Team 119 officially took to Haslam Field for their first practice of fall camp 2015 on Tuesday night. The energy level was high despite the lack of any pads or actual football being played, and the defensive coaches appeared to be pleased with the effort that they were receiving from their squads.
Instead of breaking down who did what during certain drills – which were ALL based on teaching/learning the fundamentals/technique of football – this is just a general overview of what was observed on the practice field and what players stood out during Practice #1.
Curt Maggitt: This guy is just violently fast for a human of his size. Curt’s explosion off the ball was easily noticeable tonight, and it is probably safe to say that his first step is the best on the team. He was very vocal in drills and was coaching up the younger guys throughout the open periods of tonight’s practice. It is clear to see that the leader of the defensive line, and, arguably, the defense and team as a whole, is #56.
Derek Barnett: He looks like a completely different player. He looks leaner and faster, no doubt a product of an entire year in Tennessee’s strength and conditioning program. He was never “out of shape” last year, but he also didn’t look like an elite defensive lineman when he was just standing around. Barnett doesn’t look like a freshman anymore, he looks like a player who put in a lot of hard work over the summer to transform his body…and that is a scary thought for offensive coordinators across the country.
Dimarya Mixon: Much like Derek Barnett, Mixon has slimmed down and really looks the part of an SEC defensive end. There was some talk during last season and even into the spring that Mixon may end up at defensive tackle, but it’s clear that the goal for him over the summer was to slim down and be ready to chip in at end. Mixon looked surprisingly good tonight…to the point where I had to double-check and make sure it was him. I’ll be very curious to see him play when the pads go on.
Newcomers: Because these guys are still learning, and are being forced to drink water from a firehose, so to speak, I don’t want to make any rush-judgements. Kyle Phillips looks the part, but clearly has no idea what he’s doing right now. Multiple times he received correction from Steve Stripling and/or other veteran defensive linemen. Kahlil McKenzie looks like a defensive end from his waist to his shoulders, but he has the legs of a Triceratops. McKenzie was very workmanlike in his approach today. No chatter, no questions…no mistakes (that we could see). He looked focused and completely locked in. Darrell Taylor looks a little bit smaller than I expected, but has some serious speed. I’ll be curious to see what they decide to do with Taylor at the end of fall camp – a redshirt year might suit him very well.
Cam Sutton: This guy’s just a pro. I can’t say it enough. He does everything well and does it all right the first time through. He encourages his teammates and teaches them his tricks whenever he can. I would encourage Vol fans to enjoy watching Cam Sutton in 2015, because it’s likely to be his last season at Tennessee before he makes himself A LOT of money in the NFL, and deservedly so.
Justin Martin: I’m breaking my rule that I set with the defensive linemen, because Justin Martin has to be mentioned as a standout even if he is a newcomer. Martin is a physical freak. He is fast, he is strong, he is smooth and he may have the longest arms on the team…all qualities you covet in cornerbacks. As he learns the technique and tools of the trade from Cam Sutton, Willie Martinez, his graduate assistants, teammates…etc. there is a lot of reason for optimism when looking at what his impact will be on this team. All of the physical tools are there for Martin, it’s just a matter of learning his craft.
Rashaan Gaulden: In a bit of a surprise move, Gaulden worked mostly with the safeties during the first few periods of practice tonight after working almost exclusively with the corners and nickelbacks in the spring. The coaches have said that Gaulden could probably exceed at every position in the defensive secondary, but it was interesting to see him start camp working with the safeties tonight. Gaulden, again, wins the award for most armbands/sleeves/apparel worn by any player.
Newcomers: Micah Abernathy looks fluid and fast – albeit a little confused at times – while Darrell Miller, in my opinion, has a ways to go from a physical standpoint.
Admittedly, this was the group that I got to see the least due to their location on the practice field. So there isn’t much that stood out to me from this group other than Jalen Reeves-Maybin has a chance to be an All-SEC player this year and is blossoming into the next great leader on Tennessee’s defense. We should have a lot more from this group after tomorrow’s practice.
Injuries: Andrew Butcher, LaTroy Lewis and Max Arnold all did not practice, as Butch Jones said yesterday. Butcher stood along the side of the defensive line drills with fellow defensive end LaTroy Lewis.
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