KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's offense continues to endure growing pains as it attempts to replace at least six likely NFL draft picks.
Quarterbacks Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman both struggled to move the ball Saturday in the Volunteers' second scrimmage of the spring. New Tennessee coach Butch Jones uses a complex scoring format for each scrimmage in which he awards points to the offense or defense for big plays and accomplishments. Jones' system had the defense winning the scrimmage 86-63.
"Offensively, I'm not pleased at all," Jones said. "I didn't think we were physical at the line of scrimmage. I was disappointed in the way our offensive line came off the football. I'm disappointed with our running backs, and obviously our receivers have a long way to go."
Having the offense far ahead of the defense represents a dramatic change from a year ago.
Tennessee averaged 36.2 points per game last season, but the Vols finished 5-7 because they gave up the most points (35.7) and yards (471.4) per game of any Southeastern Conference team.
But the Vols lost many of the top skill-position performers from last year's offense.
Quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter all decided to enter their draft after their junior seasons. Patterson and Hunter are potential first-round picks, while Bray is expected to get taken in the first four rounds. Tight end Mychal Rivera, wide receiver Zach Rogers and offensive guard Dallas Thomas also are likely to get drafted this month.
"We're going through a process, and I expect the defense to be a little bit ahead of the offense," Jones said. "But the thing that we're not going to sacrifice or compromise is a level of physicality, energy and leadership."
Those elements were missing from the offense Saturday.
"The defense came out and they had a great mindset," Worley said. "They worked hard all week. We came out and in certain situations we were slow to move and things like that. That hurt us."
While the offense had reason for concern after Saturday's scrimmage, the defense had plenty of cause for confidence.
Jones complimented the defense for its energy level and ability to control the line of scrimmage. Jones singled out linebackers A.J. Johnson and Dontavis Sapp for praise, though he also noted the defense must improve its pass-rushing ability.
"We're using last season as a chip on our shoulder," safety Byron Moore said. "We want to show everybody that wasn't the real Tennessee defense that they saw. It's a new identity here. We call ourselves, 'The Orange Swarm.' We're going to play with more effort than anybody in the country. We're going to fly around all 60 minutes. That's the makeup of our defense this year."
This time last year, the defense was struggling to implement a 3-4 scheme that never quite worked out. Now that Jones' staff has gone back to a 4-3 alignment, the Vols feel much more comfortable on defense.
"Last year, there were a lot of questions," defensive lineman Daniel Hood said. "The coaches installed way too much too fast. You could see guys out there playing with hesitation. There wasn't any of the energy. There weren't any big hits like we had today. This is a complete 180 from last year."
As he has done all spring, Jones moved around the practice field with a microphone and didn't hesitate to shout compliments and critiques. "107,000 people just groaned," Jones said after one misplay. When someone was called for a penalty, Jones mentioned that player by name.
It's all part of Jones' plan to make sure the Vols reduce their mental mistakes this fall.
"Our margin for error with this football team is very slim," Jones said. "You all see it. We all know. Let's not hide between it. We know. We can be a good football team, but our margin of error is extremely small. It's very small. It's limited. We can't have turnovers. We can't have penalties. Our players understand that."