Some notes and observations from open portion of practice on Saturday afternoon as the Vols held their first session in full pads.
Von’s back: It’s no surprise after the formal announcement yesterday, but senior receiver Von Pearson was, indeed, back on the practice field on Saturday afternoon in just pants, a jersey and a helmet. Saturday is his first day of the five-practice acclimation process which will include two practices in just the helmet, two in helmet and shoulder pads and then a return to full pads likely on Wednesday.
He didn’t show any obvious signs of rust in the few periods that we saw on Saturday and made a nice one-handed catch at one point. Receivers coach/passing game coordinator Zach Azzanni did get on him at least once, however, and as Butch Jones said after practice on Friday evening, Von will have to earn his playing time back after being away from the team for over 100 days.
Other wide receiver notes: Josh Smith made one of the better catches I’ve seen in camp thus far when he went way up and made a one-handed grab in a receiver drill. We know this has been in almost every practice report so far, but Jauan Jennings drew even more praise from the coaching staff on the field Saturday when he tracked down what looked to be an overthrown ball for a long reception.
The receivers split up in one drill into slot and outside receivers, giving us an opportunity to see who is working where. This can obviously change, but at least for now, Pearson, Jennings, Johnathon Johnson and Vincent Perry are the scholarship receivers working in the slot. Smith, Marquez North, Pig Howard and Josh Malone were the scholarship receivers working outside on Saturday.
A lot of people have asked about what kind of camp Josh Malone is having so far. And like a lot of guys, it’s tough to tell until we see a little more live football. There are definitely some consistency questions still – and this instance seemed to kind of sum him up. The coaches made him redo one rep because of lack of effort, but then on the redo, he made a fantastic catch. That’s kind of been his career in a nutshell so far – inconsistent at times, but enough talent to leave you wondering if it’ll all click at some point.
Offensive line observations: It was the first day in pads, but there wasn’t a ton of truly live action in the open period. I did get a better sense for who is working where, however, and possibly a feel for how the depth chart could be shaking out early in camp. Mack Crowder, Dylan Wiesman and Ray Raulerson were the only ones working at center on Saturday with Coleman Thomas getting his reps at tackle.
And at least in the drill that I watched, which was a half-life drill with a center on both side (that was Crowder and Wiesman with the first group) and then a guard and tackle working with them, Thomas was getting the first look at right tackle. Jack Jones joined him as the right guard in that first look. Jashon Robertson was over at left guard (Marcus Jackson wasn’t on the practice field in the open portion) with Kyler Kerbyson in his now-familiar left tackle spot.
The second group to go was (RT) Drew Richmond and (RG) Venzell Boulware and Brett Kendrick (LG) and Chance Hall (LT). So as you can see, those are some changeups from what has been seen in the past. But it’s also common to see guys cross-training and some mixing and matching this early in camp especially, so I wouldn’t take any of that too seriously – just an interesting look and something to watch out for going forward.
• Butch Jones spent a lot of time with the punters, and while a lot of the talk has been about newcomers Tommy Townsend and Nathan Renfro, don’t forget about walk-on Trevor Daniel, who got the rep in the drill and who hit a couple really nice ones. He has very good hang time on his punts.
• When watching some special teams drills, linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. really stuck out in terms of his speed. It’s tough to say where he is in that middle linebacker battle right now, but he’s definitely a guy who can help out on special teams at the very least. The Vols have some really athletic linebackers (Quart’e Sapp, Cortez McDowell, Dillon Bates, Austin Smith, etc) who will really help out on coverage units.
• Jakob Johnson remained with the tight ends on Saturday after getting his first look there Friday. Butch Jones said after Friday’s practice that he’d get at least a few days there.
• Quay Picou was in a helmet for the second-straight day of his acclimation process and should be in shoulder pads during the next practice (Monday). It looked like he was walking through some concepts with the defensive ends. He’s a bit of a tweener at 263 pounds, but end might be his home for now unless he adds some weight.
Out: WR Jason Croom, DE Andrew Butcher, S Max Arnold, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, WR Preston Williams
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