It was an early start for Team 118 today and they didn’t waste any time jumping into their preparations for this weekend’s game against the Florida Gators. Practice began today with a lot of walk-through simulation for the Vol defense as they worked on alignments and fits, as well as some seven-on-seven passing work as the secondary prepared for what they expect to see this weekend from a struggling Florida offense.
The media were given four periods of practice to watch today, here are some notes from the defensive practice field.
Defensive line: The defensive linemen spent most of the day working off to the side on drills and fundamentals, but they did work in a limited capacity with the scout team offense on some running play fits that the Vols coaching staff expects to see from Florida this weekend.
The first team defensive line consisted of Derek Barnett, Danny O’Brien, Jordan Williams and Corey Vereen.
Curt Maggitt was back with the defensive line today as well after spending the majority of last Saturday’s game against Georgia on the field as a linebacker. Maggitt appears to be regaining his form a little bit in recent weeks. The junior had his best game of the season on Saturday recording five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Maggitt’s versatility has been a crucial element for this team through the first four games and the Vol defense will certainly benefit from his recent step forward.
Linebackers: The linebackers started the day in drills with position coach Tommy Thigpen leading the group, but also got in some work during the seven-on-seven portion of practice as well. To nobody’s surprise, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and A.J. Johnson were the first two linebackers on the field with the first team during the seven-on-seven portion. It was half-speed action during this portion but A.J. Johnson continues to impress me with how comfortable he looks defending the pass compared to where he was a year ago. Both he and Reeves-Maybin look extremely comfortable in coverage and certainly aren’t the “liability” that some feared they might be this season.
Florida will certainly try to test these guys on some underneath routes with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, but that doesn’t scare me as much this year as it has in previous seasons. I would expect A.J. and Jalen to carry their practice performance over into the game this Saturday, as they are simply playing with a lot of confidence right now.
Secondary: Mostly backpedalling drills for the safeties and corners today, but they did see some limited action in the seven-on-seven portion against the defense. Apparently, no quarterback is safe from the wrath of Cam Sutton these days…Sutton intercepted a Matt Wegzyn pass during seven-on-seven and took it back for six during the team portion. Cam Sutton continues to do all of the little things right that lead to excellent cornerback play and is currently among the best at his position in the SEC.
LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph were the starting safeties during the walkthrough, but Todd Kelly Jr. is right there with those tow guys as far as comfort level from the coaching staff. The jump Kelly has made in the last month or so has been truly remarkable considering where he was at the start of practice in the summer. He appears to have caught on to everything the coaches have thrown at him and will certainly see plenty of snaps this weekend, regardless of who is officially listed as the “starter.”
Injuries: Cornerback Mike Williams was wearing a green, non-contact jersey today but appeared to moving fine and did participate in all of the practice that we were able to see. Freshman LB Dillon Bates was at practice, but obviously did not participate as he recovers from a torn labrum suffered in the Arkansas State game. Other than that – knock on wood – the Vol defense looks to be pretty healthy at the moment.