In what was described as a Christmas present to his team, Butch Jones elected to move today’s practice to Neyland Stadium for what will be the final open practice for the Vols until they arrive in Jacksonville. It was a light day of work during the three open periods that the media were allowed to see, with the team going in shorts and shoulder pads in lieu of their full gear.
Here are some notes from our brief time on the practice field today:
Tennessee’s quarterbacks and receivers worked on red zone passing against air for two periods. In the first portion, they worked on passes toward the back line of the end zone from the 10-yard line. The receivers had a few drops early on but found their rhythm in the last half of the drill (see video) – making multiple catches toward the rear of the checkerboard while keeping their feet in bounds.
For the second portion of the red zone passing drill, the team moved to the South end of the stadium and lined up at the 10 yard line. One receiver worked the goal line while another ran to the back of the end zone. Drae Bowles made a very nice leaping catch the end the period. Josh Malone, after struggling to get going early in the drill, rebounded nicely with several catches. While we don’t have an exact completion percentage, the Vols consistently connected during the second drill from the 10 yard line.
In the second of three periods open to the media, the Vols opened practice by working on pooch punts, an area where the team has struggled this year. Senior punter Matt Darr kicked from the 41 and his first punt was downed inside the 10 yard line. He then had one roll inside the 10 from the Tennessee 41 (back 20 yards).
It’s also worth mentioning that Alex Ellis, Josh Malone, Von Pearson and Joshua Dobbs all stayed after practice to get some additional reps in the passing game.
Injury notes: In keeping both with recent tradition and the Christmas spirit, Jalen Hurd, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young all practiced in green jerseys.
The most important note of the day on the defensive side of the ball was that Curt Maggitt practiced in full for the first time – that we’ve been able to see – since the end of the regular season. Maggitt, who had been dressing for practice but not participating in any of the drills, went through every drill with the rest of the defensive linemen today. This included some one-on-one pass rushing drills against Jordan Williams, as well as some discipline drills for zone-read/wide runs.
The defensive backs worked on backpedaling and reading the quarterback’s eyes with their footwork as Willie Martinez and some of the graduate assistants. Once Martinez felt satisfied with each player’s rep, he would throw a pop-fly pass that the defender had to intercept and return to the end zone.
The linebackers worked on their lateral quickness and quickness as they went through a couple of different cone circuits. After a few reps through the circuit by each player, the entire group worked on Tennessee’s version of the ‘tip drill.’ This included all of the players in a line, tipping the ball over their head until the last player in line – Jalen Reeves-Maybin – secured the interception.
Injury notes: With Curt Maggitt finally back and practicing, there were no notable injuries from the defensive side of the ball.