Proving ground

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With Tennessee's opener exactly two weeks away, Friday's full-scale scrimmage is more than just a practice. It's an audition for starting jobs and key backup roles.

"Huge. Huge," said junior defensive lineman Corey Miller, who is battling for playing time at both end and nose tackle in assorted sub-packages. "It's huge for everybody on the defense because we've got to be ready to play. We've got to show the coaches what we can do and how we perform in different situations."

One of the players Miller is battling for snaps, senior Steven Fowlkes, says this scrimmage shapes up as a proving ground for many Vols.

"This is very important, not only for me but for other guys," he said. "We've got Corey Miller, who has been doing a great job balling. Me and Corey are both rotating around a little bit ... might be at nose, might be at end. We've basically got the same role. Me and Corey are both fast, big, can move, got good feet. They could put me at the nose and Corey at end or put Corey at the nose and me at end; it don't matter. We're going to get to the quarterback."

Sophomore Greg Clark, locked in a fierce battle with Daniel McCullers and Daniel Hood at nose guard, knows this scrimmage is a crucial one for him.

"It's a real big deal," Clark said. "We'll get a lot of things settled. We all have to go out there and play hard, like it's a game. I've got to have a good performance, so I can get a good feel for the game because I really haven't gotten any playing time (in actual games)."

Probably no Vol has more at stake in the scrimmage than sophomore running back Marlin Lane. After backing up the departed Tauren Poole last fall, he was expected to assume the No. 1 job this season. Rajion Neal's dynamic performance in the previous scrimmage (nine carries, 134 yards) probably means Lane must make up some ground if he expects to start Game 1.

Redshirt sophomore Greg Clark has some ground to make up if he wants to start at nose guard.
(Danny Parker/
"I just need to play physical, out-hit everybody," he said. "I have to make sure I don't mess up assignments and get the job done."

One thing running backs coach Jay Graham stresses in practice is the need for runners to get more yardage than their blocking gives them. That is Lane's unofficial motto for Scrimmage No. 2.

"I need to make a lot of yards after contact," he said. "And I need to step up in protection — not let anybody get to our quarterback."

Lane is no lock to be Tennessee's No. 2 running back. Fellow sophomore Devrin Young performed well in the opening scrimmage, gaining 36 yards on seven carries. Lane gained 34 yards on eight rushes that day but says those numbers are a little misleading.

"I think I did pretty well because I missed two days right before the scrimmage," he recalled. "I had to do an on-line test for headaches to get cleared. I think I did pretty good for just sitting around for two days, then coming back in."

Some other Vols who need quality performances in Scrimmage No. 2 include:

No. 2 tight end Brendan Downs. He must prove he's a better option than going three-wide (Justin Hunter, Da' Rick Rogers, Cordarrelle Patterson) when No. 1 tight end Mychal Rivera isn't playing.

Offensive lineman Alex Bullard. He started all 12 games in 2011 but is currently projected as a utility man for 2012.

Junior safeties Byron Moore and Brent Brewer. They're locked in a heated battle for the safety spot opposite Brian Randolph.

Junior cornerback Nyshier Oliver. He performed well in Scrimmage No. 1 but needs another good showing if he's to challenge Prentiss Waggner, Marsalis Teague and Justin Coleman for serious playing time.

Senior receiver Zach Rogers. He must be productive to prevent falling behind gifted freshmen Jason Croom and Drae Bowles.

Linebackers Christian Harris, Willie Bohannon, Channing Fugate, John Propst and Greg King. A strong scrimmage showing for any of them could mean the difference between helping at linebacker or helping on special teams.

Redshirt freshman Kyler Kerbyson. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman figures he can count on eight guys. A big day by Kerbyson could make it nine.

Coach Derek Dooley understands the importance of this August scrimmage. See what he talked about as his Vols gear up to kick off at Neyland Stadium on Friday night:

Hear more from Lane following Thursday evening's practice in Knoxville in this interview:

Byron Moore is trying to work is way into the lineup at either STAR nickelback or safety. See what the California prospect said to reporters this week:

Daniel Hood will figure into the mix somewhere along the defensive front. Have a listen to what the Knoxville native said to the media:

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