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RTI Mailbag: First Week Of Fall Camp

Tennessee Football fall camp
Photo by Rocky Top Insider.

Tennessee is yet to put on full pads but the Vols took Haslam Field this week for the first fall practice of the Josh Heupel era.

The Vols hosted a media day Tuesday and hit the practice field Wednesday through Friday. Saturday’s practice won’t be open to the media and the Vols have Sunday off.

Our team tackles questions from readers taken from Twitter replies and messages.

Surprised by Kaemen Marley starting at receiver?

Ric Butler: Coach Heupel actually told the media earlier this week that Marley practiced with the receivers because that’s how he was recruited by them. Which I do find interesting, and I do find indicative of their future plans with him. Even though Marley was listed as a safety, he was also a two-way player back in high school. Clearly, the staff saw him as a receiver, and that’s where they are starting things out. Although as I’m sure many would agree, Marley is athletic enough to be used a in range of options on the field. But for now and going forward, it seems like Marley is playing WR because that’s been Heupel’s plan from the jump.

“That was just how he was recruited. Feel like that’s a natural starting point for him. He’s a guy that is ultra-talented. We’ll find out his skill sets, where he feels comfortable as the progression goes, and how we can get him on the field the fastest.”

Ryan Schumpert: At first thought, I was surprised that the four-star athlete was starting his freshman season at receiver. The Vols need help in the back end far more than they do at receiver. Then I saw Marley on the practice field for the first time and he is very skinny. That’s not shocking for a guy who didn’t arrive on campus until this summer and did a little bit of everything for his high school team. However, I don’t see Marley making an immediate impact at safety with that build. That doesn’t mean he’ll make an immediate impact at receiver either, but I do think he has a quicker path to the field there.

Trey Wallace: I think the coaching staff is just trying to find the right fit for him early on in camp, just to see where he might be comfortable at. Things could easily change and he could be moved around to a position that suits him best, but for now, Kaemen and the staff feel like this is the right move. Time will tell.

I’m really excited about the running back room this year. Besides Small, who do you guys think will be pushing for carries? How many guys will factor?

Ric: Jabari Small led the team in the spring game, so I do think – Oh, you said besides Jabari Small. In that case, I’m going to throw out this name: Fred Orr. Orr is a redshirt sophomore who led Tennessee in yards in the spring game. While he played for both the Orange and White team, Orr had 10 carries for 83 yards, with longs of 17 and 22. I think Tiyon Evans and Jaylen Wright may wind up with more playing time when it’s all said and done. Honestly, I think Tennessee has the potential to do some damage with the group. They don’t have one back who can do everything – they have a bunch of backs who can combine to do everything. Tennessee has the size and the speed, just across a group of 3-4 players. I think Tennessee would benefit from a multi-RB system, depending on what the game or the opposition is calling for. But I wouldn’t forget about the name Fred Orr just yet either.

Ryan: I think this room has a lot of potential, especially considering Small— the team leader in career rushing yards— has just 26 career carries. Offensive coordinator Alex Golesh made it clear that Small had earned his reps and seems poised to be RB1 this fall. Golesh also said they want to have three backs playing each week. I think junior college transfer Tiyon Evans is one of those guys. He’s never been short on talent and was the highest rated junior college running back. His legs are like tree trunks and I think will be an effective down hill runner in a scheme that prioritizes it. Behind those two, I think it’s open for any of Tee Hodge, Jaylen Wright or Dee Beckwith to take. I’ll have my eyes on those guys when Tennessee puts the pads on next week.

Trey: I really like the ability of Tiyon Evans and the potential he brings to this backfield. Having a duo like Small and Evans could benefit Tennessee greatly, especially since he can be such a bruiser. The speed of Jaylen Wright will be fun to watch this season, especially if they can get him into space and let him work. The same could be said for Dee Beckwith. He has way to much talent to not be involved in this offense and I think this staff will create ways for him to get the ball, not just in a handoff, because he’s so talented and versatile.

Is there a problem with how hard Milton throws the ball over the middle? Milton or Bailey game one?

Ric: Luckily, I am not the one out there catching those passes. Because in that case, the answer is yes. In reality, I don’t know the exact answer to that question because I think it is more of an individual answer. For instance, on Thursday, one of the Tennessee wide receivers specifically mentioned it, and then followed that by saying how many extra reps he has had to take on the Jugs machine cranked to the highest setting. These guys are collegiate-level WR’s, with SEC-caliber hands. Which makes me lean towards an answer of ultimately no. But, at the end of the day, it just depends on what the WR is comfortable with, and how well the QB can deliver the ball. Also, I’ll take the easy escape answer and say that we might see both against Bowling Green.

Ryan: I’m not sure I’d say it’s a problem how hard Milton throws the ball over the middle, but boys does he throw it in there hard. There were some drops from receivers on some Milton balls that were thrown hard over the middle so I don’t think it would hurt him to tone it down a bit, but again, I don’t know if I’d call it a problem yet. It does emphasize the importance of getting the bulk of the reps coming from two guys so receivers can get more adjusted to Milton’s ball. On the quarterback competition, I continue to think Joe Milton will be the guy. It’s not a done deal by any means and what he looks like in full pads 11v11 and live scrimmages will ultimately be the deciding factor. But I think he does everything the coaches want. Don’t sleep on Hendon Hooker. He, along with Bailey, are still in the thick of the competition.

Trey: I am definitely not going to go out on that limb just yet when it comes to a starting quarterback. But, Milton has a tremendous arm, that rockets into the receivers hands. He’ll learn to take a bit off the ball, just so his receivers have the best opportunity to make a play, but the staff will take advantage of him. I think with Bailey, he’s gotten the game to slow down for him, which will help him in this offense, since it’s so complex. Harrison has all the tools needed to be the starter, but we need to see how he handles himself during the upcoming scrimmage. This QB battle is fun to watch unfold.

How’s the offensive line looking? That’s my biggest concern for this year.

Ric: Well, first and foremost, they look big. Aside from that though, there is a good amount of them, which speaks to Tennessee’s depth. Honestly, just seeing Tennessee with a large group of large offensive linemen was a pleasant sight to see. The line is always going to be a position where depth favors the fortunate, and Tennessee may be working their way towards that. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen, although it has been little. The line looks like they are moving well and communicating well. However, I did notice that group getting more tired than others after 11’s drills. But hey, it’s got to be a tough position. And everybody will benefit from conditioning over the next month.

Ryan: I think that’s a very fair concern. The “TVA” Tennessee offensive line was a major disappointment last season and three of those starters are gone. I think there are some nice pieces in the interior with Jerome Carvin, Javonte Spraggins, and Cade Mays, but does Mays even play inside? Golesh said the senior would play wherever they need him most and that appears to be tackle through one week. I think Mays is an All-SEC caliber guard but he’s struggled in his career— both at Tennessee and Georgia— when he’s played offensive tackle. Dayne Davis remains a fascinating storyline to me. The walk-on started at tackle almost all of spring practice and has remained in that spot. I really think he’s capable but it will be fascinating to see if he can hold off former five-star Darnell Wright and K’Rojhn Calbert— who played solid at tackle for much of the 2019 season. Another group that gets far more intriguing next week when the pads go on.

Trey: The best thing about this offensive line is the depth. We’ve already seen Darnell Wright working at tackle, a position he’s still learning. The emergence of Dayne Davis is a definite positive, especially with his size and ability to get off the line. So, with guys like Carvin, Spraggins, Wright, Calbert and the Mays brothers, I really think Tennessee is in a nice spot up front.

How does our defense’s size compare to last season?

Ric: I know Ryan and Trey will have very good answers for this. So in that case: See below. (However, I will add-in, you can tell that getting in the right shape and size has been very important for a lot of these players. Both Tyler Baron and Byron Young spoke to the media on Friday about how motivated they have been to get their bodies in the right shape, which typically has meant the addition of weight and muscle. I think Heupel’s arrival has probably given a lot of guys new reasons to be motivated on numerous different fronts. But you can tell that body shape and size have been critical for many of the defensive, and offensive players, this off-season.)
Ryan: Let’s go unit-by-unit on this. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks plans on Tennessee being multiple on defense but this week the defensive line was almost exclusively four down lineman. On the inside I think Tennessee may be a little bigger, the Vols lost Darel Middleton but Kansas transfer Da’Jon Terry is a unit, Aubrey Soloman is back and I think Elijah Simmons, an absolute unit inside, will see more snaps. At defensive end I think Tennessee may be a little small. Tyler Baron has put on the pounds and looks the part but Byron Young and Ja’Quan Blakely are both on the smaller size. At linebacker Tennessee is a little bit smaller— especially if freshman Aaron Willis earns playing time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. Tennessee’s big linebacker were gashed in the passing game last season. The back end is much of the same as the starters are mostly the same from last season. Auburn transfer Kamal Hadden— who worked off to the side this week— is a little bigger than most of Tennessee’s players that played nickel back last season.

Trey: As we’ve seen so far in camp, guys like Byron Young and Tyler Baron have put on the right kind of weight, which will definitely help them coming off the edge or through the gap. If you’ve seen pictures of Matthew Butler, you can tell he’s added more muscle to his body, along with guys like Tremblay and Terry. The one area of concern would be at linebacker, as Banks and Mitchell have gotten themselves in great condition, but the depth is my concern, especially with their size. So, as we continue on through camp, I’ll be watching how these players make up for a lack of bulk and use their speed. One guy who caught my eye at LB is Aaron Willis, as I am very interested to see how he gets to the offense, especially at his size. Mostly good things though.

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