In three weeks from the publication time of this column, we’ll know a lot more about Tennessee as the Vols will have just finished up their season opener against Utah State.
In the meantime, we’re starting to get a better feel for the roster as the first full week of fall camp has come to a conclusion.
We’ll start with the quarterbacks, the topic on almost everybody’s mind as camp progresses. It’s no secret that they’ve struggled at times this fall – even more so than many expected. That statement comes from our observations in open practice and has been corroborated by sources we’ve spoken to behind the scenes, as well as by public statements by the coaches.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian stated on Friday that there was no panic on the staff despite the lack of consistent play. His confidence seemed to pay off on Saturday night, with the quarterbacks responding for one of their best efforts of camp. Jones singled out Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, who had a perfect touchdown pass to Pig Howard during the scrimmage, for the steps they took Saturday night. In total, our stance on Worley being the most likely game No. 1 starter hasn’t changed, though it seems that Peterman is really pushing an inconsistent Joshua Dobbs right now for that backup role and really can’t be counted out of the starter conversation either at this point. Though he’s one of the most resilient players on the roster, Dobbs simply hasn’t looked like a quarterback playing with a lot of confidence this camp up to this point.
Of note Saturday night was that the QBs only accounted for one interception (Worley), a tipped ball by Justin Coleman that landed in the hands of Brian Randolph.
At receiver, it might be time to talk more about depth than star power at the top. Yes, we think Marquez North can have a stellar season, Howard can return to being an incredibly productive player and Von Pearson and Josh Malone are loaded with potential.
But the work that Josh Smith and Vic Wharton have put in this camp, from all accounts, has been exceptional thus far. Add the veteran presence of players such as Jason Croom and Johnathon Johnson, and it’s very conceivable that this group can go two or three units deep at each spot.
Defensively, the name Derek Barnett continues to create a lot of buzz around the program. The true freshman defensive end has received praise from Butch Jones, the entire defensive staff and veteran defenders such as Jordan Williams and Randolph. D-line coach Steve Stripling reminded that Barnett still has a long way to go, playfully calling him the ‘boy wonder’ on Friday, but look for him to play a big role on the defensive front this year.
With A.J. Johnson on somewhat of a maintenance plan, Kenny Bynum and Dillon Bates are among the ones who have received extra work. Simply put, the Vols know what they have in Johnson. Building depth at that position remains a priority and both Bynum and Bates have shown progress through those additional reps.
With Cortez McDowell and Todd Kelly Jr. both held out of the scrimmage, sophomore Lemond Johnson got plenty of playing time and capitalized with a few nice plays, including a forced fumble, according to Randolph’s account of Saturday night.
Jones is hopeful to get both freshman safeties, along with running back Derrell Scott, back this week.
And with summer school now in the rearview mirror, it’s all football until classes start back on Aug. 20. They will practice twice on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday of this week in addition to single sessions on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Next Saturday, Aug. 16, is the open practice at Neyland Stadium with gates opening at 6 p.m. for the free session that officially beings at 7 p.m.
While breaking last year’s mark of 39,000 in attendance is certainly one goal, next Saturday is more about giving this roster, loaded with newcomers, a chance to play under the lights of Neyland with some pressure on them. Everything from the quarterbacks to the kicking game to overall game management will be under the microscope that night as Jones will look to capitalize on any chance he has to prep his young team for Utah State.
With fall camp in full swing as the Vols prepare for the upcoming season it has been a slow start to the month in recruiting before things really start to gear up in the coming weeks. The coaches will certainly be trying to get some recruits in this weekend to visit during the open practice on Saturday, so stay tuned as some names are sure to emerge this week.
As we’ve said before, the open practice is not only an important tool for the team during the summer, but also a huge selling point to recruits who make it in to see it. Jones said this week that he hoped for 40-45,000 fans to show up on Saturday night and I think that’s a number that they can reach with ease.
Middle Tennessee defensive end Kyle Phillips announced a top-5 of Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Tennessee and Tennessee State this week. Phillips remains as one of the top targets left on Tennessee’s board and is a player that the staff will certainly be working very hard to keep in state. At this point, LSU would seem to be the Vols’ biggest competition in landing Phillips, but Tennessee seems to be carrying some momentum in this one. Phillips has not set a definitive timetable for his announcement and plans to take official visits during the season.
The Vols also made the top-2 for offensive lineman Venzell Boulware out of Fairburn, Georgia. Ohio State joins the Vols in Boulware’s top pair and it’s safe to say that this recruitment has a strange feel to it at this point as it’s unsure if Boulware is a take for Tennessee if he were ready to commit today. The staff is very high on Drew Richmond and it appears that they may be waiting on his announcement next month before making some decisions on remaining offensive line targets in this class.
The Shy Tuttle saga continues as he announced this week that he will officially commit in late September instead of later this month. This one has been trending Tennessee’s way for quite some time and the change in date doesn’t look to have any impact on that notion. Tuttle has said that he already knows where he is going and that he just wants to wait for the right time, so the delay seems like nothing more than a strategic one for Tuttle. Keep in mind that there is certainly some pressure on Tuttle to stay in state and play for either North Carolina or N.C. State, so by committing later he would be able to limit the criticism to some degree as he plans to enroll at his school of choice in December.
He’s not a recruit, but a name that will certainly be worth remembering moving forward is Patrick Abernathy. Abernathy recently joined Tennessee’s staff as the Coordinator for High School relations and it looks like a very nice addition. Abernathy comes to the Vols from the Middle Tennessee area where he was an assistant coach and assistant athletic director for Brentwood Academy. His hiring looks like it will certainly strengthen current ties and help the staff build new ones across the state thanks to his many connections with various schools and coaches. This is another great example of the emphasis that Butch Jones has put on building relationships with high school coaches across the state of Tennessee.
And a name we mentioned a few weeks ago appears to be in line for a slight move of his own as Scott Altizer will be changing offices and working more closely with Bob Welton moving forward. Altizer is currently the Associate Director of Player Personnel under Welton who serves as the director. It’s a small shift but shows this staff’s dedication to recruiting as they are always looking for ways to streamline and improve their processes. Altizer’s work last year was critical in ensuring that all 32 players of the 2014 class were able to become eligible.
It was a quiet week on the basketball front as the Vols prepared to transition from the summer to the fall semester. The biggest task Tennessee faces right now is adding a bunch a weight to its fairly scrawny roster. The Vols added 76.4 pounds of muscle over the summer with power forward Willie Carmichael adding a team-high 19 pounds. Kevin Punter put on 16 pounds, weight that will help his durability this season, and Devon Baulkman added nine pounds of muscle and lost over five pounds of fat. Carmichael will likely have to play serious minutes at power forward this year and his added bulk will serve him well. He also increased the number of times he could bench 185 pounds by 10 over the summer.
Romello White, a 6-8, 210 pound 2016 power forward prospect visited campus yesterday. He boasts offers from MTSU, Georgia, George Mason and Tennessee. Rivals ranks White as a 3-star prospect. White is another lanky, athletic forward who fits what Tyndall wants in a big man. He has the frame to add the weight needed to play in the SEC and the athleticism to play above the rim. He’s got a decent jump shot inside 15 feet and is a ferocious rebounder. We’ll keep an eye on him moving forward. Reminder: basketball recruiting is about to pick up steam. Tennessee will host an elite camp the weekend the Vols play Utah State in what is sure to be the biggest recruiting weekend of Tyndall’s tenure to date. We’ll begin to roll out some hoops recruiting profiles as things progress on that front.
We recently caught up with someone who played with coach Tyndall to get his thoughts on Tyndall as both a man and a coach. Look for us to publish at least a portion of that interview this week.