The Vols were back on the practice field on Tuesday as preparations for January 2nd’s TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa continued. The team battled through wet, chilly conditions as Butch Jones elected to hold today’s practice outside after the previous two were indoors.
The media were given five periods of practice to view on the day; a day that featured a heavy dose of teaching and a bit of specific preparations for Iowa. Here are the notes from the defensive side of the ball:
Linebackers: This group spent the day working on what appeared to be some different Iowa run schemes. Tommy Thigpen had his group working with the scout team simulating a variety of blocking schemes in the running game, with the linebackers reacting accordingly to the different looks. Play-recognition is a huge responsibility for Tennessee’s linebacking corps, and today was an opportunity for this group to get in some extra reps.
We’ve been asked a lot recently about the future of Gavin Bryant at inside linebacker, and, after watching him today, he appears to be a player that can really help this team down the road. He is big, quick, strong, and seems to possess the kind of attitude that you look for in a middle linebacker. He has a unique ability to really dial in on his responsibility on a given play without losing track of his fundamentals or his surroundings. He may not be the heir-apparent to A.J. Johnson at this point for the 2015 season, but he is a player that has come a long way since the start of fall camp.
Defensive line: This is a very thin group heading into the bowl game. Curt Maggitt was with Steve Stripling and the rest of the linemen, but once again stood off to the side during all of the drill work. Obviously, Dewayne Hendrix is no longer with the team, as is apparently the case with Joe Henderson. Michael Sawyers was absent again as well. So this group – that was already banged up – is basically a skeleton crew at this point. By my unofficial count the Vols practiced today with a total of nine defensive linemen; which has to be some kind of record. I wouldn’t expect Stripling to push these guys too hard between now and January 2nd.
Defensive backs: Disruption was the theme of the day for Willie Martinez’s group, as they worked on forcing fumbles and stepping in passing lanes against members of the scout team. Other than turnover drills, it was a pretty standard day of fundamental work from both the safeties and the cornerbacks. Cam Sutton made sure to give Malik Foreman some pointers after one of Foreman’s reps drew some criticism from Martinez. There is zero question that Sutton’s leadership has had a huge impact on some of the younger guys like Foreman and Emmanuel Moseley.
Freshman cornerback D’Andre Payne also received some extra attention of to the side from Vol legend Terry Fair after one of his reps. Fair was explaining the importance of balance and proper footwork when jamming a receiver at the line of scrimmage, and Payne responded with a much better rep the second time around.
Injury notes: As mentioned above, Curt Maggitt was a limited participant in today’s practice during the open portion. Other than that, it appeared that most everyone else participated fully in today’s practice, including Trevarris Saulsberry, who looks like he may be on track to give the Vols some snaps against Iowa.