With just over three weeks left until the season opener against Utah State, the Vols are set for their first chance to go to work in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night as the Vols hold their first situational scrimmage.
It’s been a first week with mixed reviews – a combination of excitement about the potential of the newcomers and the development of some of the veterans combined with some of the more harsh realities about Tennessee as a program and its lack of talent and depth at certain spots.
Wide receiver is one of the best examples of optimism mixed with some tough realities. The talent at that spot is evident. But with so many inexperienced players in the mix, coach Zach Azzanni knows that Saturday will be a good chance to see if they can start putting it all together.
“Just consistency,” he said of what he’s looking for Saturday. “I think we’re inconsistent right now. One day we’ll have a great day and the next it’s like we don’t even have wide outs out there. We need consistency. I’m playing a lot of guys, I’m plugging guys in – they’re playing every single position right now, I’m trying to see the right chemistry of the four that go out there first. I’m finding out a lot of different things. We have some bad habits I’m trying to break.”
That position goes hand-in-hand with the quarterbacks, which offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian praised for their work at Friday’s practice. It’s been, at best, an up-and-down camp for the signal callers, as Butch Jones acknowledged Thursday that they’re looking for more efficiency from the position going forward.
Bajakian liked the quarterbacks’ approach on Friday and he’s excited to see how they execute at Neyland Saturday night.
“What I’m looking forward to is the fact that we just get to go out and play ball,” he said. “Practices have been very productive thus far, but it’s a lot of scripted situations. Tomorrow we get to just kind of put the ball down, play first, second and third down and let our guys react to different situations.
“Once we get into the red zone, how that changes their thought process and frame of mind along with getting in and out of different first and third down situations. Tomorrow will be a little bit more of the complete package. We’ll be able to incorporate a little more of our procedure and tempo into it.”
For several of the newcomers, it’ll be their first chance to step foot in Neyland for a competitive situation.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re going into Neyland Stadium tomorrow,” added running backs coach Robert Gillespie. “That’s a prize in itself, a lot of these kids haven’t had the opportunity to go in there and practice. This will be their first time, they’ve heard about it during the recruiting process and now they get a chance to go in there and actually play.”
Defensively, the scrimmage setting will be a great opportunity to gauge the progress of a lot of young players.
“The big thing will be No. 1, their effort, then we have to look at the execution of the calls,” said defensive coordinator John Jancek. “That will be a big indicator how we can progress with this young group. If they can grasp some of the concepts and do it against our offense in a competitive situation, that would be a really good sign.
“If they’re struggling, we’re going to have to make some adjustments and curtail to their learning curve and maybe pull back on a couple things. We’ve thrown a lot the defensive players. It is a lot, especially for a freshman.”
The closed scrimmage will be held at 6:50 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium. Check rockytopinsider.com for full coverage later in the evening.