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Tennessee Football Notes And Observations: Spring Practice Number One

Photo By Ryan Schumpert/RTI

Tennessee football began spring practice on Monday morning, working inside the Anderson Training Center on a cold March morning.

The Vols were in helmets and no other pads while practice was only open to the media for three periods —roughly 20 minutes— so there were only so many takeaways to glean. But the first availability of the spring gave us our first look at newcomers.

Here’s our notes and observations from practice the Vols’ first spring practice.


Let’s start with a role call. Receivers Bru McCoy and Nathan Leacock were both out on the field but weren’t wearing helmets and were doing work off to the side wants the Vols’ began the drill portion of practice.

McCoy will be out for the entirety of spring practice as he continues to rehab the leg injury that ended his 2023 season but it was a good sign to see him out on the field being mobile. Tennessee had a handful of offensive lineman sidelined for the opening practice of the spring. Masai Reddick was in a sling while both Javontez Spraggins and Andrej Karic were working off to the side. Early enrollee running back Peyton Lewis was not going through running back drills.

For Tennessee’s quarterback room, redshirt freshman Nico Iamaleava was running the show which was no surprise. In a short routes on air portion, Iamalaeava was accurate with the football.

The pecking order at quarterback was Iamalaeava, Gaston Moore, Navy Shuler, Ryan Damron and then early enrollee freshman Jake Merklinger. I’m not ready anything into Merklinger working last in drills to start the spring as he’s the youngest quarterback in the room.

Tennessee offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach Joey Halzle was working with Merklinger on his footwork after a rep.

The routes on air portion was mostly short routes with outside receivers running short hitches and slants and the tight ends and slot receivers working on seam routes. Both Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell II and Kaleb Webb dropped passes but other than that it was a solid routes on air portion of practice.

Early enrollee freshman receiver Mike Matthews looked the part in our short first look at him. Fellow early enrollee receiver Braylon Staley was shorter than I expected but also very quick. Will be fun to watch the duo over the course of the rest of the spring.

One final offensive note, LSU offensive tackle Lance Heard is a mountain of a man. It’s easy to see why he was such a big recruit coming out of high school and again in the portal.

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Let’s start with the injury report which was much shorter on this side of the ball, junior linebacker Elijah Herring and senior defensive back Christian Charles were working off to the side.

Talented sophomore linebacker Arion Carter was going through drills on the practice field but didn’t have his helmet on during the portion of practice I was watching.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner was in full gear barking at his unit after turning down an offer to return to his alma mater Auburn earlier this offseason.

Sophomore defensive lineman Daevin Hobbs has beefed up a bit since the end of last season and could be a guy due for a breakout season. Stanford transfer Jaxson Moi looks big and should provide a big boost to Tennessee’s defensive tackle depth.

One guy who was full go working through drills was super senior linebacker Keenan Pili. Pili missed the entire season with an injury he suffered in the Virginia game but he is full go to start the spring. He’s the elder statesman and leader in the inside linebacker room.

Sophomore linebacker Jeremiah Telander has slimmed down a bit entering the spring. He and Arion Carter will get an abundance of opportunities this spring especially with Herring currently sidelines.

In the defensive backfield, MTSU transfer Jakobe Thomas was leading the way in drills for the safety group. Junior defensive back Christian Harrison was working with the safeties to open spring practice.

I’ve been as high on Oregon State corner transfer Jermod McCoy as nearly anyone in Tennessee’s transfer class and he looked the part on the opening day of spring practice.

We’ll get a longer look tomorrow as we get to watch nine period of practice.

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