Butch Jones moved practice inside today to get his team out of the driving rain as they continued their preparations for the upcoming bowl game. Tennessee will learn their destination and opponent tomorrow night when the bowls make their selections, so today’s practice was focused more on individual improvement as opposed to game-planning or scheming for an opponent.
Here are some takeaways from the defensive practice field:
Practice began with some excitement as Butch Jones called his team into one-on-one competitions at the conclusion of the warmup/stretch period. Receivers and tight ends faced off against defensive backs and linebackers, and, safe to say, the defense won the majority of their battles with ease. The offense got off to a hot start after Vic Wharton was able to haul in a fade route over D’Andre Payne, but the defense would win nine out of the next twelve matchups to claim victory over the offense by a final score of 9-4.
Cam Sutton had a near interception in his matchup against Josh Malone, Jakob Johnson did a very nice job of locking down Ethan Wolf in their rep – something Johnson has struggled with in recent games against Missouri and Vanderbilt – and Rashaan Gaulden made an exceptional play to knock the ball free from Von Pearson in the back of the end zone on a very nicely thrown corner route. Gaulden is one of those players who appears to be gaining more and more confidence in his game each week, and today’s play to knock the pass out of Pearson’s hands is probably not a play that the freshman would have made a month ago.
Drill work: After the impromptu, competitive start to the day, it was all individual drills for the remainder of the open portion of practice as the focus was strictly on improvement. The defensive line worked on their pass-rush techniques, including explosion drills and getting around the edge to impact the quarterback. They transitioned into some run gap drills for the final period, but the majority of their day looked to be focused on bettering their ability to make quarterbacks uncomfortable.
*Current Vol commitments Shy Tuttle and Andrew Butcher were taking in the defensive line’s work from the sidelines today, as they were in for their official visits. Both Butcher and Tuttle look like they could give the Vols some immediate help in the trenches, for what it’s worth.*
The defensive backs and linebackers spent most of the day working on their footwork, as Willie Martinez and Tommy Thigpen each had their groups going through a litany of speed and quickness related drills that really focused on the players’ ability to read and react to the direction of the play in running situations and/or eyes of the quarterback in passing situations. Todd kelly Jr. really stood out to me in the work with the secondary today. He is just a fluid player with an incredible ability to locate the football, make his move to get in position, and then high-point it and make the catch.
Injury notes: There were no players in green, no contact jerseys for the defense today. However, Curt Maggitt did not go through any of the drills that were open to the media. Maggitt was dressed in full gear, but sort of stood off to the side during the reps. It looked to be a matter of rest for Maggitt as opposed to any type of injury. Trevarris Saulsberry continues to get full reps at defensive tackle as he works his way back from a knee injury suffered against UTC.