Tennessee took to Neyland Stadium for its first scrimmage of fall camp Tuesday morning as the Vols get closer and closer to the 2022 season.
Second year head coach Josh Heupel met with the media afterwards and was mostly positive about his team’s showing on Shield-Watkins Field.
Here’s everything Josh Heupel said about Tennessee’s first fall scrimmage.
Heupel’s opening statement
“Really good day out there, back and forth between both sides of the ball. We were able to get a lot of real football, drive for the offense to be able to play with tempo, and see how the communication and efficiency of movement between plays (looked), really good for our young guys. Defensively, we were able to get some of that work against tempo. Also, some situational football. Got some third and short, and actually did some overtime work with those guys again today. Overall, pleased with the effort, strain, competitive nature of it, and some back and forth between both sides of the ball.”
On if there were any turnovers created in the scrimmage
“Jeremy Banks had a big pick out in the flat. Did a really good job reading his keys, and then getting out there extremely quickly. Great with his eyes, made a really nice play, used his hands well on the play as well. Really, I think that was about it for turnovers during the course of the scrimmage. I might be off one, not remembering it right now. I thought there was some good situational red zone work by our defense where they able to get off the field and force some field goals. Good day.”
On running back Jabari Small’s performance and the rest of the running backs
“Jabari did a really good job today, ran extremely well. I thought his keys took him to the right cut. He played with great in-and-out and pad level on contact. He probably got close to 25 or 30 reps today. Our young guys got a lot of work, Dylan (Sampson) and Justin (Williams-Thomas). Without going back and watching the tape, really pleased with how they functioned and played. Those two guys in training camp, obviously it’s Dylan’s first time working with us in live situations. He’s grabbed on to playing and competing at this level, understanding how to function and operate within our offensive system. He does a great job of delivering blocks and is a willing blocker, too. Really pleased with the progress he made. Justin’s come back a much different football player than he was as he finished spring ball. You guys have heard me through the summer, and even after the spring game, just talking about there’s a lot of time before you get to training camp. He’s taken advantage of that time. Done a better job with pass pro, done a better job with his pad level on contact, done a better job with reading his keys and making the right cuts.”
On which receivers had a strong day
“Today, without going back and watching all the tape, Jimmy Calloway and Jalin Hyatt both did some really good things in the slot. I’m pleased overall with what they did today, but (also) the eight days that we’ve gotten in where they’ve continued to progress too. Excited about what they’ve done.”
On his expectations for freshmen in their first spring scrimmage
“They’re in a progression to get to where they need to by opening weekend, by week three, by week five. It’s a constant progression for those guys. My expectations for the young guys today is to go out and compete extremely hard, right? Play as hard as you possibly can every single snap. It’s not going to be perfect. You’re going to learn. They’ve learned for seven days out on the practice field. (The scrimmage) is as real as it’s going to be, as far as gameday operation and how to compete and function in that arena. They’re not going to be perfect. Continue to progress, don’t make the same mistake twice, now you’re putting yourself in a position to grow and be ready to compete when we get to the season. This will be a huge day, a huge opportunity. This afternoon, it’s a big afternoon for us as a program, but it’s a big afternoon for those young guys too. It’s an opportunity to sit back and look and learn just what a game situation looks like, and how to function and operate in it.”
On Hendon Hooker’s scrimmage performance
“I thought he was really good. He was really efficient, effective, handled the operation side of it extremely well. He’s been in really good command of what we’re doing offensively, keeping us out of bad plays (and) bad situations. He’s turning the negatives into zero, been decisive getting the ball out of his hands. He’s in complete command of what we’re doing on the offensive side of the ball. Run game, pass game and protections as well. I’m really pleased with his progress through spring ball, but even after spring ball to where he is now. He did some really great things out there today. Yesterday, he had a great day too. I love where he’s at. Keep fighting, be ready for week one, and go be your best.”
More From RTI: Heupel’s Biggest Takeaways From Scrimmage One
On the defensive line’s performance
“(I saw) some guys that have grown. Omari (Thomas) is somebody that has leadership traits and has grown as a player. He’s grown in his leadership ability to control an entire group. Tyler Baron has taken huge strides in those same areas—his accountability every single day, toughness and strength. His best football is still ahead of him. I’m really proud of the strides that he’s made. That defensive line group will be deeper than we were a year ago, which is important to us as a program. We have some young guys in that room that we feel like are going to have to help us. They’re going to have to go earn it here on the back half of training camp and before we get to week one. It’s important that those leaders inside of that room, the guys that you were mentioning, do a great job of pushing and coaching those guys. This football team is so different than a year ago, where players are helping and coaching each other. That’s in the defensive line group where you see that, but that’s at every position too.”
On if the team had short yardage success in the scrimmage and the team’s pass rush
“We did do some situational football with everybody on both sides of the football, offense and defense. There was some emphasis that we put offensively for what they were looking for on some defensive looks—structure or whatever it might be—and vice versa. We were able to get some of that. I thought offensively, they picked up the short-yardage situations and were more efficient in what we’re doing. Obviously, that’s going to be critical to us offensively. A year ago, some of the struggles that we had in some of the games where we didn’t play our best, the short-yardage situations were a huge part of that, not being able to get that next first down and get to the next set of downs. Defensively, red zone defense has been an emphasis for us. I thought that was something that, today, they did a better job in. It’s a point of emphasis as we’ve gone through training camp, and it will continue to be on the back half of camp as well.”
On if Kamal Hadden scrimmaged
“Kamal (Hadden) did not get work today. We’re deeper in the secondary too. You guys have seen that out at practice, just in pure number of bodies that we have compared to a year ago, but (also) athletic movement, traits, skillset, all of that. That group has been purposeful. They compete with each other in an extremely positive way. There are pieces that can move, guys that are playing nickel that can move back and vice-versa. We have some versatility there. We’ll play more guys than we did a year ago. I think that will help us be better in the long run. Great competition here on the back half. I’m looking forward to watching a little bit of that here as they get upstairs this afternoon and watching how they functioned in the scrimmage.”