Practice number four of fall camp featured a few depth chart moves along the defensive side of the ball and the first eleven-on-eleven we’ve seen so far this year. After a slow start to practice yesterday, everyone seemed very excited and energetic today during the open sessions. Robert Gillespie and Zach Azzanni began stretch-work by running between the lines and whacking players with a padded stick – a good light-hearted way to make sure everyone is attentive at the start of the day.
Today was the last day of practice without full pads until two-a-days.
Here are the defensive takeaways from practice #4:
Walkthrough Depth Chart: During the start of today’s walk-through, the defense’s first work of the day began with these players taking the opening reps:
DL: Corey Vereen, Curt Maggitt, Danny O’Brien, Jordan Williams.
LB: A.J. Johnson, Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
CB: Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, Justin Coleman.
S: Brian Randolph, Devaun Swafford.
Freshman legacy Evan Berry got some work with the second team at safety along with Todd Kelly Jr. Both players look like they are making a push to be a factor in the secondary at this stage of camp. D’Andre Payne got in with the second set of cornerbacks as well as it appears that the Vols will be relying on multiple freshmen to make an impact at various defensive back spots.
Team Period: During the eleven-on-eleven work to start practice the defense did a nice job at creating some pressure on the quarterbacks in passing situations. Twice they were able to force quarterbacks into throwaways by providing pressure both off of the edge and from the middle of the pocket.
Defensive End Derek Barnett made a great play when he pushed the tackle into the backfield and wrapped up Derrell Scott for what would have been about a four yard loss. Cornerback Riyahd Jones provided excellent coverage on Josh Malone during a jump ball, Jones was in a perfect position to make a play but Josh Malone was able to wrestle it away as the players fell to the ground. I know he lost the rep, but it was good to see Jones providing solid coverage and challenge Malone physically.
Evan Berry and Todd Kelly Jr. were out on the field at the safety positions with the second team defense. That’s not to say that they are entrenched at #2 on the depth chart, but they did receive some reps there today.
Linebackers: Elliott Berry worked out with the linebackers today after spending his time with the defensive backs in the first three practices.
The linebackers mostly worked on reading and reacting to certain run plays. They did a lot of work on pursuit angles and shedding blocks to pursue the ball carrier. This is a group that looks to be pretty dialed in and coachable to this point. Coach Tommy Thigpen rarely has rarely had to explain himself more than once and his group’s energy and effort has yet to be questioned. As a unit, they just seem very focused on what they need to do to improve.
Defensive Line: As I mentioned earlier, I thought this group had a very good session during the team period. It was only nine snaps, but they were the most consistent group on the field. Trevarris Saulsberry, Derek Barnett, Dimarya Mixon and Kendal Vickers all got really good push on various snaps with the second string reps. That’s not a surprise considering the lack of depth on the offensive line, but still nice to see them take advantage of their opportunities.
In agility drills Dewayne Hendrix continues to impress and draw praise from Steve Stripling. Hendrix is still learning and certainly hasn’t ‘arrived’ yet, but the freshman has the tools and potential to make a name for himself here. I know I’ve said it before, but Barnett and Hendrix are really impressive so far and the fact that they get to learn behind guys like Corey Vereen and Curt Maggitt – two very mature and smart players – should really help excel their development.
Secondary: The safeties and corners spent the day split up by position groups, but both squads worked on similar concepts. Getting off blocks, pursuing ball carriers, route recognition and breaking on the football were all focal points for the secondary on Monday. The corners also worked some on their press/bail technique and drop angles when running zone.
I’m not alone when I say that Cortez McDowell looks like a senior from a physical standpoint and continues to impress with his speed and agility. I’d say he is still somewhat buried on the depth chart, but could be a guy that makes some moves as he starts grasping the mental aspects of the position.
Swafford and LaDarrell McNeil each got some work with the first team at strong safety during a walkthrough portion with the rest of the safeties, so for now I’d say that the coaches feel most comfortable with those two at the position.
Injury Notes: Nobody was held out of practice today, but a few of the defensive backs were sporting some braces and wraps this afternoon. Evan Berry had a shoulder brace on, but was full-go in all of the drills with the DBs. Rashaan Gaulden was also sporting a shoulder wrap, as well as a heavily taped left ankle.
Here’s the link to our Offensive Notes and Observations.