," said defensive end Curt Maggitt, who had a sack. "We didn't play well. Last week we played with more effort and more intensity. When we play as a whole and play as a unit, we make production. Today wasn't a good day."

It leaves the Vols knowing there's work to do between now and August camp.

"We definitely we know we have a long way to go," cornerback Cam Sutton said. "It's just a building process. It's better early than late into the season. It's time to go back and watch film and go from here."

Award winners

Receiver Marquez North and walk-on tight end Joe Stocstill took home "Iron Vol" spring awards for their work in the strength and conditioning program, and offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson and Vereen earned the honors for the most improved players on offense and defense.

Kerbyson solidified a starting spot at right guard somewhat unexpectedly.

"I've really wanted this for a long time," said the fourth-year junior from Knoxville. "It's been like three or four years, and I've been in the No. 2 spot. It was my opportunity to step up, so that really motivated everything I did this spring.

"It was very important to me, and last spring I didn't get a good chance to give it my all that I could. This spring I really took it upon myself to be the best that I could. I knew that I would have an opportunity to start. It was very important to me, and I knew had to be one of the stronger, faster, more athletic guys out there, so that's what I was working for."

Maggitt earned the inaugural Al Wilson Award for leadership, and the former Tennessee linebacker, the vocal leader on the 1998 national championship team, was there to present Maggitt with a plaque.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "Al Wilson and Leonard Little, they're people that me and A.J. look up to a lot. I'm just trying to do my best to be a leader for this team. I feel it was a great opportunity and I appreciate it."

Vols land Reid

Rocky Reid, a three-star running back from North Carolina, announced his commitment to Tennessee on Twitter not long after Saturday's game.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Concord High School junior is the Vols' 11th pledge for the 2015 class.

After running for 3,355 yards and 39 touchdowns this past season, Reid received scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Arkansas, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and others.

Tennessee tidbits

Left tackle Jacob Gilliam and defensive tackle Owen Williams were shaken up during Saturday's game, but both linemen returned to finish the afternoon. ... Former Tennessee offensive coordinator and current Duke head coach David Cutcliffe was presented with the prestigious Neyland Trophy, presented to a major contributor to college athletics, before the game, and many of his former players were on hand to congratulate him. ... Tony Robinson, who played quarterback for the Vols in the 1980s, took home the 13-foot, 9-inch MVP trophy for the flag football game for former players held at halftime.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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