Neal: Vol ground game developing 'swagger'

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — While all the talk around training camp for Tennessee is centered around the Volunteers being slightly out of their element with six days of work roughly 100 miles from Knoxville, there is still plenty of work to get done aside from team building.

In spite of not having any starts on his resume, Antonio Richardson isn't a player in jeopardy of losing his job. However, the sophomore clocks in daily for the Big Orange with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove — to himself.

The Mt. Pleasant, Tenn., native is confident in his ability out at left tackle and is getting pleasure out of being pushed by teammates and defensive linemen like Steven Fowlkes and Darrington Sentimore.

Tennessee's defense got the better of the offense Friday. Richardson & Co. heard all about it from the coaching staff. With the fuse lit, look for the offensive side to take Saturday's scrimmage quite seriously.

"It's just like game day," Richardson said. "In three more weeks, we've got to go to the Georgia Dome and perform."

The 6-foot-6, 332-pounder spoke on camera after the Vols practiced at Science Hill High School. Check it out:

Being the No. 1 tailback at Tennessee comes with a certain amount of attention and pressure. Yet, striving to gain that spot and willing to embrace the microscope is Rajion Neal.

Experience. Size. Speed. The Fayetteville, Ga., product has the physical attributes to help bring the Vols' running game back to life.

"We've got a new, little confidence and swagger about us about how we feel about this run game and that's something we're still ready to prove," Neal said Friday.

If Tennessee kicked off today against Florida, Neal would likely get the first carry. In 21 career games played, including three starts, he has carried the rock 73 times for 331 yards (4.5 per carry) with two touchdowns. Much of his handoffs in 2011 were jet sweeps as he spent a majority of the season at wide receiver.

Should all go as planned, Neal could match or surpass his career total for rushes by the time the Orange & White heads to Athens on Sept. 29.

Take a listen to what the Sandy Creek (Ga.) High runner said following training camp Friday:

The attrition woes still haven't remedied themselves from the Tennessee roster, which contains just 12 scholarship seniors. Prentiss Waggner is a member of that dozen and one of eight that originally committed to former head coach Phillip Fulmer.

Considering the fifth-year veterans are easily the minority on the team, a considerable amount of leadership weight falls on the shoulders of few. However, given how little on-the-field success the group has enjoyed since becoming Vols, they talk often about putting Tennessee back on the map and going out as a class that accomplished that feat.

Cornerback has its share of underclassmen with Deion Bonner, Justin Coleman, Vincent Dallas and Daniel Gray working alongside Waggner and first-year assistant coach Derrick Ansley. Given the talent the Southeastern Conference has at wide receiver yearly these days, it will be a group getting much attention.

See Waggner talk about the progress at corner and other items in the video below:

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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