The first 48 hours of the Tennessee football team’s week-long stay at Milligan College went like clockwork, according to third-year UT head coach Derek Dooley.
The Volunteers scrimmaged for a little more than two hours Saturday evening during their second straight day at Science Hill’s Kermit Tipton Stadium, and Dooley liked the focus of his players before and during the workout.
“When we got on the buses (to travel from Milligan College to Science Hill) there wasn’t a word being said, and that was good,” Dooley said. “I mean, they were locked in and treating it like a game.”
The change of scenery has been a sight for sore eyes thus far for Dooley.
“I know I love it; I mean, the coaches love it,” Dooley said. “I’ve had zero administrative issues to deal with, alright? That’s pretty nice. It’s just ball all day.
“You know, I’m thinking about seeing if we can do this for about six months. I don’t Milligan would let us stay up here for six months.”
If the Vols win nine or 10 games this year copycats will probably follow en masse. Of course, it isn’t likely to ever get to the point like it is in the NFL, where teams train during summer camp in different cities. The Atlanta Falcons trained in Johnson City at East Tennessee State for four years beginning in 1967.
Tennessee’s running game, which was among the nation’s worst last year, stood out during Saturday’s scrimmage. Junior tailback Rajion Neal parlayed nine carries into 135 yards and a touchdown. Devrin Young ran seven times for 36 yards and a TD, and fellow sophomore Marlin Lane carried eight times for 34 yards.
“I think I did pretty well … but those guys up front gave me a great opportunity to come out here and have a good day,” Neal said. “I feel the offense has a great deal of confidence in running the ball, but there’s still room for improvement.”
Most defenses, even those in the SEC, will have a hard time overloading the box while having to account for receivers Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and junior-college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. They’re all tall and athletic. Rogers had six catches for 105 yards and a TD and Hunter caught seven passes for 47 yards.
“I can pretty much just punt the ball down the middle of the field and one of them’s gonna go up and get it,” said 6-foot-6 junior quarterback Tyler Bray.
Patterson, wearing a protective red jersey while nursing a sore shoulder, had one catch for 26 yards. Dooley said Patterson showed “toughness” by playing.
Unfortunately for Rogers, who wasn’t wearing a red jersey, he had to prove his toughness in more memorable – and perhaps memory-jarring – fashion.
“Da’Rick took a couple of big hits,” Neal said, “but he wouldn’t fall.”
The trio of tall targets draws praise from Volunteers attempting to defend them.
“Between those three guys, I would definitely say so (they are the best trio in the league),” senior defensive back Marsalis Teague said. “With a guy like Bray throwing the ball to them, it makes it that much harder for a defense and that much better for us as a defense to go against them in practice every day.”
Bray was 18 of 31 passing for 189 yards and a TD. Sophomore backup Justin Worley completed 9 of 15 passes for 134 yards and two TDs.
More important than Bray’s stats is the more pronounced leadership role he’s said to be displaying. Hunter said Bray is more vocal, and it was especially noticeable during the two-minute offense.
“He’s taking control,” Hunter said. “He’s tired of the coaches getting on him. They told him to stop being quiet out there and start yelling.”
Bray, whose missteps this summer with beer bottles and a jet ski (separate incidents) surely had Dooley reaching for the Tums, said the stay at Milligan is effective insulation from outside influences.
“I like it,” Bray said. “I mean, it gets us away from Knoxville and gets us away from friends, and so we can just focus on football and the team.”
The Vols will be off today and are scheduled to practice at Milligan for the first time on Monday.
Notes: Dooley’s first full-time job was at SMU beginning in the 1997 season. Former East Tennessee State coach Mike Cavan, who played quarterback at Georgia for Dooley’s father Vince, hired Dooley when he got the SMU job after taking ETSU to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in 1996.
“I saw him this summer,” Dooley said, “You know, of course, I worked for him for three years, so we’re pretty close. This was his old stomping ground. He did a good job up here at ETSU.” Instead of calling out the letters E-T-S-U, Dooley pronounced it so that it rhymed with “get Sue.” … Michael Palardy made all four field goal attempts, including a 48-yarder at the end of the scrimmage. … Darrington Sentimore, a junior college transfer, has looked good on the defensive line.