Bowl preparations continued for Team 118 on Sunday as the Vols held their second open practice since accepting an invitation last Sunday to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl on January 2nd. There were some notable absences from the practice field today and a new face at running back for the second time this year.
Here are the noteworthy items from the open portion of today’s practice:
Running backs: This group was noticeably different today without Derrell Scott and Justus Pickett. It was announced this week that Scott is looking to transfer. The reason for Pickett’s absence isn’t known.
This left Jalen Hurd, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young as the only backs at practice that have received meaningful in-game reps in their time on campus. Deanthonie Summerhill and a few walk-ons joined the group after the special teams portion of practice, but this is a group that is really hurting from a depth standpoint right now.
That lack of depth may be the exact reason why – for the second time this season – we saw true freshman Evan Berry taking reps at running back during practice. Berry has shown a knack for finding running room as a kick returner, and clearly possesses the speed and agility to make things happen with the ball in his hands. We will see if the move is a permanent one as bowl practices continue, but clearly the coaches are at least looking for more ways to get Evan Berry some touches on offense.
Receivers/Tight ends: If last weeks rumors about Josh Malone being unhappy were true, you would have never known it by watching practice today. Malone was flying around the practice field, motivating teammates and playing with much more effort than he did in some of the later practices of the regular season. There is no way of knowing what caused the sudden change in Malone’s demeanor, but it was obvious that something was much different in his approach this afternoon. There has never been a question about Malone’s ability, and if today is a preview of things to come then the future for Malone at Tennessee is very bright.
Neiko Creamer continues to work with the tight ends and had another strong performance during the open periods today. Creamer’s athletic ability is easy to see; and as he learns the position and gets bigger/stronger, it isn’t hard to imagine him carving out a nice role in this offense as a playmaking tight end next year after finishing out this redshirt season.
Another noticeable absence today was tight end Daniel Helm. There was some talk last week that Helm – much like Derrell Scott – was missing home a bit and perhaps didn’t feel like he fit in at Tennessee. We should learn more about Helm’s absence today.
Injury notes: Jalen Hurd, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young were all wearing green jerseys as they worked with coach Gillespie. Other than that, it appeared that everyone else was business as usual.