Practice one of fall camp is in the books as Team 118 took the field on a very mild evening for early August. The team, to their credit, looked very dialed in for their first practice of the year and didn’t seem to have any sort of summer hangover that is sometimes the case when practice begins. I think that played a large part in why the coaching staff also seemed relatively calm – at least during the part that the media was allowed to watch. There were no effort problems and the coaches were able to focus on teaching newcomers and continuing to develop skills in the older guys.
Here are some of the more noteworthy items from the evening.
Special Teams: As Butch Jones said in his press conference on Thursday, one of the biggest challenges that this team will face all season is trying to replace what he called the “Team MVP” in Michael Palardy. Matt Darr appears to be up to the challenge of taking over the punting duties. Darr looked really good during the special teams portion of practice, consistently booming punts of 45+ yards and pinning returners against the sidelines.
Freshman placekicker Aaron Medley took the first extra point attempt of the night in what would prove to be the only kick the media was able to see him take. For those wondering, the extra point was good.
Depth Chart Revealed?: Certainly take this with a grain of salt, but when the team lined up for their walk-through portion of practice before stretching, the offense was as follows:
QB: Justin Worley
WR: Marquez North, Josh Malone, Von Pearson
RB: Marlin Lane
TE: A.J. Branisel
OL: Coleman Thomas, Kyler Kerbyson, Mack Crowder, Marcus Jackson, Jacob Gilliam
After the first team went, it just seemed to be a random shuffling as coaches made sure everyone got a rep at their position. Nathan Peterman came out beside Jalen Hurd in the backfield with the second team offense. Pig Howard, Jason Croom and Josh Smith were with that group at receiver.
Josh Dobbs came in with the third unit. The only notable changes here were Ethan Wolf coming in at tight end and newcomer Darrell Scott lining up to claim the rep at running back.
The offensive line did nothing more than drills all evening, so instead of telling you who can crouch the lowest or crab walk the best I’ll just wait until the pads go on before I judge their work.
Running Backs: I think it’s safe to say that this will be the deepest Tennessee has been at this position in quite some time. Both Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd look physically stronger than they did in the spring and Hurd seems to have a much better grasp of the offense and the tempo in which he is expected to have in practice.
Treyvon Paulk and Derrell Scott each look like they could add something to this unit. Paulk was sporting a knee brace but moved very well as he recovers from a torn ACL that he suffered last season. He will need to get in better condition, but he is a bigger back who showed a nice burst during drills. Scott is bigger than I thought he would be and doesn’t look as small as the 5’11, 194 pounds that he is listed at. He is a very shifty player who has some speed when he clears the hole and opens it up. Running backs coach Robert Gillespie was very thorough and intentional with Scott, pulling him to the side on a few occasions to teach him and work with him on his technique.
Quarterbacks: It’s tough to get a feel for the quarterbacks in anything other than a scrimmage setting, but I thought that, as a group, they had a solid start to camp. In the routes vs. air session that I saw, Nathan Peterman, Justin Worley and Josh Dobbs went 54 of 63 as a unit. Considering that five of those incompletions came in the first sixteen throws, I thought they did a good job once they settled down. That settling down, however, did come after an animated Butch Jones got on his signal callers for a lack of focus.
There was also noticeably more zip on the quarterback’s passes than they had in the spring. Obviously, that is thanks in large part to the work they have put in during their time in the weight room this offseason, but also a product of being much more comfortable in the system and on the same page with their receivers.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: This wide receiver unit has a lot of confidence heading into camp. Von Pearson was especially chatty on the evening, always encouraging teammates and conversing with coach Zach Azzanni. Pearson had a few impressive catches in drills and is a player that is starting to gain confidence in his role as a slot receiver.
Marquez North is a physical specimen, which he demonstrated by nearly flipping a blocking sled in a running drill. He makes difficult catches look routine and at this point, I’m not sure if any ball can be thrown out of his reach. He ran down multiple deep balls that looked like they would be overthrown.
Spring holdout Pig Howard was also back on the field tonight and it didn’t look like the time he missed hampered his development at all. He looks to be in great shape and his teammates were very supportive of him as he went through drills. With Von getting all the reps in the spring, it will be very interesting to see what kind of role Pig can carve out for himself in the offense.
Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf have transformed their bodies and no longer look like freshmen. Both run extremely well at the tight end position and seem to be on pace to have a large role in the passing game. With all of the talent and explosiveness at receiver, these two guys could turn into real weapons as teams focus on the receivers and underestimate their talent.
Injury Note: Butch Jones said after practice that the only injury of note was wide receiver Cody Blanc. Blanc left practice with a leg injury that Jones said was either an ankle or a possible achilles tendon injury. Blanc was undergoing an MRI at the time and more information about his injury should be made known tomorrow.
Here is the link to the Defensive Notes and Observations.