Secondary woes continue

Tennessee finished dead last among the 12 SEC schools in pass defense last season, and the Vol secondary still has a ways to go, based on Saturday's first full-scale scrimmage of the preseason.

Rick Clausen completed 10 of 13 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yarder to Bret Smith caused by a busted coverage.

Erik Ainge completed 11 of 17 for 130 yards and a touchdown, including throws of 26 and 25 yards to Josh Briscoe, a 19-yarder to freshman Lucas Taylor and an 18-yarder to Smith.

Bo Hardegree completed just 2 of 6 passes but netted 89 yards, thanks to a 69-yard TD pass to Taylor. Walk-on Jim Bob Cooter completed 3 of 4 for 25 yards.

Unofficially, Tennessee's secondary surrendered 26 completions in 40 attempts for 403 yards. Worse, it gave up five completions of 20 yards or more. Even with the season opener still three weeks away, that has head coach Phillip Fulmer a little concerned about his defensive backs.

"There were some good hits … some guys came up and made some good, solid tackles," the head man said. "Obviously, the two or three big plays we gave up … you don't want to see that. We'll study the film and, hopefully, get better from it."

Tennessee holds its second full-scale scrimmage next Saturday night, and Fulmer expects significant improvement between now and then.

"The next one is the real test, as to how much we can improve things like that," he said.

Tennessee's secondary is a work in progress AND a unit in transition. Jason Allen is making the move from safety to corner. Jonathan Hefney and Antwan Stewart are making the move from corner to safety. The only member of the 2004 secondary who is starting in the same spot this year is corner Roshaun Fellows. Fulmer says the players have had time to adjust to their new outposts, however, and that shouldn't be an excuse.

"It shouldn't be at this point," he said, adding that the 65-yard pass from Clausen to Bret Smith came on a wheel route that wasn't covered properly.

"We have worked it," Fulmer said. "Obviously, we haven't worked it enough."

Allen, senior captain and team leader, said he accepted "full blame" for the busted coverage on the play, saying there was a brief communication breakdown.

Center David Ligon suffered a high-ankle sprain on the first play of the scrimmage but could be back in time for the Sept. 3 opener against Alabama-Birmingham. Senior Richie Gandy, coming off an ACL tear, is solid but there is no proven depth behind him. Freshman Josh McNeil saw plenty of action in the scrimmage, however, and made a positive impression on his head coach.

"I thought the freshman just got out here and battled his rear off," Fulmer said. "And (walk-on) Michael Frogg is a guy that's definitely in the picture there. Right now he'd be our second center. He's worked hard and done a heck of a job."

The search for a No. 2 tailback behind Gerald Riggs may have come into a little sharper focus on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Arian Foster broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and bounced outside for a dazzling 40-yard run. David Yancey made a couple of nice runs but lost a fumble. True freshman LaMarcus Coker had no big gainers but got three or four yards out of several plays that could've gone for no gain.

"I thought Foster had a really fine run," Fulmer said. "Coker made a couple of nice plays, and I've seen some big things from Montario (Hardesty). I think we're going to be OK at that position. We've just got to keep working."

Riggs carried on the first three snaps of the scrimmage, then went to the sidelines for good.

"He's not going to get a whole lot of carries until the first game," Fulmer noted. "Then he may get 40."


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