Defensive Notes and Observations: 8/2

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    The Vols took to Haslam Field for practice number two of the preseason Saturday on what turned out to be a balmy afternoon on campus. Butch Jones was much more animated today and really roamed the entire practice area as he tried to motivate and teach his team.

    It was another heavy teaching day for the coaching staff as they use these unpadded practices to prepare their team mentally for what lies ahead. Once again, in the portion that the media was able to see, the team looked active and dialed in to start practice – a good sign for a young team.

    Here are some notes from the defensive side of the ball:

    For starters: This note is not really related to defense but it definitely has a huge impact on the success of this team. Aaron Medley was an absolute machine in warmups. The freshman kicker hit 12 for 12 on field goals between 25 and 45 yards from various angles. The last of which was an absolute bomb from 45 yards that would have easily been good from 55-60.

    Obviously, these were warmup kicks with no defenders and no crowd, but it was good to see the youngster’s consistency in approach. He is extremely talented and looks very good this early in the summer.

    Defensive Line: Today was a very technique and scheme-driven day for the defensive line. Without pads on the coaches are making sure their linemen have all the little things accounted for. They worked on coverage drops, pursuit angles, hand and feet technique, as well as gap integrity during the time we were there with the coaches taking extra time to explain things to the freshmen.

    Speaking of freshmen, Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett are very impressive from a physical standpoint. They have the size of defensive tackles – each hovering around 280 pounds or so – but move like defensive ends. Both looked extremely agile in pass defense and scoop and score drills when compared to teammates who possess similar size. I would expect both of them to get meaningful snaps this season at both positions as the coaches look to build depth along the defensive line. These two look to be too talented to keep off the field, but we will certainly know more once the pads go on.

    Corey Vereen was sporting a knee brace today, but it didn’t look like he was favoring his leg in any way – probably just precautionary. Remember, he injured his knee last year in fall camp and had to miss the first two games. Both he and Curt Maggitt got the first team walk-through reps at the defensive end positions.

    Linebackers: What a difference a year makes. This group just looks completely different with the additions of Dillon Bates, Gavin Bryant and Chris Weatherd. Bates is very fluid in his drill work and really retains information well after receiving instruction from his coaches. He definitely has the cerebral capacity to match his physical skills.

    Bryant and Weatherd also pass the eyeball test early. Bryant is built like a tank, but really moves well and can cover ground quickly when closing in on his target. Watching him work, the word that comes to mind is ‘power’ – just a strong and explosive player. Weatherd also looked surprisingly in tune with drill work and teaching considering he’s only been on campus for a few days. He is big and fast and already looks like he’ll be able to use his speed and pass rushing abilities to help this season.

    Secondary: I got to see this group more than any group on the day and the talent increase is obvious when looking at the defensive backs this year.

    Elliot Berry continues to work with the secondary at both nickel back and safety as they try to find his role on the team. His brother Evan Berry worked at corner and nickel back and stands out early as one of the most impressive athletes in this class. He just has an incredible amount of physical talent – very flexible in his cuts and can make up ground quickly when he turns on the jets.

    D’Andre Payne looks much more confident than he did in the spring. There were times in March an April where the freshman really seemed to be swimming on the practice field, but he now looks like he is beginning to get a grasp of his responsibilities at corner. Emmanuel Moseley still looks thin, but man is he quick. He definitely won’t have many people pulling away from him in the open field this season. He is a player that will make a lot of plays as he continues to add some size and fundamentals to his already blazing speed.

    I also don’t think there should be much worry – at least not yet – of Cortez McDowell or Todd Kelly Jr switching to linebacker. Both worked with the safeties today and are clearly athletic enough to compete for snaps immediately. Devaun Swafford got the walk through reps at strong safety, but I would say that the two freshmen will close that gap quickly.

    Injury Note: Not much at all to report here today, but Rashaan Gaulden was in ‘the hole’ today and did not participate in practice with his teammates. Gaulden was able to get some work done as far as core work and some light lifting, so I don’t think his injury is serious.

    Here is the link to today’s Offensive Notes and Observations.