I think that “intense” would be the best way to describe the vibe at Tuesday’s practice as the Vols went to work preparing for UTC. Butch Jones was on the microphone throughout practice demanding focus, effort and energy from his team as they tried to get the taste of Saturday’s loss to the Gators out of their collective mouths.
To their credit, the team didn’t appear to be in a feel-sorry-for-themselves mood this afternoon. I somewhat expected a somber atmosphere, but everyone appeared to be focused and intent on getting better today. I thought they had good energy and didn’t seem – at least from my eyes – to be suffering from a post-Florida hangover.
Here are some notes from the defensive side of the ball:
Practice began with a “circle of life” drill that featured multiple pairings of players battling each other until Butch Jones either determined a winner or decided he had seen enough. Some of the notable pairings were Dontavius Blair vs. Jaylen Miller, Ray Raulerson vs. Dewayne Hendrix, Austin Sanders vs. Kendal Vickers and Brett Kendrick vs. Dimarya Mixon.
During defensive drills, the freshmen defensive backs and linebackers received a lot of extra attention from the coaching staff. It’s clear that the coaches are wanting guys like Emmanuel Moseley, D’Andre Payne, Evan Berry, Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell to really take that ‘next step’ this week. All of these guys are contributing on special teams units, but the staff was really keying on the aforementioned players as guys they would really like to see more out of during the second half of the season.
Speaking of Evan Berry, soon after the defensive backs began working with coach Martinez on tackling and backpedaling, Butch Jones singled out Berry and told him to go work with the running backs. Daniel Lewis will have more on that move in today’s offensive practice report, but I think this should be a pretty good indicator of how comfortable the staff feels with Todd Kelly Jr’s development at the safety position.
During positional work the linebackers, defensive backs and defensive linemen all worked on shedding blocks and using proper tackling technique to bring the ball-carrier to the ground. It gets monotonous to cover at times, but the tackling drills at the beginning of each practice are certainly paying dividends on Saturdays. Through five games against some solid competition this team has pursued the football and tackled much better than they did at any point last season, and I think that their focus on fundamentals and techniques has played a big part in that.
Injury notes: Joe Henderson was held out of the open portion of practice today, but was dressed in his uniform. The Vols did start the day with a closed portion of practice, so it is likely that Henderson was injured during that session. Mike Williams was in a green no-contact jersey, but did participate in all of practice that we were able to see.