Offensively, the wideouts came a long way in terms of their blocking and their receiving. That was evident in the Orange & White Game.
Quintin Hancock, who didn't catch a pass in 2008, caught eight balls for 96 yards with a long play of 22 yards. Brandon Warren, a converted tight end, caught four balls for 50 yards and two touchdowns with a long play of 24 yards. Denarius Moore made three grabs for 47 yards with a long of 25 yards. Tyler Maples caught two balls for 28 yards and Gerald Jones caught two for 26 with a long of 24. Austin Rogers made just one catch but it was a 16-yard touchdown grab.
“The guys made some plays,” Kiffin said. “Brandon made some. Gerald made some. Quintin made some. It seemed like whoever was in there was making plays.
“That was really good to see and it was something we wanted to do – push the ball downfield with some play action and see if our guys could make some plays down there.”
The pass receivers had their day Saturday but the pass rushers dominated the action eight days earlier. Minus the schematic restrictions imposed in the Orange & White Game, the pass rushers registered eight sacks and a half-dozen hurries April 10 in the final tuneup scrimmage.
Chris Walker was a pass-rushing fiend all spring, but fellow end Ben Martin wasn't far behind.
“Our pass rush really improved,” Kiffin noted, “our defensive ends especially. Inside, we're not as strong.”
A ban on blitzing wasn't the only thing that slowed the pass rushers last Saturday. Fatigue slowed them, as well. With only one turnover in the O&W Game, the offenses kept the defenses on the field for extended periods of time.
“It was interesting to see those long drives,” Kiffin said. “Some of our defensive linemen who had been making a lot of plays, when you don't turn the ball over and keep moving, all of a sudden they get tired and they're not making as many plays.”
Although senior Rico McCoy is Tennessee's only experienced linebacker, the head man also expressed pleasure with the progress at that position.
“I thought our linebackers – for not having many guys that have played and moving around in a bunch of different areas – really started to play well,” Kiffin said. “And our secondary was a real strength for us. Even with Eric (Berry) out, the first unit still played really well.”
Although the offense looked good in the O&W Game, it sputtered throughout most of the spring.
“On offense, we still have a ton of work to do,” Kiffin said. “It seemed that every time we'd do something we'd take a step back. It'll be a long offseason before we play. Some of these freshmen that were floating around (signees attending the O&W Game) that are going to be here in the fall will be in there to help us, too.”
No coach is content after 15 spring workouts. That's especially true for a first-year guy such as Kiffin, who is installing new offensive and defensive schemes.
“I wish we could keep going,” he said. “We've got so much to do to become a championship team. I wish we could keep practicing forever. But it is what it is, and we'll maximize the time that we have.”