Rain falls but Phil smiles

Thanks to a steady downpour, the weather couldn't have been drearier at Tennessee's first morning practice of the preseason. But Phil Fulmer's disposition couldn't have been sunnier.

''We couldn't ask for a better day to come out here and have the wet-weather work,'' the Vols' head man said following Thursday's morning workout. ''I was really happy that we handled the snaps well this morning, even the young quarterbacks.''

After reviewing Wednesday evening's scrimmaging, Fulmer said ''It was really pleasing to see us make some plays on offense. We had a running back (Gerald Riggs Jr.) who broke a really nice run, and there were a couple of really nice plays by receivers. And the quarterbacks did a couple of things, especially those young ones (Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer). That was good to see.''

Ainge had one fumbled snap during Wednesday's scrimmaging. Otherwise, he and Schaeffer reasonably mistake-free.

''They did all right,'' Fulmer said. ''Those two young ones made a play or two on their own, and that was encouraging. They handled the snaps and exchanges -- did the fundamental things that are going to help you win. Now it's just a matter of them continuing to progress and learn.''

While the offense made some plays in the Wednesday's scrimmaging, that could be traced in part to some poor tackling by the defense.

''We need to tackle a lot better, particularly at safety,'' Fulmer said. ''We had a chance to make some plays that would've allowed us to play another down (preventing touchdowns) but they turned into big plays.''

One of the keys on defense is finding capable safeties to replaced 2003 starters Gibril Wilson and Rashad Baker. Toward that end, former quarterback/wideout James Banks is working exclusively at safety this preseason. One of the team's finest athletes, he shows great potential.

''James is obviously a good athlete,'' Fulmer said. ''He's a guy we feel good about, as far as an athletic person to make a play on the ball. He's got a lot to learn about getting lined up and fundamentals. And his tackling is not where it needs to be yet.

''I'm not displeased (with Banks) but I haven't seen anything that just fires you up, either.''

Fulmer gave some freshman defenders a long look Thursday morning as he put the Vols through some punt-coverage drills.

''We are getting all the young linebackers and defensive backs in the mix,'' the head man said. ''Ellix Wilson, particularly, and James Turner, Jerod Mayo and Robert Ayers all have a chance to help us on special teams. They've got the great attitude and the possibility of earning some playing time.''

Tennessee's first day of two-a-day drills will conclude with another workout this afternoon. InsideTennessee.com will have a complete report posted this evening.

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