KNOXVILLE—The Vols took the field Tuesday morning for the fifth time under Butch Jones and showed obvious improvement from practice one. It’s abundantly clear the players are starting to grasp the expectations the coaching staff has for them and they are acclimating to the pace of practice. Every time a player is asked about a member of the coaching staff they describe them as “detailed” or “intense” and the team as a whole is doing a much better job of paying close attention to the small things while playing at a fast pace.
“I thought today was probably our best overall practice of the spring. Obviously it is very early, but I really like the mental effort, the mental intensity, the focus of our team. I was really waiting to see how we would respond on a Tuesday after a long Saturday practice. There is still a lot of work to do, but for the first time I could see some things coming together in terms of swarming to the football,” Jones said in his post-practice remarks.
Though the offense showed some improvement from Saturday’s scrimmage, the defense retained the orange jerseys and won the practice. The offense continues to install new plays and sets while the defense is playing a familiar scheme (the defense has worked on nickel sets almost exclusively), so this shouldn’t be any cause for alarm for Vol fans.
Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman split first team reps in practice, but it looks as if Worley has a slight lead in the race at this point; however, that lead is razor thin and this is still anyone’s job. While both players have looked good at times, Worley has made fewer mistakes and shown some surprising athleticism with his ability to make plays outside the pocket.
This battle won’t be decided anytime soon, and both players have shown the tools necessary to lead the offense. Don’t expect either QB to lose the job, one will have to step up and make plays more consistently in order to establish a lead in the race heading into the Orange and White Game.
At running back, Marlin Lane is showing more explosiveness than he has in the past. His ability to make one cut and get upfield quickly has been impressive, and he looks to have a small lead over Rajion Neal coming out of practice five. This is one position where No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart won’t have much significance on the field; both Neal and Lane should each get a healthy number of carries this season.
The receivers and tight ends are the least experienced units on this team…and that shows. They have talent and drive, but still have serious work to do. Neither group has been very consistent thus far and no one has shown the ability to make plays every practice. Cody Blanc recorded some huge catches in Saturday’s scrimmage and will definitely see the field this season, while Devrin Young also caught several big passes Saturday. In 1-on-1 drills today, Young absolutely scorched several defensive backs. While he has some fundamental and technique work to do, he’s picking up the position quickly and will be difficult to keep off the field.
Jacob Carter, Vincent Dallas, Cody Blanc, Paul Harris, Drae Bowles, Devrin Young, Jason Croom, and Pig Howard have all shown the ability to contribute, but each needs to show more consistency before they’re awarded a starting spot. Jones said about his receivers, “It’s a very, very young position. Not very many of these individuals have played. We have positional changes there. It’s a process by which the style and manner that we want to play, but I do see strides; I do see progress being made.”
At tight end, Brendan Downs remains the likely starter, but he too needs to show a regular ability to run sharp routes and catch the football.
JUCO defensive back Riyahd Jones is getting first team repetitions at cornerback and it’d be surprising if he doesn’t hold a starting corner spot when Austin Peay rolls into town to kickoff the season. He has shown the physicality to match up with bigger receivers, the speed to cover smaller wideouts, and the explosiveness to break to the ball in zone coverage.
The Vols will practice again Thursday morning before taking next week off for spring break. We’ll be there to keep you updated.
Notes: Eric Gordon did not practice with the team. He is attending class and taking care of some off the field issues. Daniel Gray did not practice either. He has asthma and woke up with an attack Tuesday morning. He was held out as a precaution.
Quotes: “I go in everyday and watch my technique, what I’m doing, and that’s the thing I gotta work on most. My press technique, it’s getting better each and every day. I want to get better. I want to get better. I’m not satisfied yet. I won’t be satisfied until I’m satisfying coach Martinez to the full extent.”–Riyahd Jones
On if this offense will utilize his experience as a receiver, ”I think so but I’m not gonna lie I do not want to be a receiver. As much running as they’re doing, the stuff they’ve been asked to do, all I can do is pray for them and wish them luck because they got a big task on their hands.”–Rajion Neal
“I’ve kicked the best (this spring) since I’ve been here. I feel real confident. Maybe that comes with age and experience but coach Jones has really helped me with distractions. I’ve made huge strides in the offseason in terms of confidence. Coach Lawson as done a great job with the strength program. I’m a lot stronger than I ever have been. Coach Lawson has done a good job of building up strength and maintaining flexibility and that’s been my main worry this offseason was being flexible. The injuries are no more and I hope it stays that way. My hips aren’t tight anymore. My back isn’t tight anymore and my hamstrings aren’t tight. For the past couple years they have been. It’s (Lawson’s conditioning program) benefitted me a lot.”–Michael Palardy
“I feel confident in my thought process as I’m backpedaling, my backpedal as a whole, and just playing DB. I’m confident in playing DB.”–Riyahd Jones
“Cody (Blanc) is an individual who continues to get better. The biggest thing is he brings a level of consistency each and every day. He’s fairly new to the position. He’s taking coaching. He’s doing a great job. He made some big plays for us Saturday. Now it’s carrying that over to Tuesday, and Thursday–just that consistency in performance.”–Butch Jones
“Coach Gillespie is no joke. No joke. Very detailed. He really stresses the little things.”–Rajion Neal
“He (Jones) is promoting competition. Every rep counts, that’s what he preaches to us. Every rep counts. From 1-on-1, to pass rush, to team (drills). Everything counts and at the end of the day whoever wins… we get to keep the orange jersey. It’s making us take a lot of pride in who’s winning those reps.”–Byron Moore
“Practice is a lot more intense, a lot faster, it’s just more live. Coach Jones has the offense running a fast pace offense, and defense has to be moving just to get back to the ball and run to the ball. We are getting used to it. The first day was pretty tough.”–Riyahd Jones
“Right now we’re buying in to what they’re (the coaches) doing. They said they have a lot more plays to install…but we’re just trying to buy in and perfect the plays we have installed right now.”–Ja’Wuan James
“I told the offense to take a picture in their orange jersey Saturday because it was going to be the last time they wear them for the spring. Have fun in the white.”–Byron Moore
“Obviously to play an uptempo style you have to live it everyday. I don’t like walking on the field. So it’s a mindset. You have to condition the mind to play the way we want to play and it all starts in practice. We want to be physical, make no mistake about it. For us to take strides this year with this football team we have to be a much more physical football team.”–Butch Jones
“Guys are really excited to be back out there. The defense is a lot more physical than they were. They’re simplifying the defense and letting them go play.”–Rajion Neal
“He (Jones) comes around the defense a lot. He tells us all the time that he’s an offensive coach but he knows defense wins championships so he’s going to make sure our defense has that mentality they we’re going to carry the team, and we’re going to be a physical team, and we’re going to set the tone of the team.”–Byron Moore