Tennessee's offense won the first practice in pads on Thursday. The reward for their efforts was the privilege of donning orange jerseys for the spring's first scrimmage. But Saturday it was the defense's turn to earn the orange jerseys as they held on to beat the offense in dramatic fashion.
“We worked as hard as we could today and the defense knew we wanted those orange jerseys back,” senior Jacques Smith said.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones wants his team to understand that every play and repetition is important. Accordingly, Jones awarded points to the offense and defense based on their performances in one-on-one drills and scrimmage situations, giving points on each play.
“Like I told our team,” Jones said, “it came down to a final play, but did you know that that one rep that you had taken an hour before in the one-on-one drill could have been the difference between winning and losing. They have to learn to value every repetition.”
The defense held a comfortable margin on the scoreboard for most of the practice, but in the final scrimmage segment the offense scored on multiple possessions to narrow the gap. Jones then announced that the winning side of the practice would be decided by the result of one final goal line play from the 4-yard line.
“Our defensive line has to learn to protect that goal line,” Jones said.
On the final play, junior tight end Brendan Downs appeared to have caught the winning touchdown on a short pass from junior quarterback Justin Worley, but the coaching staff ruled that the defensive line had touched Worley, which in practice constitutes a sack, before he released the ball. Thus the defense held on to claim back the orange jerseys for Tuesday’s practice.
Jones hopes that manufacturing pressure situations on the practice field will pay dividends in the fall.
“You find out about individuals when their blood pressure goes up and how they perform when there is something on the line," Jones said. "When you play in front of 102,000 people in Neyland Stadium in every home game, pressure is what you put on yourself.”
Though the defense won the scrimmage, the Vols still saw some positive signs on offense, especially in the last team scrimmage period.
“We came together at the end. Earlier in practice, we made a few mistakes,” said sophomore wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard. “But by the end of the day, we knew what the expectations were so we came together and made plays.”
Echoing Howard’s sentiments, Worley liked how the offense finished the practice.
“Just coming out and being able to have a little bit of success at the end of practice, especially in a team period where we’re going live, full speed, it’s good, and hopefully it’ll develop and help our defense as well,” said Worley.
One unique aspect of Saturday’s practice in comparison to previous spring practices was that Saturday was "Family Day."
The Vols practiced and scrimmaged in front of an audience that included family members, former Vol players and prospects from the 2014 class of high school football players. Former Vols that witnessed practice ranged from recent departures like Tyler Bray and Dallas Thomas to former Volunteer standouts Gerald Riggs Jr. and Charles Rosenfelder.
"There were 600 people here today, our football family coming together,” said Jones. “That is special. There is only one Tennessee. People may try to emulate Tennessee, but there is only one Tennessee.”