Saturday night’s open practice was clearly a success. Butch Jones and multiple players gave us glowing reviews of a crowd that UT officials estimated at 40,000.
That’s simply an invaluable tool for this team especially that, quite frankly, very few programs in the nation have the ability to use to that extent. It was clearly an eye-opening experience for several newcomers. For example, Von Pearson commented that he was used to playing for approximately 200 people at Feather River (Calif.) Community College.
Trevarris Saulsberry’s injury was one of the few low points of the evening. He had just started working his way back into the rotation, and though there’s no official update as of the time we published, based on what we’ve heard, his prognosis doesn’t look great and there’s a decent chance he’s going to miss some significant time. We’ll keep you posted.
The team got Sunday off of the practice field and will return Monday as the preparation focus will slowly begin to shift to Utah State. Jones said that the open practice film will help the coaches decide a few personnel races. With that in mind, we’re going to break down where everything stands to the best of our knowledge at every position:
Quarterback: There isn’t much drama here for now. Justin Worley was named the starter and Jones said that Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs will continue to fight for the back-up role. We feel comfortable saying Peterman is ahead right now, and, if UT played tomorrow, he would be the first one in behind Worley.
Running back: Marlin Lane has battled some minor injuries, but he’s still the projected starter heading into the home stretch of fall camp. Though reps have been mixed behind him, Jalen Hurd is likely the official No. 2 with Devrin Young being more of a situational player. Derrell Scott is making a move to get into the conversation for playing time and Justus Pickett has seen plenty of work in practice as well.
Tight end: Ethan Wolf seems to have a noticeable lead in the race to be the opening-day starter. Daniel Helm and Brendan Downs are in line for some playing time as well with Alex Ellis and A.J. Branisel a little behind the others at this point. Don’t forget about walk-on Joe Stocstill as well, who, quietly, has found his way onto the field in various packages.
Receiver: It’s hard to say who the opening-day starters at this point will be. Marquez North is a lock. Josh Smith, Von Pearson and Pig Howard have also seen a ton of work with the 1s. Josh Malone is recovering from an early-camp slump, but expect him to still see plenty of the field this season. Jason Croom will also be regular in the rotation. Johnathon Johnson and Vic Wharton have both missed the last couple of days with injuries, though both have had a fantastic camp to this point.
Offensive line: This unit has been surprisingly fluid over the past week. It looked like the starting five of Jacob Gilliam, Marcus Jackson, Mack Crowder, Kyler Kerbyson and Coleman Thomas was close to locking in. But there’s been a ton of shuffling recently. Kerbyson has recently moved from right guard to right tackle with freshman Jashon Robertson, who only recently moved to this side of the ball, taking the first-team right guard snaps. And after missing the first part of camp with an injury, Dylan Wiesman has seen work at both guard and center, even taking first-team reps at center Saturday night in some situations. Left tackle Dontavius Blair is a step behind at left tackle, though he remains a factor. This might be the most unsettled position group at the moment. Stay tuned.
Defensive line: Curt Maggitt, Jordan Williams, Danny O’Brien and Corey Vereen should be the starting four. Maggitt should return to practice this week. At this point we don’t believe his ankle issue will cause him to miss time. The next four very well could look something like Derek Barnett, Owen Williams, Dimarya Mixon and Dewayne Hendrix. LaTroy Lewis, Joe Henderson and Michael Sawyers are among the others battling for time in the rotation as well.
Linebacker: A.J. Johnson and Jalen Reeves-Maybin will be the first two on the field in the nickel (which, really, will be UT’s base defense). Dillon Bates, Chris Weatherd and Elliott Berry will see the field a lot in various packages. Kenny Bynum, Gavin Bryant and Colton Jumper give them some depth.
Defensive backs: Cam Sutton (CB) and Brian Randolph (S) are about as locked in as can be. It looks like Justin Coleman will be the nickelback and Devaun Swafford has the inside track for the other safety spot. The outside corner spot opposite of Sutton is up for grabs. Emmanuel Moseley had been there, but walk-on Michael Williams is pushing him hard and, in fact, worked with the starters over the weekend. The second group would look something like Moseley (CB), D’Andre Payne (CB), Malik Foreman (NB), Todd Kelly Jr. (S) and LaDarrell McNeil (S) at this point.
The Vols return to Haslam practice field Monday morning at 11:30. We’ll be there with full practice coverage rolling out early in the afternoon.
It was another slow week in recruiting as all the focus of this coaching staff has been on preparing Team 118 for the upcoming season. Not much has changed from last week at this time, so instead of re-writing everything from a week ago I’ll just leave this link here and encourage you to read it.
There were a few minor developments that are worth noting, however, so let’s dive right in.
As we mentioned last week, the Vols made the top-2 along with Ohio State for Fairburn, Georgia’s Venzell Boulware. Boulware came in this weekend to take in the open practice and spend some time with former teammates Elliott and Evan Berry. Again, this recruitment just seems rather strange to me. I think it’s safe to say that Tennessee leads for him, but Boulware has not said anything official and has no timetable set for his announcement. This could be a similar situation to the one we saw with Emmanuel Moseley last season where the staff waited to see a few games of his senior season before making the final decision on whether or not they would accept a commitment from him. It could also be a simple case of Tennessee waiting on a higher rated player (i.e. Drew Richmond) to make his decision before making a call on Boulware.
Speaking of Drew Richmond, the offensive tackle from Memphis has set his official announcement date for September 9th. Richmond announced last week that he would not be using any social media over the month leading up to his announcement to help clear his mind and allow him to focus in on a decision.It’s hard to see anyone but the Vols as Richmond’s ultimate selection, but Ole Miss does have a history of making things very interesting with kids from Memphis. Richmond was in Oxford this weekend on a visit to see the Rebels, so they may be worth watching over the next few weeks.
The recruitment of Manassas, Virginia’s Tim Settle is a little bit more interesting now than it was at this time last week. The defensive tackle announced via Twitter that he will be making his college decision on December 20th and the Vols look to be carrying a bit of momentum right now. Settle’s timeline is filled with retweets of Tennessee fans and other recruits trying to encourage Settle to commit to Tennessee. Vol commit Kahlil McKenzie appears to be leading the charge and said in a tweet that he does think that there is a chance that he, Shy Tuttle and Tim Settle could all end up in orange. Remember, Settle named Tennessee his leader a few months ago so the recent momentum isn’t a huge surprise.
Adding three defensive tackles the caliber of McKenzie, Tuttle and Settle would be an unprecedented coup for Butch Jones and staff. For a little more info on defensive line recruiting, check out Daniel’s forum post from this weekend. It’s clear that Jones and his staff have put a strong emphasis on getting this defensive line overhauled as fast as possible with some extremely talented players and early results are impressive.
Most of the coaching staff took some much needed time off last week, including Donnie Tyndall, who went on his honeymoon. Players return this week and start classes Wednesday. The only new addition who wasn’t present over the summer is point guard transfer Braxton Bonds. The 6-1, 170-pound Bonds signed with Liberty in 2013 but was released from his letter of intent. No word yet on if he’ll be eligible this season.
When the players return to campus, they’ll focus on academics, conditioning, nutrition and strength training then start individual workouts. They’ll do six hours of off-court conditioning a week through October 3rd in addition to two hours of on-court time.
During this bit of a lull in their schedule, the team will be doing a ton of community service throughout August and September. Tyndall wants the Vols to be among the most active teams in the nation in the community in all of college athletics and his track record as Southern Miss suggests that’s a goal he’ll reach.
This year’s 18-game SEC schedule was announced Friday night. Notably, the Vols don’t travel to Rupp Arena this year – a first since 1953. The Wildcats didn’t have to play in Knoxville last season, but will do so this year on February 17th for a 7 pm tip (TV: ESPN). Former head coach Bruce Pearl will make his Thompson-Boling Arena return for a noon tip on January 31st (TV: ESPN or ESPN2). Tennessee doesn’t get Florida at home this year, instead they’ll travel to Gainesville on February 28th. Tennessee will play Mississippi State, Arkansas and LSU twice this season. They open the SEC season at Mississippi State (January 7th) and close it by hosting South Carolina (March 7th). Also of note: Texas A&M, a team which shocked Tennessee twice last year, returns to Knoxville on January 24th. You can view the full schedule here.
This week, we’ll publish an interview with one of Tyndall’s former teammates who went on to a successful coaching career. You’ll really like his insight on Tyndall. Look for that Wednesday or Thursday.