Some notes and observations from the open portion of practice on Tuesday night.
Getting healthier: As Butch Jones said on Monday, the bye week seems to have come at a good time for the Vols as they looked to be healthier overall on the practice field Tuesday evening. Defensive end Kyle Phillips, offensive tackle Brett Kendrick, receiver Marquez North and receiver Johnathon Johnson were among the players who have been banged up recently who were all out on the practice field Tuesday.
North seems to be moving better and better, and it’s more believable that he could play at Alabama on Saturday after missing the past few games. Butch Jones’ official injury update on Monday was that he expects everybody back for the Alabama game except for WR Jason Croom, who hasn’t played at all this season, though he later said that he’d know more Wednesday on the exact status of some of the players. RB Alvin Kamara was the only player in a green, non-contact jersey.
RB Jalen Hurd was held out of practice because he’s battling the flu, according to offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. He said they are hopeful to have him back on the practice field Wednesday.
Crowd noise: For the second time this year, the simulated crowd noise returned to Haslam Field with the trip to Tuscaloosa looming this week. Tennessee turned up the volume during its punt period in particular as the Vols worked on communicating on special teams.
Passing game: The Vols looked fairly crisp in the passing game during the open portion of practice. You could count on one hand any of the noticeable mistakes – things seemed to be clicking a bit more there in practice than it has the past few weeks. Alabama’s secondary might not be the strongest link in its defense, though the Tide is fifth in the SEC in passing defense, first in pass-defense efficiency and tops in the league in interceptions as well. It’s a unit that did record three pick-sixs against Texas A&M in the win on Saturday.
Preston Williams drew a significant amount of praise from both Zach Azzanni and Butch Jones for one route that he ran and finished off with a nice catch. He continues to progress in practice and on the field. Tennessee is looking to build on its 300+ yard performance through the air against the Bulldogs.
“Elite” is the buzzword: It seems that the word “elite” is a focus this week for the Vols. Jones mentioned it in his press conference on Monday and it was thrown around a few times on the practice field on Tuesday as well. The Vols showed they can be good against Georgia, but will have to take the next step in Tuscaloosa against No. 8 Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC), a team that has defeated UT by an average of 28.4 points per game over the last five years.
“It’s a whole football mindset in terms of thinking we are going down there to win a football game,” Jones said on Monday. “That is what it’s all about. Is it going to be a great challenge? Yes, but it’s all about being elite. We are working to be an elite football program and an elite football player. Everything goes into that term elite. Obviously, Alabama is elite, but I know our players are excited and looking forward to a great challenge and opportunity.”