Up-Tempo Pace In Full Force During Vols' First Preseason Scrimmage

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Tennessee football completed its first scrimmage of preseason camp on Tuesday morning in Neyland Stadium as the Volunteers worked multiple situations in nearly 100 plays.

An up-tempo offense was in full effect during the live, full-padded scrimmage that saw sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker toss multiple touchdowns, including one to tight end Jacob Warren.

"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)," head coach Josh Heupel said. "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."

Redshirt senior linebacker Jeremy Banks, coming off a 2021 season in which he ranked second in the SEC with 128 total tackles, continues to have an outstanding offseason and preseason. Banks intercepted a pass on Tuesday against the first-team offense.

"Jeremy Banks had a big pick out in the flat," Heupel said. "(He) 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."

Heupel liked what he has seen from the running backs this preseason led by junior Jabari Small and true freshmen Dylan Sampson and Justin Williams-Thomas.

"Jabari did a really good job today, ran extremely well," Heupel said. "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."

Tennessee will be off on Wednesday before going through four consecutive days of practices beginning on Thursday. The second full week of preseason camp culminates with the Volunteers' second scrimmage on Sunday morning.

Head Coach Josh Heupel 
 
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 turnovers being a factor in Tuesday's 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 what he saw from Jabari Small in the scrimmage and who else stood out at running back… 
"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 who stepped up at receiver during the scrimmage… 
"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 the latest update on Jaylen Wright… 
"For him, I don't think it's falling behind. I thought his spring, he was a much better football player than he was last fall. He's had a really good summer. Hasn't been able to get a ton of work here in the early part of training camp. He's mentally engaged, doing a really great job of coaching guys when he's in the back. I think he's continued to grow as a player. Obviously, we want to get him some physical work before we get to week one, for sure. At the same time, I think it's a balance to make sure he's healthy for as long as possible here when we get to the stretch of the season." 
 
On the addition of Lyn-J Dixon to the running back room… 
"With Len'Neth (Whitehead) being out for the season because of injury, felt like it was important that we continue to try to look for and add another body in that room if there was one available that fit what we're going to need. Since he's gotten in, he's in a race to understand and learn what we're doing as fast as he possibly can. He's been able to flash in some of our situational stuff that we've done. For him to go out and operate and function in everything that we're doing right now, he's probably not at that point. But I've been really pleased with the effort that he's put into it. He's competed in a really good way out there on the practice field and in the stadium. Looking forward to his progression here on the back half of training camp here as we push towards game week." 
 
On his expectation for newcomers in the first fall 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 his takeaways from the scrimmage… 
"There's a bunch of young guys, right? So, it's going to be different for every single one of them. 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." 
 
On what has stood out in the competition at left tackle… 
"Without going back to watch it, I would hate to comment on today. Overall, both of them (Jeremiah Crawford and Gerald Mincey) are highly competitive. They've progressed from where they were in spring ball. They've still got room to grow, and they've handled it the right way, the competition between those guys. We will need them all. We'll need those two, but we'll need them all up front. That's just the nature of the beast here in this league. You're not just competing against somebody else, although you are, right, but the competition's within yourself. I'm pleased with what they've done here in the first week of training camp." 
 
On eligibility updates for Bru McCoy and Lyn-J Dixon… 
"Lyn-J will be eligible. Don't have an update on (Bru)."

On if Lyn-J Dixon had a preexisting relationship with the coaching staff… 
"For us as a staff, not really, as far as a previous relationship. Obviously, he had a lot of familiarity with Tennessee if you look back at his recruitment. He has some experience playing at this level. His skillset, athletic ability, change of direction, his explosive long speed, all of those things are things that we need inside of that room. For those reasons, I felt like he was the right fit to bring in." 
 
On Hendon Hooker's performance in Tuesday's scrimmage… 
"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." 
 
On what he saw from the defensive line in Tuesday's scrimmage… 
"(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 he feels that the team has a better pass rush group than last season and if the offense did well in short-yardage situations… 
"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 pass rush from the front four… 
"I do think we're further and deeper than we were a year ago. We're not where we need to be or where I want to be. The veterans inside of our program have continued to get better. Byron YoungTyler Baron, those guys have made significant increases from where they were when we stepped off the football field in the bowl game. We have some young guys inside of our program that feel like if they keep growing and competing, have a chance to help us as we get into the season. We need those guys to come on." 
 
On outside receivers opposite Cedric Tillman… 
"I feel like Ramel (Keyton) has done some positive things. Walker Merrill has been out there and made some plays, operated really efficiently. Bru (McCoy) has done some really good things in some of our practices. That's a point of competition here still on the back half of training camp. We have to have multiple guys step up, and certainly would like to have at least one of them to step up and grab a hold of that position." 
 
On Kamal Hadden and the cornerbacks coming along… 
"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." 
 


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