Weather drove the Vols indoors this afternoon as the team continued their preparations for Ole Miss. Energy was high and Butch Jones was in everyone’s ear today as the team worked mostly on special teams during the two open periods of practice.
Here are some notes from the defensive side of the ball:
The defensive line started the day working on explosion drills where they simulate blowing up the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations. Trevarris Saulsberry really stood out in this drill considering where he was only a few weeks ago. He now looks fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered over the summer and has been impressive in recent weeks.
Curt Maggitt spent the open portion working with the defensive line today as opposed to linebacker. Maggitt is getting better each week and is really excelling in this ‘hybrid’ role that the defensive staff has created for him this season. The staff has done a good job of managing his workload in practice and in games this year and Maggitt has responded with his most disruptive season to date. Maggitt has already set career highs for sacks (3) and tackles for loss (6) in a season at only the midway point of the 2014 schedule.
While Todd Kelly Jr. took reps with the first team punt return unit, Brian Randolph, LaDarrell McNeil and Evan Berry worked on their ball-skills off to the side, catching various types of passes thrown by the graduate assistant. Kelly is currently leading the safety group in interceptions with two, but the coaches would like that number to be much higher at this point in the season. Tennessee will need exceptional play from this group over the next two weeks if they are to have a legitimate shot at pulling off an upset over the Rebels or Alabama.
The first team punt and punt return units each took a couple of half-reps with the scout team today. There were no actual punts during the drills due to the low ceiling inside the complex, so the coaches focused more on assignments, technique and scheme during this portion of practice. Butch Jones singled out freshman linebacker Cortez McDowell after one rep for a strong performance on the coverage team. McDowell has been gaining some confidence recently both on special teams and at his linebacker spot and looks like a player with the potential to become a household name before his time at Tennessee is over. He is a player that continues to improve every week.
Injury notes: Linebacker Gavin Bryant and defensive lineman Owen Williams were each seen in green no-contact jerseys today, but did participate in all of practice that we were able to see.
Here is the link to today’s Offensive Notes and Observations.