KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Butch Jones said the Vols “grew up” as they took part in their first scrimmage of camp.
"Nice warm evening, great, great day today," said Jones after he put the Vols through the nearly 2-hour scrimmage under the lights at Neyland Stadium. "I liked our approach for this football team, I thought we grew up a little bit, I thought we matured a little bit. It started with our approach this morning with a lot of special teams work and just overall fundamental improvement.
Tonight, anytime you get the chance to scrimmage in Neyland Stadium, is very special."
Jones puts a lot of emphasis on the mental side of the game and he was happy with the team's approach.
"I liked our mindset. We're slowly learning how to practice as a football team. Still a lot of mistakes, penalties, turning the football over, but I liked the way we competed,” he said.
Jones added, "It's going to be a great evaluation tool for us as coaches. We'll go back now and look at the film and see who's game-ready. We'll see who can execute and make plays in our system. The great thing was, our coaches were off the field, so they had to think for themselves, they had to play football. We'll know more in the next couple of days who's game-ready and what individuals need to step up just overall knowledge of our schemes.”
The team’s effort certainly caught Jones’ attention.
"The big thing for us is our overall effort," he said. "Effort can make you right when you're wrong and our younger players are really struggling with that right now. They have so much going on with deciphering the signals and the calls and getting lined up and playing with their technique and executing heir assignment, then playing with effort. As we know, effort is the cornerstone of our program, so our freshman class is very, very behind in that. This will be a great tool to go in and watch their effort. I'm pleased overall with our football team in their mentality."
The Vols offensive unit received nothing short of a live-game simulation tonight, running roughly 90 plays over the course of their first scrimmage. Among the offensive unit, the running backs group split reps and showcased a drastically lower run style, along with solid position depth and a detailed understanding of the playbook according to Jones.
"It was some big runs," said Jones. "I think Jalen Hurd continues to get better and better and better. So we did some good things. And we have really stressed the importance of negative yardage football plays, you can't have them on offense but again on defense you have to generate them. Great teaching moments."
For freshman running back Hurd, the scrimmage was a much-needed practice experience, as it was his group's first time to collaborate with the O-line in a full, game-like environment at Neyland Stadium.
"[The offensive line] did really, really good," said Hurd. "There are still things that, of course, we need to work on but you know, as a team, I thought we did really well tonight."
Along with the chance to play off of live blocks, tonight provided the entire offense with game reps and rotations at every position. For Hurd, it was an opportunity to continue working alongside senior Marlin Lane, who shared time with him in the matchup.
"He's a great leader. You know, I look up to him a lot," said Hurd. "I look at his running style and we feed off of each other. We work really good together and I think our whole running back group works really hard and we push each other every day.
"The team came out with a fast-paced tempo and Coach Jones always talks about one day. And today we were really focused on this one scrimmage," added Hurd. "We came out and we played really good as a team and I think the future is looking really good for us."
BARNETT DRAWS RAVE REVIEWS
Freshman defensive lineman Derek Barnett continues to earn glowing recognition from the Vols coaching staff. A day after defensive line coach Steve Stripling called him a “boy wonder,” Jones continued to sing his praises.
"Derek Barnett is an individual who continues to show up," Jones said. "He has worked himself into a role in this football team. Now I will go back and I will see exactly where he is at because he had to play in some extended drives."
Jones made special note of the Brentwood Academy product for his performance through nine practices.
"Of all the young individuals right now on the defensive front," said Jones. "Derek Barnett is the one who is really standing out right now."
ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATION FOR DEFENSE
Defensive back Brian Randolph saw many improvements and positive takeaways from the defensive unit following the first team scrimmage.
"One of the main things that stood out to me is that everybody is getting to the ball," Randolph said. "There are a lot of opportunity plays coming from getting to the ball. Everyone is swarming. Everyone got the call on defense. There weren't many blown coverages in the backend."
Jones, although not completely satisfied, was excited that the defense prevented the offense from some big plays.
One major play from the defense came from Lemond Johnson, who recovered a fumble in the end zone after the offense drove down the field. Prior to that play, the offense had been coming up with big plays.
"He had a big hit on the goal line," Randolph said. "That showed that our defense had pride. We never gave up. 98 yards and two more yards to go and we didn't give up until the end."
Randolph says their biggest improvement over the first week of camp has been communication among the group while on the field.
"Earlier this week we had bad communication. We pretty much got that corrected today."
LOADS OF RECEIVING OPTIONS
As is the case with many position groups on the Vol roster, the wide receiver group finds itself with a shortage of veterans, and a surplus of promising young talent. One of those veterans is Josh Smith, who as sophomore, has been thrust into the role of a leader of the Vols young receiving corps.
The added depth of new players has been a welcome addition, according to Smith.
"We have so much potential. All those young guys coming in, it's a healthy competition," Smith said. "Josh (Malone), Von (Pearson), and Vic (Wharton), we're all pushing each other to get better each and every day. "
The receiving corps is not the only part of the passing attack that stands to improve from the added depth of new talent and more experienced veterans.
The new and improved tight end group also stands make a major impact in the Vols' passing game.
"It helps a lot because [they give] us a little different dynamics in the game," Smith said of the Volunteer tight ends. "It brings height, power. It gives us a little break because they're making plays, and it's awesome because they have so much depth and so much talent. So it's big."
While the new players have received most of the spotlight in camp, Smith also likes what he sees from the veterans of the passing attack, naming senior wide receiver Jacob Carter as the group's best route runner and brightest player.
"Jacob is the smartest," Smith said. "And he might not be the fastest guy, but he'll run the route just how you want it."
FRESHMAN RUNNING BACK JALEN HURD
»(On playing under the lights inside Neyland Stadium)
"It was amazing. I did this in the spring a few times and coming back out here and playing on this field is always awesome."
» (On what he feels he and the offense have improved upon)
"I'm definitely getting my reads down, naturally running the ball and getting used to it. Getting the tempo of the game and stuff like that. We are definitely picking up the tempo. I'm getting into a lot more shape and like I said, we're coming out here and busting our tails. The more we work, the more we get out of
SOPHOMORE QUARTERBACK JOSHUA DOBBS
(On what needs to be improved)
"Just consistency. When we come out and have a good day we need to follow it up with another good day. So just to continue to add on to the good things we do going forward."
»(On the freshmen class)
"It's crazy to see how fast the time was flown. It feels like I just got here a week ago. I've already been here for a year. Watching them and seeing them grow every day, they're definitely making improvements and making huge strides. I'm very proud of them. They have a ways to go before the first game but I'm extremely excited moving forward."
SOPHOMORE QUARTERBACK NATHAN PETERMAN
(On current state of confidence)
"I think my confidence is always high. I think as a quarterback you have to have a high confidence level, or else you're not going to be very effective. So I always try to stay confident in my abilities and just go out there and have fun and play."
» (On changing his mindset about football)
"When you get hurt, and you've got six weeks off, you can kind of step back and really look at the game in a broad view sense of it. So getting that broad view and sense of the whole game kind of helped me to step back and really kind of internalize things and be like, `I need to go out there and just have fun.'"
SENIOR QUARTERBACK JUSTIN WORLEY
»(On notable moments from the scrimmage)
"We got in some third-and-long situations and fought our way back out of those. We converted on a one-minute situation, did some good things in some situational football style. So I'm excited with where we're at and the progression we can make."
» (On the standouts from the scrimmage)
"We brought in some young guys that can fly around.Emmanuel Moseley is playing really well out at corner right now. He's a tough guy to throw against, I'll tell you that, which is exciting. It's good to see the competition that he brings out for our wide receivers and things like that. I'm not knocking anyone else, but he's just a guy that's caught my eye so far."
» (On the improvement of defensive speed on team)
"Everybody stepped up. I'll tell you the offensive line did a great job picking up some odd looks that our defense has started to put in. Pig (Howard) had a couple of big catches,Josh Smith played well. Jalen Hurd, Marline Lane, Devrin Young all ran the ball well. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good night for the offense."
JUNIOR DEFENSIVE BACK BRIAN RANDOLPH
»(On wide receivers)
"They're definitely mote explosive without their brakes. They also don' tip off their routes as much as last year, so you never know what they're going to do. I say they're more dynamic this year."
»(On the pass rush)
"[Derek] Barnett stuck out to me. From play one to play five at the end of the drive, he was going 100 percent. He shows great effort, and he's always near the ball."
»(On Devaun Swafford)
""Swafford and I are very close, I feel like we work well together. He's a playmaker and has a lot of athletic abilities. It's fun playing back there with him."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)