At one point during Saturday's full-scale scrimmage freshman tailback Daryl Vereen was so confused as the Vols broke the huddle that he had to ask senior quarterback Erik Ainge what to do.
Ainge smiled as he picked up the story: “I said 'Step to the left, get the ball and run.' He said, 'Ah, I can do that!'
“Sometimes it's better when you just give 'em the ball and tell 'em to go.”
Tennessee did just that Saturday afternoon with Vereen, Lennon Creer and Josh Hawkins, and the results were encouraging. Creer picked up a scrimmage-best 84 yards on 11 carries. Vereen added 41 yards on 13 carries and Hawkins 16 yards on seven carries. Creer broke runs of 16 and 35 yards, while Vereen popped a 17-yarder.
“All of those new backs put their shoulder down in a heartbeat,” Ainge said. “They don't know what they're doing yet; they're running around like freshmen always are. But, from a physical standpoint, they're special.”
Junior Arian Foster (13 carries, 47 yards) showed a good blend of speed, vision and power. Sophomore Montario Hardesty (5 carries, 14 yards) remains somewhat slowed by a hamstring pull but ran very hard.
“I definitely like where we're at at the running back position,” Ainge said.
The senior QB thought Tennessee's good rushing performance in Saturday's scrimmage was a credit to its offensive line and its scheme, as well as its tailbacks.
“Our running backs made some great plays,” Ainge said. “But, for the most part, it was the attitude and demeanor of the offensive line that helped us out early.”
Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe's liberal use of the no-huddle scheme apparently contributed to the success of the run game, as well.
“I think the benefits of the no-huddle showed today,” Ainge said. “Getting on the ball, in and out of the right run plays, really allows Coach Cutcliffe to see what they're doing on defense.
“They (defenders) kind of have to be a little more generic. They can't call all the crazy blitzes and stunts when we can run any of our offense at the line of scrimmage.”