Team 118 took the practice field today well aware of the fact that they now have just one remaining chance to secure bowl eligibility for the 2014 season. Here are some notes and observations from the defensive side of the ball:
Defensive line: The defensive line spent most of the open portion of practice working on various hand techniques and gap integrity drills. They also took some time to work on their pass-catching skills and footwork in pass-rush situations. The focus for the defensive ends was getting their hands high in the air and keeping their eyes focused on the quarterback. Vanderbilt quarterbacks have thrown 16 interceptions and only 12 interceptions on the season, so the focus on impacting the quarterback and being ready to take advantage of mistakes should come as now surprise.
Linebackers: Today was about play recognition for Tommy Thigpen’s group. Much like Tennessee, Vanderbilt’s offense tries to use a wide variety of pre-snap motion to confuse defenders and slow down the overall pursuit of the defense. This means that Tennessee’s linebackers got a few extra reps today working on reading their keys, recognizing the play and reacting to the action shown by the offense. Curt Maggitt spent a lot of today’s practice working with the linebackers, so expect him to see some extended snaps there this weekend as John Jancek continues to look for a way to minimize the loss of A.J. Johnson.
Secondary: Much like the linebackers, the secondary spent the majority of their time working on various coverage shifts and play recognition based on the pre-snap motion of the scout team. This included them rotating the safeties on either side of the defensive formation between man and zone coverage based on the motion, and “flipping” the defensive alignment to match the personnel shift by the offense.
Brothers Berry: There was some speculation yesterday as to whether or not Evan and Elliott Berry would be at practice this week after the announcement that their older brother, Eric, had been placed on the non-football related illness list in the NFL after doctors dicscovered a mass inside of his chest that they think could possibly be Lymphoma. Despite the news, however, Evan and Elliot were both in attendance for today’s practice.
Injury notes: Not a lot to report as far as injuries from the defense. Trevarris Saulsberry was back on the practice field today and looked to be moving pretty well. Saulsberry suffered a knee injury against UTC in October and has not been able to practice until today.