JACKSONVILLE – The Vols wrapped up their final open practice of the 2014 season on Tuesday morning ahead of their TaxSlayer Bowl appearance on Friday afternoon. The sun and heat from Monday turned to cool, damp and cloudy conditions for Tuesday’s work at North Florida University, but head coach Butch Jones said that the work his team got in on Monday was exactly what his team needed.
“A very, very productive practice for many reasons,” Jones said. “First of all the elements, the humidity, the sun, but I liked the approach our players had. It was a physical practice, a demanding practice, I liked our execution, so I thought it was a very productive day and our players have done that, not just on this bowl trip, but over the course of the season.
“They’ve been very, very focused, they’ve had a good time, they’ve enjoyed themselves, but they also understand that this is part of a business trip. We’ve been provided with great leadership and that’s what I expected from this football team.”
Tuesday’s practice was a light day of work for the players, as the coaching staff dialed back the physical aspects of practice and focused more on fundamentals and playing assignment football. Members of the media were given three open periods of practice to view; here are some notes from the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive line: It was another day of practicing fundamentals and technique for Steve Stripling’s group. This group, although thin, appears to be as healthy as they have been in quite some time. Butch Jones said before practice that if there had been a game the week after the win over Vanderbilt, Curt Maggitt would not have been able to play. The time off clearly helped this group get their health back.
Linebackers: Again, the theme of the day was fundamentals and technique, so there was a lot of work by the linebackers on lateral quickness, explosion and hand placement. Defensive coordinator John Jancek did note before the start of practice that he expected both Jakob Johnson and Kenny Bynum – two Jacksonville natives – to see some time at middle linebacker against Iowa on Friday.
“They’ve competed well,”Jancek said. “They’ve pushed each other. They’re both in there doing the best that they can. I know they’re excited to be back in their home city and play in front of probably some friends and family.
“They’ll both play. It’ll just be a matter of how many plays in a row the offense can generate. Those will come into play during the game as far as how we sub.”
Defensive backs: The safeties and corners spent most of their time working on various special teams units before finally getting into some tackling simulations during the final open period of today’s practice. Coach Willie Martinez got in some quarterback work as he helped his group work on pass recognition and then flying to the football to secure the tackle.
Injury notes: The defensive side of the ball appears to be entering this game in pretty good health. As is the case with any team there are still a few guys with bumps and bruises, but the last month or so has really benefitted John Jancek’s group from a health standpoint.