JACKSONVILLE – Some notes and observations from the offensive side of the ball as Tennessee held its final open practice for the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville:
Gilliam practicing with a club on his hand: Butch Jones mentioned that redshirt senior offensive tackle Jacob Gilliam suffered a “minor” injury on Monday, but that he would be fine. We’re not saying that he won’t be ok, but Gilliam was practicing with a large club on his left hand to protect the injury. He was going through practice as regularly as possible with the large apparatus on his hand and it appears that he’ll give it a go on Friday. If he can’t, the Vols have could use true freshman Coleman Thomas or redshirt freshman Brett Kendrick. Thomas could slide right in at right tackle or they could go with Kendrick at left tackle and shift Kyler Kerbyson over to right tackle.
Offensive line coach Don Mahoney was pushing Gilliam hard, seemingly trying to get him mentally prepared to play through the injury. At one point Mahoney mentioned that Ronnie Lott cut off his finger to play at one point in his career, so it looks like they’re pushing the redshirt senior who has been playing on one healthy ACL for the second half of the season to try to play the final 60 minutes of his career.
Time off helped the skill players: After looking good on Monday, the quarterbacks and receivers again looked crisp on Tuesday, even on a cooler day. Von Pearson continues to show a lot of energy, catching a touchdown in one drill and then bouncing around and flexing after the play. Butch Jones spoke about how the time off has helped players like Pearson:
“Some individuals are still nursing some nagging injuries, where some other players have really benefitted from some time off. I do think, overall, our team speed has improved, but it’s a case-by-case situation…
“Von Pearson is another individual. We had to have a little talk, though, through the value of watching Twitter is he goes home for Christmas and works out and he’s running. So I was able to get to him and say `Rest your body.'”
Jones also mentioned Marlin Lane, Jalen Hurd and Pig Howard as players on the offensive side of the ball who have benefitted from the time off.
Weather update: The Vols got perhaps their most accurate representation of the weather for Friday’s game at Tuesday’s practice. It was breezy and in the high 60s, a similar forecast to Friday afternoon, the time of the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Injury update: All three running backs – Lane, Hurd and Devrin Young – remain in green, non-contact jerseys. Lane also still has his ankle lightly taped. Outside of Gilliam’s hand, there aren’t really any other major injury concerns on the offensive side of the ball.