State of the Vols: Landsharks are Circling Edition

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    Coleman Thomas-1


    “Business-like” was one of the most common expressions used to describe Tennessee’s 45-10 win over the Mocs on Saturday.

    Tennessee, for the most part, did everything it wanted to against the FCS program that the Vols paid $450,000 to play in Knoxville. The Vols were again impressive on defense, solid on special teams and made enough plays on offense to secure the easy victory.

    The offensive line remains a glaring weakness. The Mocs have multiple defensive linemen that NFL scouts are evaluating, but nobody expected them to pile up five sacks or to limit Tennessee in the run game the way they did. That’s obviously a massive concern going forward as the Vols have several talented defensive fronts in their future, starting with No. 3 Ole Miss Saturday in Oxford.

    Justin Worley made a little bit of history, becoming the first quarterback to run for two touchdowns in one game since Casey Clausen in 2002. As a team, it was the first time that the quarterbacks accounted for three rushing touchdown in a game since Tee Martin did it in 1999.

    Several seldom-used reserves saw extended playing time including Jakob Johnson, Cortez McDowell, Vic Wharton, Kenny Bynum, Nathan Peterman, Justus Pickett, Michael Sawyers and several others. Butch Jones said it wasn’t enough time for them to make huge conclusions about them, but he was pleased to see them get experience and “put their football identity on tape.”

    Two Vols made their debut – walk-on offensive lineman Thomas Edwards and running back Derrell Scott. Scott was the 23rd true freshman to see the field this season for the Vols, the most in the nation for any program. He got nine carries for 42 yards and had the highest average (4.7 ypc) of any of the RBs that played.

    The Vols might need Scott more going forward as it appears that senior running back Devrin Young will miss some time with what preliminary tests showed were broken ribs. Depending on the severity of the injury, that could put Young out for a minimum of a few weeks, also putting Young’s pursuit of UT’s all-time kickoff return yardage record in serious jeopardy.

    Evan Berry, who returned the opening second half kickoff 68 yards in Young’s stead on Saturday, put himself in great position to inherit that role going forward, though the coaching staff will evaluate several players, including cornerback Malik Foreman, in the process.

    At running back, Marlin Lane (ankle) and Jalen Hurd (shoulder) are both expected to be ready for Ole Miss, with Lane dealing with more severe injury at this point. Lane actually dressed for the UTC game with a heavily-taped ankle, but then took his pads off before kickoff. Hurd got just two carries by design before the coaches pulled him out.

    Josh Smith remains in a walking boot and doesn’t look too close to returning at this point. Since he’s only appeared in three games, a medical hardship waiver could be in play if the injury lingers a few more weeks, but it’s too early to make that determination.

    Though they would love to get Smith back as soon as possible, the Vols’ depth at receiver gives the coaching staff a little more patience and flexibility there. Remember, Smith played at far less than 100% last season, but the Vols had little choice but to have him on the field.

    It was a busy evening at the Anderson Training Center Saturday night after the game. In addition to the aforementioned injuries, Chris Weatherd, Marquez North, Justin Worley, Derek Barnett and Ethan Wolf were among the other players who suffered minor dings in the game. None are considered serious at this point, though it’s safe to say that there will be several non-contact jerseys used for practice this week.

    Two players that continue to emerge are freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and junior receiver Johnathon Johnson. Coaches have raved about their work in practice in recent weeks and both were rewarded with a start on Saturday. It’s too early to say if that trend will continue, but it is safe to say both of them play a large role in UT’s plans going forward.

    One player who we’re not sure about their role going forward is true freshman defensive end Joe Henderson. He was seen working with the injured players early last week and then he wasn’t present during the open portion of practice later in the week. There is confirmation that he is currently away from the team for personal reasons, but the nature of what exactly is going on is unknown at this point. Tennessee had plans to redshirt him this season regardless.

    Defensive line coach Steve Stripling told RTI earlier this season that Henderson was a bit behind Barnett and Dewayne Hendrix in terms of his size, athleticism and overall development, but the coaches liked his upside.


    The Vols had a strong start to the weekend on Friday when Norcross, Georgia’s Micah Abernathy announced that he had committed to Tennessee. Abernathy had been considered a Tennessee lean for quite some time, but to have him officially announce for the Vols was huge news for Butch Jones and this staff. Abernathy has offers from virtually all of the nation’s elite programs, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Ohio State, and Oregon among many others, so this wasn’t the case of the Vols ‘settling’ for a player that few other schools wanted. In fact, some have suggested that Abernathy was the top-rated cornerback left on the coaching staff’s board regardless of ties.

    Tennessee did have a strong tie to Abernathy, however, as his brother was recruited by and played for Butch Jones at Cincinnati. Both Micah and his brother, Ralph David, were in attendance last weekend for Tennessee’s game against Florida and it appears that the Vols left quite an impression on the entire Abernathy family.

    Abernathy is now Tennessee’s sixth committed player from the state of Georgia in the 2015 class. Jones and company are having a lot of success in the Peach State so far in the 2015 class and the in-roads they’ve formed with various high schools should only help their odds in the future.

    While this weekend’s game against UTC wasn’t nearly as stacked with recruits as last weekend, the quality of visitors was high as the Vols hosted two of the best players in the state in Drew Richmond andKyle Phillips.

    Richmond is someone that we have talked about often over the last few months and I would expect those conversations to continue until National Signing Day in February. Richmond, a Memphis native, committed to Ole Miss in September but has kept an open ear to Knoxville as made evident by his three night stay with his family this week. The fact that his family made the trip with him has to be seen as a good thing, but the drive from Memphis to Knoxville is certainly more of a chore than the one from Memphis to Oxford. Richmond has stated in the past that one of the reasons he chose Ole Miss was so that his family would have an easier time attending games, so hopefully the drive seemed much shorter for him and his family this time around.

    There is no doubt that Butch Jones let Richmond know that he is a top priority for Tennessee in this year’s signing class during their time together this weekend. And yes…the two did spend some time together:

    Rebuilding this offensive line is looking like a tougher and tougher task after every game and adding a player like Richmond – who is potentially better right now than anyone they currently have at tackle – would be a huge pickup for the Vols. The staff still has some work to do if they want to flip Richmond from Rebel to Vol, but this weekend’s unofficial visit appeared to help Tennessee.

    Nashville 4-star defensive end Kyle Phillips was also in town this weekend with teammate and current Vol commit Vincent Perry. Phillips appears to be enamored with LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State at this point, but having a teammate committed to the Vols will at least give the coaching staff a little help in the coming months as they try to persuade Phillips to join the Orange Swarm defense.

    There aren’t many spots left in this class as it stands right now, so expect the staff to be very selective with recruiting moving forward. The coaches will now focus on a few key recruits in the 2015 class like Richmond, Phillips, Ricky DeBerry, another offensive linemen or two and perhaps a wide receiver to compliment Preston Williams; but also expect things to really start revving up for the 2016 class in the coming weeks too as they try to continue their early success in that class.


    The Vols turned in their first full week of practice last week and will return to the court Monday afternoon. We’ll speak with Tyndall and a couple players in addition to viewing practice Monday afternoon – we’ll have video, notes and hoops news for you after practice sometime early Monday evening.