Some notes and observations from the open portion of practice on Tuesday morning.
Offensive line shuffle: The mixing and matching on the offensive line continues as Butch Jones looks for his best five options in the midst of an apparent early rash of injuries to this group. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord didn’t go into depth yesterday on the injury situation, but said, “We’ve got a few guys banged up here and there, so right now a lot of guys are getting opportunities. And when you get opportunities, you’ve got to produce.”
Marcus Jackson (who Jones confirmed could miss the rest of the season after practice), Jashon Robertson, Dylan Wiesman and Chance Hall were all missing from the practice field on Tuesday, opening up a lot of opportunities for some new looks. In one drill that had all five offensive linemen working, the first five (from left to right) were Kyler Kerbyson, Brett Kendrick, Mack Crowder, Jack Jones and Coleman Thomas.
There are more questions than answers for the offensive line, but we’re figuring out a few things. It appears the coaching staff continues to like Kyler Kerbyson at left tackle. Coleman Thomas is continuing to emerge as the favorite at right tackle. Brett Kendrick is a very versatile player – I’ve seen him at tackle, guard and center this camp, though guard seems to be his most common spot right now. With Thomas at tackle and Wiesman currently out, there’s nobody to truly push Mack Crowder at center, so that spot continues to look like his until something changes. There’s also a lot of talent in the freshman class, and it’s going to be needed. If the season started today, Jones very well could be a starter, and Drew Richmond, Venzell Boulware and Chance Hall have all shown two-deep capabilities with the ability to be considered for a starting job.
Return game: We got some clues in the return game and continued to see that the Vols have a lot of options in that area. In a full team return drill, Malik Foreman (with Evan Berry out), got the first rep, and looked really good. It’s difficult to say how far he would’ve run it back in live action because they were just “tagging off” and it was a scout team chasing him down, but he hit the seam quickly and got up the field in a hurry. Cam Sutton, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Jauan Jennings were the other guys who got a chance returning kicks.
Josh Smith, Sutton, Von Pearson and Alvin Kamara were all getting looks at punt returner in a drill.
• Jakob Johnson continues to work with the tight ends, and with the loss of A.J. Branisel, it continues to look more and more like that could be a permanent move.
• Von Pearson continued to work in a helmet and shoulder pads with a green, non-contact jersey. He should be cleared for full pads Tuesday night, though it’s unclear when they’ll pull that non-contact jersey off.
• Max Arnold, who was working with the CBs in a drill, continues to work his way back on the practice field. He gives the Vols some depth and potential special teams help. Quay Picou looked to be pretty much full go as he’s wrapping up his acclimation period.
• And while those guys are working their way back in, the injury/absence list is continuing to grow substantially. I mentioned several guys (Robertson, Jackson, Wiesman, Hall, Ev. Berry) already who were out already. In addition, the normal list of Jason Croom, Trevarris Saulsberry, Andrew Butcher, LaTroy Lewis and Preston Williams continues to be held out. Justin Martin, Pig Howard, Cody Blanc Stephen Griffin and Ethan Wolf are some other guys that appeared to be missing. Kendal Vickers was limited. Jones updated the status of several of those players after practice.
• Tennessee returns to the practice field Tuesday night in a session that will be closed to the media. Jones said the focus will be on situational work with an emphasis on substitutions and clock management.
If you have any questions that weren’t answered here, be sure to throw them in our RTI Talk Forum and we will answer as soon as we can. If you are new to the forum, be sure to check your SPAM folder for the confirmation email…some mail vendors flag the confirmation as SPAM or Junk.