Josh Heupel’s Big Takeaways From Tennessee’s First Fall Scrimmage

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    The Tennessee football team wrapped up their first scrimmage of the fall on Tuesday morning in Knoxville. The Vols headed out to Neyland Stadium for the scrimmage and wrapped up in the late morning.

    After the scrimmage, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel met with the media to discuss his immediate reactions and pre-film takeaways from the Vols’ morning.

    “Really good day out there, back and forth between both sides of the ball,” Heupel said. “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.”

    When asked what wide receivers stood out to him on Tuesday, Heupel named two players from the slot position. With former Tennessee slot receiver Velus Jones Jr now in the NFL, Tennessee will need to replace that production at that position this season.

    “Today, without going back and watching all the tape, Jimmy Calloway and Jalin Hyatt both did some really good things in the slot,” Heupel said. “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.”

    Jalin Hyatt

    KNOXVILLE, TN – Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt at the Vols’ fall camp practice. Photo via Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

    If the receivers are doing well, it must also mean that some quarterback on the roster is effectively getting them the ball. Fortunately for Tennessee, Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker is continuing to progress along and perform as the leader of the Tennessee team.

    “I thought he was really good,” Heupel said about Hooker on Tuesday. “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.”

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    Tuesday’s scrimmage was also the first opportunity for the Tennessee newcomers to take the field inside Neyland Stadium. Tennessee brought in 23 players from the class of 2022 and eight players from the transfer portal since the end of the 2021 regular season

    “There’s a bunch of young guys, right? So, it’s going to be different for every single one of them,” Heupel said about the freshmen in their first scrimmage. “You’re going to find out a lot more as you watch on the tape. The young guys inside of our program, I’ve been really pleased with their effort, their attention to detail, their want-to, their ability to learn, their ability to be coached. I love the culture of those young guys. We’ve got to keep accelerating a bunch of them in all three phases of the game.”

    From a defensive perspective, Heupel said he was pleased with the effort. Linebacker Jeremy Banks recorded an interception during the scrimmage. Additionally, Heupel said that the Tennessee defense had some good situational reads and was able to get some stops and force some field goals in the red zone.

    Heupel also specifically spoke about the Vols’ defensive line room.

    “(I saw) some guys that have grown,” Heupel said. “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.”

    The Tennessee football team and head coach Josh Heupel will continue to work through training camp in August, leading to the season-opener on Sept. 1 against Ball State in Neyland Stadium.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.