Bama week is officially underway for Butch Jones and team 118 as they took to the practice field this evening to continue preparations for Saturday night’s game against the 4th-ranked Crimson Tide. Available practice time for media members was extremely short today, but here are some noteworthy items from what we were allowed to see:
Butch Jones began practice by making sure that A.J. Johnson was dialed in for Bama week. The Vols will likely need a big game from Johnson this weekend against Alabama’s rushing attack, so Jones began the stretching portion by trying to push the middle linebacker’s buttons a little bit:
“Let’s go, A.J. Let’s go, A.J.” Jones screamed. “You couldn’t tackle (Blake) Sims in high school. Are you going to be able to tackle him on Saturday?”
For those who are unaware, Blake Sims and A.J. Johnson played together at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Georgia. Butch Jones has used Alabama’s program earlier in the season as a motivational tool for his team and for Johnson in particular, so the opportunity to tie it all together with a former teammate was just too much for him to pass up this week.
The only defensive position group that went through complete drills during tonight’s open portion of practice were the defensive linemen, so I spent all of my time watching them. They worked through they typical set of drills; explosion drills, get-off drills, gap integrity, snap recognition…etc, but the most notable thing about tonight’s work was how far they have come since August. The progress of this group since the season began has truly been remarkable.
Less than two months ago, this group struggled to complete even the simplest of drills; they had technique problems, fatigue issues and other setbacks that are common with a young group. When practice began in August, this group – filled with young players like Dewayne Hendrix, Derek Barnett, Owen Williams, Mike Sawyers and Dimarya Mixon – wasn’t familiar with what was expected of them in practice and their performance showed it. But they have really taken to what coach Steve Stripling has been preaching and are all progressing nicely. Obviously, some are progressing more quickly than others, but I think all of these players are really benefitting from having guys like Curt Maggitt, Jordan Williams and even Corey Vereen to lean on in recent weeks.
As the schemes have gotten more complex and the grind of the season has hit it’s rhythm, this group has really benefitted from having solid leaders at the position.
*Steps off of soapbox*
Injury notes: The only minor note to report in this category involves sophomore defensive end Corey Vereen. Vereen played against Ole Miss on Saturday without a protective brace on his knee for the first time all season, but was seen wearing the brace today. It was probably just a precautionary measure, but I thought it was worth a mention. Vereen injured the knee during fall camp but has made a strong recovery.
Here’s the link to today’s Offensive Notes and Observations.