Tennessee’s football team was back out on the practice field on Tuesday for the first time since spring break ended for the University of Tennessee. We were there to watch all the open portions of practice as the Vols returned to action.
Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee share their notes and observations from Tennessee’s first day back of spring practices in over a week.
Who looked winded on their first day back after spring break? Who was a surprise contributor on defense? We look at that and more in our Premium Practice Report on RTI Premium!
- For the most part, Tennessee’s defensive players didn’t look like they took spring break off. Most of the players out there didn’t look extra winded or extra sluggish. There were a few exceptions, most notably with a few second string players, but overall I was pleased to see that UT’s players didn’t look like they let their first week and a half of practice go to waste during the break.
- Tracy Rocker is earning his money’s worth with the defensive line right now. He’s doing a lot of work with them to try and make this inexperienced group ready for the fall. Today, he worked a lot on hip movement and technique off the snap during the open portions of practice. He and his group also drilled on explosiveness and hitting the point of attack hard.
- Tyus Fields continues to impress me in the defensive back group. I have a feeling that he’ll be seeing the field a lot as a true freshman this year barring any sort of setbacks for him.
- Jaylen McCollough looks like a college safety already. He’s stout and built like a tank, hence his nickname of “Tank” McCollough. I’ll be interested to see if him and Theo Jackson jockey for a spot on the depth chart behind likely starters Nigel Warrior and Trevon Flowers.
- John Mincey, Matthew Butler, and Kingston Harris are all vying for spots in the Vols’ defensive line depth chart. They’re receiving extra attention and coaching, and it’s apparent that UT’s success on the line will depend on them. I think Tennessee’s starters will be fine on the defensive line, but their depth has a lot of questions. Those three look to be the primary players looking to fill in those gaps. I would assume that Aubrey Solomon will start if he’s eligible because he’s looked solid in practices so far, and Emmit Gooden will likely be a starter barring any injuries. I can’t wait to see what the two junior college guys, Savion Williams and Darel Middleton, look like over the summer and in the fall.
- I’ll go ahead and make a somewhat bold prediction (not that bold): I’ll be surprised if Wanya Morris isn’t starting for the Vols as a freshman this season. I just like what I’ve seen from him this spring so far, and his frame is just built like the perfect offensive lineman. He’ll still need to work on his conditioning between now and September, but I trust that this staff and the strength and conditioning group can help him out there.
In the first practice back following spring break, Jarrett Guarantano looked the best he’s looked all spring. At least in the open portion we got to watch. Guarantano had complete command of the drill, encouraging his fellow quarterbacks – JT Shrout and Brian Maurer – and communicating with the wide receivers. Just about all of his throws were right on the money. I can only recall one throw that was a little off target.
As for Shrout, the redshirt freshman had a nice day as well. He made multiple throws in which he hit the target right in stride. Maurer also made some nice throws, but you could also tell he is an early enrollee. Right now, the freshman’s biggest focus is just being consistent.
Before the quarterbacks worked on routes versus air with the wide receiver, they were on the far field working with the running backs. The backs focused on catching the ball out of the backfield and then cutting up field during the open portion. Early enrollee Eric Gray continues to work on the sideline with the strength and conditioning staff as he nurses an injury.
The wide receivers began practice working on their blocking against press coverage, coming off the ball and making sure they were using proper hand placement. When working with the quarterbacks, the group worked on hitches, out-routes, and in-routes. There were very few footballs that hit the ground. Really, the only balls that hit the ground were from walk-ons.
While the wide receivers worked on routes versus air with the quarterbacks, the tight ends continued to solely work on their blocking. I’ve yet to see the tight ends catch a pass in the open portion of practice this spring. Their best friend has become the practice sleds.
The sleds were also the best friends of the offensive line. Jim Chaney continues to work with the offensive line in the open portion of practice. With Phillip Fulmer looking on from the sidelines, the O-line spent the first portion working on their technique and driving through their blocks.
During the open portion, Trey Smith participated in some mild contact drills. It’s the first time this spring in which he has participated in any form of contact drills.