Some notes and observations from the defensive side of the ball from the open portion of Thursday’s bowl practice.
Sawyers returns to practice: Freshman defensive tackle Michael Sawyers returned during the open portion of practice for the first time in several weeks. Butch Jones has never stated a reason for Sawyers’ absence. The former four-star prospect of Nashville was thrown right into the mix, getting some second-team reps at defensive tackle in some team situations. He quickly had his hands on his hips, showing that he needs to get his conditioning back after missing so much time.
A look at the defensive lineups: We saw some team, 11-on-11 action and got a feel for where the depth chart stands. There was plenty of substituting and rotating, so it’s hard to give a set depth chart, but this is a good feel for what we saw:
DE: Corey Vereen (Curt Maggitt was held out again)
DT: Danny O’Brien
DT: Jordan Williams
DE: Derek Barnett
ILB: Jakob Johnson
OLB: Jalen Reeves-Maybin
CB: Cam Sutton
CB: Emmanuel Moseley
CB Justin Coleman
S: LaDarrell McNeil
S: Brian Randolph
2nd (a lot of rotating)
DE: LaTroy Lewis
DT: Owen Williams/Dimarya Mixon
DT: Michael Sawyers
DE: Kendal Vickers
ILB: Kenny Bynum
OLB: Cortez McDowell/Justin King
CB: Malik Foreman
CB: Rashaan Gaulden
CB D’Andre Payne
S: Todd Kelly Jr.
S: Evan Berry/Devaun Swafford
2-point conversions: Butch Jones started practice out by letting the offense and defense run three 2-point conversions “for the win.”
• The defense got a stop on the first play when Joshua Dobbs couldn’t connect with Vic Wharton in the back of the end zone on a play where Brian Randolph had tight coverage.
• The second-team offense scored on the second attempt when Nathan Peterman rolled right and threw it back across the field to tight end Alex Ellis who beat Devaun Swafford and made the catch in the end zone. Todd Kelly Jr. provide pressure on that play, but couldn’t quite get there in time.
• The third play was a bang-bang play on a jet sweep to Von Pearson. The offense celebrated after it appeared that Von made it to the pylon, but one of the officials ruled him out at the 1-yard line. The result was both side celebrating as if they had won the play.
Some other plays/observations from scrimmage work: After the 2-point conversion plays, the team went into a scrimmaging period where both sides got work against the scout team. Here are a few plays that stood out:
• LaDarrell McNeil had a nice interception of a floating pass from Mike Wegzyn and was able to get over to the sideline for what would’ve been a long return in a game setting. McNeil also had a nice pass breakup later in the period where he arrived to the ball at the same time as the receiver and jarred it loose.
• Derek Barnett provided pressure on multiple plays and had at least one play that would’ve gone down as a sack in live action.
• Todd Kelly Jr. had a missed tackle that led to a long run that drew the ire of Butch Jones. Improving his tackling and physicality is a big emphasis for the talented freshman safety over the course of bowl practices.