O'Neal had such a tough day, in fact, that head coach Phil Fulmer jokingly compared him to former U.S. Olympian Sam Graddy. Graddy, a world-class sprinter for the UT track team who dabbled as a Vol receiver in the mid-1980s, couldn't catch a cold if he slept by an open window. Blessed with awesome feet and awful hands, he routinely ran past opposing defensive backs only to drop the pass when it arrived.
"Kenny gives us a threat; he's just got to take care of the ball and catch it better," Fulmer said of O'Neal. "It could be like Sam Graddy, where he scares the heck out of ‘em (defenders) with his speed but he may not ever catch one. I hope he comes around. He was real disappointed after the scrimmage."
O'Neal's troubles on Tuesday began with the No. 1 offense facing a first-and-five situation at the defense's 14-yard line. After catching a short pass over the middle from Erik Ainge, O'Neal turned upfield near the 10-yard line just as he was belted by linebacker Dorian Davis. The ball squirted back upfield, with running back Montario Hardesty eventually recovering at the 20-yard line for a six-yard loss.
Two snaps later O'Neal again broke free over the middle … only to have Ainge's fastball bound off his shoulder pads. That forced the No. 1 offense to settle for a 38-yard Daniel Lincoln field goal.
Vol receivers coach Trooper Taylor knows O'Neal is a better player than he has shown in the preseason scrimmages. That's why the assistant wasn't too concerned about Tuesday's mishaps.
"You tell him to get better," Taylor said. "Anybody can fall down. I want to see how quick you can get off the ground. He bounced back before."
The Vol aide believes O'Neal is so keyed up about learning a bunch of new assignments that he is pressing when he's on the field. The result is physical and mental mistakes.
"Again, we're throwing the whole playbook at that kid," Taylor said. "When we get ready to narrow it down for Cal, he'll be just fine."