Larkins, Wilhoit are scrimmage stars

Tennessee's tailback race got a bit more interesting in today's 100-play scrimmage, with Cedric Houston returning from injury and Corey Larkins returning from obscurity.

Houston, who hadn't practiced since spring break because of a sprained ankle, ripped off a couple of nice runs and finished with 19 yards on three carries in his first day back. Gerald Riggs, Jr., had a mediocre day (12 carries for 27 yards) and Jabari Davis (two carries, 8 yards) ran fairly well despite a soft cast on a broken hand.

On this day, however, Larkins stole the show, gaining 79 yards on 10 rushes. The 5-foot-8, 205-pound converted cornerback's best play was a 14-yard TD scamper that featured a move which brought ''Ooohs'' from his teammates. Best of all, he didn't fumble -- something which has hampered him all spring.

''Corey made some definite progress today,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''I always felt like he's a good guy with his hands on the ball. He's got to take care of the ball than he did in the last scrimmage, and he did. He made some nice runs but the best thing I saw was that he took care of the ball. He took responsibility of the ball, and that was good to see.''

Casey Clausen had a nice day throwing the ball, completing 14 of 20 passes for 177 yards. No. 2 QB James Banks was 4 of 9 for 45 yards, while third-teamer C.J. Leak had his best scrimmage to date, completing 5 of 8 for 86 yards and two touchdowns.

''I thought Casey was really sharp,'' Fulmer said. ''C.J. continues to improve in some areas and James is a guy that's exciting, but both of those guys have got to improve their countenance, their demeanor and their timing in the passing game.''

Redshirt freshman James Wilhoit closed the workout on a high note, nailing a 57-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar with probably five yards to spare. Phillip Newman, also battling for the placement job, barely missed from the same distance.

''We stretched that kicker there pretty good in front of his teammates, and he kicked the heck out of it,'' Fulmer said.

Earlier, Wilhoit missed from 48 yards, while Newman hit from the same distance. Both hit from 43 yards. Newman missed all three tries from 41 yards, Wilhoit hit from 41 and twice from 44 yards. On the day, Wilhoit was 8 of 9, while Newman was 5 of 10.

Although Wilhoit had the better of it on this day, Fulmer said the competition is far from over.

''James has shown a little bit more consistency,'' the coach said, ''but it's a very good competition that probably will go on all summer long and into two-a-days.''

Overall, Fulmer said his team has made ''some progress, particularly on the offensive side.'' He was especially pleaesd that there were no fumbles in the entire scrimmage.

Cody Douglas, a budding star on the offensive line, got a look at guard in the scrimmage. He previously had been used almost exclusively at tackle.

''We have a good, competitive situation with Cody being able to play guard or tackle,'' Fulmer said. ''Cody's playing like a starter, and I'd say he's going to start somewhere.''

Second-team defensive end Jason Hall had some moments, recording three sacks for 22 yards in losses. During one six-play stretch, he recorded two sacks of Banks and a four-yard tackle for loss on Riggs.

''Jason Hall had a good day,'' Fulmer said. ''I'm not sure how much he was challenged (by reserves) at left tackle but he did get some plays made.''

Jon Poe led the defense with 6 tackles, a sack and 2 assists. Fellow linebackers Ovince Saint Preux (5 tackles, 3 assists) and Omar Gaither (3 tackles, 2 assists) also showed up on the stat sheet. End Parys Haralson had a sack and a tackle for loss.

The big plays included:

* Tony Brown lunged to make a nice grab of a 15-yard pass over the middle from Clausen.

* Banks hit Chris Hannon with an 11-yarder on an out route.

* Punter-turned-tight end Justin Reed showed good hands on an eight-yard reception from Banks.

* Redshirt freshman cornerback Antwan Stewart made a fine defensive play to break up a pass intended for Jomo Fagan.

* Riggs broke two tackles on a nifty 13-yard run.

* Converted tailback Derrick Tinsley, now playing wide receiver, turned on the jets on a 40-yard TD play after catching a quick hitch from Leak in the right flat.

* Clausen hit Mark Jones on a quick slant pass that gained roughly 30 yards but was nullified by a holding call.

* Sophomore cornerback Jason Allen threw Corey Larkins for a five-yard loss. Larkins atoned moments later with a 15-yard run.

* Linebacker Jason Mitchell, showing explosive quickness, burst through to sack Clausen almost before UT's top QB got the shotgun snap from center. The play lost six yards.

* Clausen hit C.J. Fayton with a perfectly thrown 41-yard touchdown pass. € Defensive end J.T. Mapu stopped Chris Hannon for no gain on an end-around.

* Sophomore linebacker Marvin Mitchell made a nice breakup on a pass intended for C.J. Fayton but was flagged for interference on a very questionable call. Mitchell also showed good lateral movement to catch Riggs for no gain on an end sweep.

* Greg Jones, 6-6, 300-pound sophomore defensive tackle, batted down a Clausen pass.

* Clausen hit Mark Jones with a 19-yard TD pass on a slant route. Antwan Stewart had tight coverage but the throw was perfect.

* Jomo Fagan badly beat a walk-on cornerback to gather in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Leak.

HINDSIGHT IS 20/20 DEPARTMENT: Fulmer admitted that ''I could kick myself in the butt'' for not switching Mark Jones to receiver earlier. Jones, who has been UT's star wideout all spring, caught 5 for 75 yards in today's scrimmage.

So why didn't Fulmer move Jones from safety to receiver a year ago?

''He didn't want to get moved last year, and we were so thin in the secondary at the beginning of the year,'' the head man said. ''He looks like a guy who can really help our offensive team. I'd say he's been the most consistent guy we've had at receiver. He's basically a starter on defense AND a starter on offense, in my mind.''

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