Today’s practice featured a lot of special teams and some various work out of specific formations for the offense as the Vols looked to tighten up some things before taking the next couple of days off. Offensively, I think it is safe to say that this team is a little beat up after three games, so this bye week is coming at a very good time for them.
Here are some notes from the practice field:
Quarterbacks: It was a pretty standard day for this group. Mike Bajakian spent nearly two periods with his guys working on eluding pressure in the pocket. Justin Worley did an outstanding job – when he could – during the Oklahoma game of stepping up into the pocket without getting flustered and finding open receivers down the field. As the Vols’ offensive line continues to develop there will be times where avoiding rushers and completing passes downfield while under pressure will be of paramount importance to extend drives and put points on the board.
While the staff hopes there is no need to play him for the rest of the season, I think it is worth mentioning that Josh Dobbs looks to have taken some serious strides at the quarterback position in recent weeks. He looks bigger, stronger, more confident, and is throwing the ball with much better zip and accuracy than he did at any point this summer.
Running backs: Outside of traditional drill work, the running backs spent a lot time working on a variety of screen passes with the quarterbacks. Derrell Scott looks really good when he catches the ball and turns upfield, now the challenge for the freshman will be to learn the playbook and his blocking assignments for with the ball doesn’t come his way. Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane continue to split reps with the first team offense during practice, but it certainly does seem like Jalen is on the verge of taking the job and running away with it (no pun intended).
I just think the staff has been very pleased with Hurd’s physical play and how quickly he has picked up the pass blocking schemes – hence the reason why he is leading the team in carries. He obviously brings more of a ‘home run’ threat than any of the other backs and now that he is becoming more comfortable with the playbook it’s just a matter of time before the official switch is made.
Wide receivers/tight ends: It was a very light day for these two groups as the coaching staff is clearly trying to manage their health heading into the Georgia game. All of the tight ends had some type of wrap or apparatus on their legs and the receivers were again without Von Pearson and Josh Smith. The coaching staff turned up the intensity with Vic Wharton and Josh Malone today. Both Butch Jones and Zach Azzanni each singled out the two freshmen at various times to “encourage” them to step up their effort and intensity. With Pearson and Smith out, the staff is clearly hoping that the freshmen can step up to fill the void.
Special teams: It was a punt-heavy day for special teams units as the Vols worked on punts from deep in their own territory. Matt Darr was very consistent in his kicks and his operation time with the first team unit while the second team had two attempts blocked by the scout team punt return squad.
Cam Sutton, Pig Howard and Josh Malone split the punt-fielding reps while Devrin Young and Jalen Hurd worked with the kickoff units. Hurd has consistently spent time fielding kicks during the special teams sessions of practice since August, but at this point I would consider it a real shock if he were to get an opportunity back there this season.
Injury notes: Besides the obvious absences of Josh Smith and Von Pearson, the only other notable player not participating for the offense today was freshman tight end Daniel Helm. Helm spent the beginning of practice in the hole before heading to the training room to receive treatment.