March 30, 2008

Healthy Hardesty hopes for big spring

The numbers -- five carries for 17 yards -- weren't eye-popping, but Montario Hardesty couldn't help but sport an ear-to-ear grin Saturday after Tennessee's first scrimmage of spring football practice.

A junior tailback with loads of talent but a knack for injuries, Hardesty feels better than ever since coming to Knoxville from New Bern (N.C.) High School three years ago.

"Man, (I feel) great," Hardesty said. "Every other spring, I've been dealing with injuries. This is my first time with no injuries coming out of the season, and I feel like I just need to come out here and work."

Does it feel like starting college anew?

"Almost man, pretty much," he said. "I just hope this time I go in and start off doing good."

Though the offense under first-year coordinator Dave Clawson has installed just two running plays through the opening third of spring drills, Hardesty said the first test was encouraging.

"That was our first time going full-live with our new offense," he said. "We had a lot of mess-ups, but I feel like we had good effort, and as long we do that, I feel like we can fix that. I think it was a good start for us with this new offense and getting ready for the spring.

"We've only got two run plays right now, and sometimes we were running into bad looks because we didn't really have another run play to audible out to. Sometimes there, we just had to go and work because we only had a little bit of it in. The defense has got their whole defense in. It was kind of challenging, but I felt like we gave good effort."

And Clawson liked the Vols' stubbornness in those tough situations, not to mention what he gleaned from the offense's execution.

"I think you also find out what the breaking points are. That we're going to find out what plays do we consistently bust and not perform well on and maybe certain things weren't clear to them," he said. "We've got to make sure we're teaching it the right way and that they're understanding it. There's no better way to do that than a live scrimmage."

For the 6-foot, 210-pound Hardesty, the key this spring is capitalizing not just on his scrimmage opportunities but each day in practice.

"I just want to get better every day at practice, learn more of the offense and I'm trying to work on hands, vision into the hole," said Hardesty, who last season was UT's second-leading rusher with 373 yards and three scores. "All the little pieces of my game every day at a practice. And as a leader, for myself, I want to try to lead this team throughout this spring and try to get better each day throughout spring."

Fast Adam: Senior linebacker Adam Myers-White scooped up the blocked field goal turned in by teammate Eric Berry and raced downfield during Saturday's scrimmage. He looked headed for paydirt until the play was whistled dead.

"I had to turn on the burners on them," he said, laughing.

So what was different about this scrimmage for Myers-White?

"I was flying on the ball, breaking on the ball," he said. "It was a good day for me, I think, but I just need to watch the film and learn from what happened on the field."

Tight ends compete: With Jeff Cottam out after breaking his leg last week in practice, new tight ends coach Jason Michael liked what he saw from his revamped group of tight ends. David Holbert also had some experience at the position, but he suffered a nasty knee/leg injury during the scrimmage.

Luke Stocker, the only Vol with much game experience, caught four passes for 11 yards and one touchdown as a redshirt freshman last season. He caught Jonathan Crompton's 7-yard touchdown toss on Saturday.

"I think they responded to that. Obviously those guys are a close group, and they tried to get better and take advantage of their opportunities," Michael said of the depth-challenged position. "The numbers situation is lower, and they knew the reps were going to increase. I thought as the week went along, speaking as a whole offense, I thought as a group those guys worked and there are still some things to teach, but they made a conscious effort of trying to get better each day.

"I thought as this scrimmage went along that that happened."

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!