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Saturday Morning Notes and Observations

Butch Jones

Tennessee worked through a lighter, six-period open session of practice on a damp Haslam Field Saturday morning with the rest of the practice then closed off as the Vols prepare for their first situational scrimmage on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

Here are a few notes and observations from the RTI team:

Offense: Ethan Wolf continued to get work with the first team at tight end and though he had at least one pretty noticeable drop, he continues his strong work this camp overall. The depth chart has been fairly constant in what we’ve observed with perhaps receiver being the main exception. It’s hard to put a finger down on exactly who those starters will be – which coach Zach Azzanni said on Friday that he hopes to learn more at the scrimmage in that area – but it’s no exaggeration to say they’ve had at least eight, possibly more, guys getting reps with the first team. Jason Croom, Josh Smith, Johnathon Johnson and Vic Wharton were among the guys getting some work with the first unit on Saturday morning. Marquez North continues to get some rest and worked on the stationary bike during much of the open portion.

With the field already damp, offensive quality control coach Anthony Parker and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian made life even tougher on the centers and quarterbacks, squirting water onto the ball just as they were attempting to snap it. Ray Raulerson botched one snap in that situation, though, overall, the centers and QBs handled it quite well.

Joshua Dobbs is still looking for consistency. He missed several open targets in the portion we saw and, even on his complete passes, there isn’t a ton of zip or even really a tight spiral at this point. We saw a few nice throws from Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman. Saturday night’s scrimmage work will be huge for all three QBs.

Defense: The Vol defense got in some very basic work this morning. Once the team completed their stretching it was all individual drills for defensive players. Cortez McDowell was again held out of defensive drill work today – he seems to be walking normal and doesn’t wear any visible braces or wraps, so his current status is murky at best.

The safeties and corners spent the morning working on reading the quarterbacks and reacting to his movements by getting out of their breaks and making a play on the football. Cornerback Mike Williams fooled onlookers into thinking Cam Sutton was injured today by wearing a green no-contact number 23 jersey. Sutton was fine, however, and participated in all drill work.

The defensive line and linebackers did little more than work on technique drills and proper call alignments. It was clear that this was a morning to get dialed in on fundamentals ahead of tonight’s scrimmage in Neyland Stadium. The defensive line has had a good start to camp and will be looking to keep that trend going this evening.

The highlight of the day probably came at the beginning of practice when Butch Jones challenged Michael Sawyers to attack the day.

“Come on Mike Sawyers,” Jones yelled over the microphone. “We get to play football today! You get to represent the state of Tennessee!”

The defense has been ahead of the offense thus far in fall camp, so it will be interesting to see how they respond during tonight’s scrimmage. As a group, the defense has looked pretty confident in their scheme and assignments, which is a direct byproduct of having solid leadership at all three levels in Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson and Brian Randolph.

Special teams: The starting kickoff team, spearheaded by freshman kicker Aaron Medley, had a fantastic rep in semi-live action. The high kick was fielded by Wharton and the swarming coverage unit got to him quickly and while “thudding” him up, they knocked the ball out and jumped on it. Though he obviously hasn’t been perfect all camp, that was one of the first significant gaffes we’ve seen from Wharton. Based on what we’ve seen and heard about him in camp, he’ll bounce back from it quickly. It should also be noted that freshmen Dillon Bates, Elliott Berry and Gavin Bryant were among those on the kickoff coverage team on Saturday.

Injury notes: OL Dylan Wiesman, TE Woody Quinn and TE A.J. Branisel all spent time in “The Hole” working with the injured players. RB Derrell Scott and DB Cortez McDowell both spent some time on the side doing some agility work. WR Drae Bowles also went through drills in a green, non-contact jersey.

Editor’s note: Any depth chart notes should be considered unofficial and often change from practice to practice. Per UT policy, we do not report specifics on any formations or schemes. 

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