Some notes and observations from the defensive side of the ball as Tennessee their first practice in pads at Haslam Field on Tuesday afternoon:
Team 119 donned the full pads for the first time this spring, and Butch Jones had his team jump directly into some full contact work as he gathered his team for the ‘Circle of Life’ drill immediately following the stretching/warmup period.
As usual, the team gathered around the two players pitted against each other in the center, making it impossible to see who the eventual winners were, but we were able to overhear some of the matchups as Butch Jones called them out to his team.
Dimarya Mixon vs. Dontavius Blair
Jashon Robertson vs. Shy Tuttle
Andrew Butcher vs. Jack Jones
Charles Mosley vs. Mack Crowder
Alvin Kamara vs. Evan Berry
LaTroy Lewis vs. Brett Kendrick
Gavin Bryant vs. Kenny Bynum
Chris Weatherd vs. A.J. Branisel
Austin Sanders vs. Shy Tuttle
Josh Malone vs. Stephen Griffin
As stated above, it was difficult to tell who won each battle, but there were a couple that drew some high praise from the rest of the team that are worth sharing.
It appeared that Jashon Robertson took it to Shy Tuttle in their duel – as expected – and Andrew Butcher clearly got the best of fellow true freshman early enrollee Jack Jones, which resulted in the entire defensive team exploding in cheers and applause as they celebrated with Butcher after the rep.
Brett Kendrick bested LaTroy Lewis in their rep, drawing a round of cheers from his offensive teammates, but the most boisterous celebration of the day came when Josh Malone took the rep from newcomer Stephen Griffin in dominating fashion.
After the ‘Circle of Life’ drill completed, the team broke off into position groups for three periods to go through drills and prepare for the team period. The defensive lineman went through some agility work that concluded with them either “intercepting” a pass or scooping up a fumble and running towards the end zone. Owen Williams was the vocal leader of this group today, encouraging his teammates to talk more and play with more energy throughout the drill.
The cornerbacks and safeties worked on striking during a tackle, shucking blocks and opening up out of a full speed back pedal to run with receivers. I know it’s early, but Stephen Griffin really looks the part at safety through the first three practices. He’s a fluid runner with good quickness and he showed up more “game ready” than I expected him to. The Vols are likely set at safety this season with Brian Randolph, LaDarrell McNeil and Todd Kelly Jr., but Griffin at free safety and TK at strong safety – or “safety 1 and safety 2” as John Jancek calls them – in 2016 and beyond is looking like a much stronger duo than expected at this point. Griffin will obviously have to earn it on the field with his physicality and knowledge of the scheme, but his athleticism and measurables pass the test so far.