Vols’ offense still needs work

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 1:31am

KNOXVILLE — It may not have been as bad as it seemed.

That’s the word from Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer after his staff reviewed the film of Saturday’s scrimmage at Neyland Stadium that featured a futile outing by the Volunteers’ offense.

But seeing how bad it seemed, Fulmer’s words of optimism might not be that encouraging after all.

“We still have to run the football better,” Fulmer said after Tuesday’s practice. “We absolutely have to do that. And we have to take care of the ball better. You can’t give up five sacks, not run the ball and turn it over seven times total and call it a good scrimmage. But there were some good things from individuals that came out of it.”

After begging the entire spring for the reserve defensive tackles to play with more fire, Fulmer commended Chase Nelson and Victor Thomas for their work in the team’s second major scrimmage.

“They played fast for a change,” Fulmer said. “They hadn’t really done that. They showed that they could possibly play in the Southeastern Conference.”

The Tennessee coach also noted that senior linebacker Ellix Wilson had his best scrimmage since arriving at UT and praised the work done by sophomore linebacker Savion Frazier.

The UT coaching staff also made a surprise position change Tuesday as they moved redshirt freshman running back Daryl Vereen to safety, where he assumes second-string duties.

Fulmer pointed to a lack of depth at the position, as well as Vereen’s ability when rationalizing the switch.

“He’s too good an athlete to be standing over there as a third- or fourth-string tailback,” Fulmer said. “I think he has a nature of a tough guy. He picked it up pretty quick. He’s a smart young man.”

TRADING SPACES: In addition to Vereen’s switch, another position change on the Tennessee roster has proved successful thus far.

Freshman Austin Johnson, who has been on campus just a few months, started at linebacker but now has moved to fullback following a knee injury to fifth-year senior David Holbert. Johnson hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass Saturday, but the play was called back with referees ruling the quarterback down.

“He’s intelligent,” Fulmer said of Johnson. “For just a few days over there, he has picked it up really fast. He’s a tough guy and is athletic. He’ll catch the ball. He’s not afraid. He’s got to get a lot stronger, but that won’t happen tomorrow. I think he’ll help us this year.”

NEVER TOO LATE: Many expected DeAngelo Willingham to step right into a starting job last year when he arrived from junior college. But Willingham’s slow adaptation to college football prevented that from happening.

A year later, the cornerback is ready to live up to the hype, coming up with two interceptions in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“Last year, it was hard,” Willingham said. “You can’t explain how hard it was. Last year, I thought I knew the playbook. But when you learn the techniques and the little things, it is a lot harder than you think.”

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