Butch Jones elected to move today’s practice indoors in the midst of freezing temperatures and howling wind as his team continued their preparations for the Missouri Tigers. I don’t know how the team felt about the move, but it certainly made this onlooker very thankful. The media were given three open periods of practice to view today, so here are the noteworthy items from the defensive side of the ball:
The first, and probably most important note of the day, has to do with the overall demeanor and mood of this team throughout today’s practice. I’ll admit that I halfway expected this to be a very quiet, somber group of guys given the events of this week surrounding A.J. Johnsin and Mike Wiliams; but a lot of credit has to go to guys like Curt Maggitt, Brian Randolph, and really the entire coaching staff for keeping the energy level high. Jones started the day with the circle of life drill and Curt Maggitt was bouncing around and getting his defensive teammates fired up at the start of drills. With all that this team – and especially the defensive side of the ball – has been through this week, it didn’t look like anybody was out there “feeling sorry for themselves” during today’s session.
Now, this doesn’t guarantee that they won’t make some mistakes on Saturday night, but it was definitely a good thing as far as this team is concerned.
D-Line: As mentioned above, Curt Maggitt really took on a leadership role during today’s practice. Throughout the defensive line drills, Maggitt was going up and down the line encouraging his teammates as they did hand placement drills, explosion drills and worked on their gap integrity for various run-fits. Pretty typical day for this group, though, as far as actual practice work.
Secondary: The cornerbacks worked with Willie Martinez and the safeties worked with the graduate assistants; but both groups worked solely on read-and-react tackling on various types of short passes. Missouri’s offense utilizes a lot of quick passes to receivers and running backs, so the Vol secondary spent most of Tuesday’s session focusing on how to limit those from turning into big plays.
Linebackers: True freshman Jakob Johnson was the first player in line for all of the drill-work that we were able to see involving the linebackers. Johnson has been working at middle linebacker since about midway through fall camp after starting as a defensive end. Based on what we saw today, it looks like he may be in line to see his first career start at the position this weekend. This isn’t a guarantee, obviously, as the defensive staff will likely have a variety of looks and packages for various linebackers in this weekend’s game; but Johnson going first in all of the drills and receiving some extra attention from the staff was very telling.
Injury notes: It looks like a fairly healthy group on the defensive side of the ball at this point. Corey Vereen was on the field today after suffering a leg injury against Kentucky on Saturday, and appeared to be moving fine. Trevarris Saulsberry was also at practice today getting in some jogging on the side as he tries to return from a knee injury suffered against UTC. Saulsberry isn’t expected to play this weekend, but I wouldn’t rule out an appearance in the Vanderbilt game at his point.
Here’s the link to today’s Offensive Notes and Observations.