Under first year head coach Josh Heupel, Tennessee opened its eighth spring practice to the public. The Vols worked for just under three hours Saturday as they continue to move closer to the Orange and White game on April 24.
Here are observations from Tennessee’s work inside Neyland Stadium Saturday.
Who wasn’t available or limited
Edge rusher Roman Harrison, offensive lineman Riley Locklear, linebacker Jeremy Banks and running back Jabari Small were non participants in Saturday’s practice.
Defensive back Doneiko Slaughter, running back Len’Neth Whitehead and receiver Jimmy Holiday were limited participants wearing black, non contact jerseys.
Tyler Baron, Ja’Quain Blakely, Tiyon Evans and Jalin Hyatt were all in their normal jerseys but still saw limited team and live reps, doing a plethora of individual work on the sides.
I’d be remiss not to have some notes on the unit Tennessee fans are most curious of going into the season.
In the live, 11 vs. 11 sessions — which included two red zone periods and two normal periods — Hendon Hooker received the first team reps with Brian Maurer working with the twos and Harrison Bailey working with the threes.
In my estimated stats — which could be wrong with some missed plays or incorrect spots — Hooker completed seven-of-12 passes for 41 yards. Maurer completed four-of-seven passes for 40 yards while adding an interception and Bailey was just two-of-three for 15 yards, throwing an interception that was his receivers fault and adding a nifty third down touchdown run in the red zone period.
Bailey’s attempts were lower as Tee Hodge and the run game dominated while he was in.
Add in drill work and seven on seven work and I thought Maurer looked the most confident, firing the ball down the sidelines, a staple of a Josh Heupel offense. Maurer made some mistakes in doing so, throwing two interceptions— the most of any Tennessee quarterback on the day, but also shining with some really nice throws to Ramel Keyton and freshman Walker Merrill.
Hooker and Bailey looked a little bit more tentative throwing down the field but kept the ball out of harm's way.
In drill work, there was a clear emphasis on throwing on the run as the Vols did three different exercises working on it, both with receivers and coaches.
All three quarterbacks had their moments Saturday but inconsistency stood out from all as well.
On the line of scrimmage
On the defensive side, Tennessee’s first four were Byron Young, Matthew Butler, Aubrey Soloman, Darel Middleton.
Sophomore Bryson Eason was working as a second team defensive end after arriving as an inside linebacker last summer. While it was clear he still needs to gain comfortability with the position, the Memphis native’s body looked the part.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner was not pleased with his group for a good portion of drill work, loudly getting after his players— especially Butler.
During one stretch, Garner’s criticism was particularly loud when he told one player, or maybe the whole position group “Man, I can’t wait for you to watch your film and see how bad you are.”
The hard coaching section earned praise from Vol fans including one who yelled “Thank you Rodney, it’s about time we got some coaches like you” to which the crowd around him applauded.
On the offensive line, there was no consistent starting group but Darnell Wright, Javontez Spraggins, Cade Mays, Cooper Mays, Dayne Davis, K’Rojhn Calbert and Kingston Harris consistently earned work with the ones.
Special teams notes
Redshirt junior Toby Wilson was the Vols’ starting kicker which came as no surprise as he started to end the season after Brent Cimaglia opted out of the season. With Cimaglia no longer on the roster, Wilson will likely be the starter unless Tennessee brings in a grad transfer.
In the lone team kicking portion of practice, Wilson went two-for-three missing a 34-yard field goal before making tries from 38 and 42 yards.
Jalin Hyatt, Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway received work fielding punts.
Odds and Ins
The offense dominated most of the practice, especially the red zone period where they scored touchdowns on eight of nine of nine attempts. In fact, the defense only forced third downs on three of the nine attempts.
The defense did look better in the other 11 vs. 11 sections though the run defense was a glaring weakness.
In the secondary, Warren Burrell and Kenneth George Jr. were the starting cornerbacks as Alontae Taylor worked with the twos throughout the morning.
Theo Jackson was working as the starting nickel back as Trevon Flowers and Jaylen McCollough were the starting safeties.
Princeton Fant had a really nice day catching passes both in red zone work and one-on-ones. It will be fascinating to see how Heupel uses the big tight end in an offense that typically involves tight ends in the passing game.
Jimmy Calloway seemed to be open throughout the day and a favorite target to Hendon Hooker.