Some notes and observations from an extremely short open period of practice on late Thursday afternoon. The Vols didn’t wear shoulder pads as they are closing in on just 72 hours from kicking off the season against Utah State on Sunday night.
The Vols are tightening up and getting their final preparations completed before their sold out contest with Utah State on Sunday, and Coach Jones wasted little time in challenging freshman running back Jalen Hurd to have a productive day.
“Some little boy woke up in Nashville, Tennessee this morning and said, ‘Mommy, I get to go watch Jalen Hurd play football for the Volunteers on Sunday.’ ”
We got to see very little offensive work or drills during today’s practice as most of the players were working with their special teams units, but here are a couple notes on some players:
Marquez North was seen riding a bike on the sidelines during the special teams portion of practice. North is not on any of the coverage or return units with the exception of the Vols’ Hands Team for suspected onside kicks, so I suspect that he was merely on the bike to get some work in and pass the time until the offense got together. Alex Ellis was seen in a walking boot during today’s practice and did not participate in any of the stretching period or special teams work.
Johnathon Johnson was back out with his team today. Johnson was without a walking boot on his leg and did participate in stretches and jogging for the first time in a few weeks. It isn’t known if he will be able to play this weekend, but he certainly looks closer to seeing the field than he did a week ago. Derrell Scott also DNP on Thursday.
Not much to report on the defensive side of the ball from the two open periods of practice. It was primarily fundamental work. The defensive backs worked on their drops and their footwork. The defensive front walked through some stunts and blitzes. Butch Jones emphasized that the players needed to move at full speed, but that there should be no contact other than simply “tagging off” for tackles. The team is relatively healthy heading into the opener and Jones doesn’t want to jeopardize that in the final days.
Injuries: It continues to look like defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry is the only defensive player in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s game. Curt Maggitt continues to get a full load of reps in practice and should be 100 percent.
The kickoff return team worked on a variety of kickoff types it might see against Utah State as special teams coach Mark Elder gave them some pointers on what to look for against the Aggies. The first-team lineup has fluctuated a little bit the last two days, but on Thursday the starting kickoff return team was Jason Croom, Josh Smith, LaDarrell McNeil, Deanthonie Summerhill, Ethan Wolf, Kenny Bynum, Max Arnold, Daniel Helm, Joe Stocstill and Devrin Young and Justus Pickett as the kick returners. Evan Berry and Malik Foreman again worked as the second-team returners.
The Vols spent a period working on fielding punts and kicks. The players for each unit were as follows:
Devrin Young (Double duty)