Freshman linebacker Dillon Bates gets set for a drill during Tennessee's practice on Tuesday.Photo by Patrick Brown
KNOXVILLE — After poor practices on Sunday and Monday drew the ire of head coach Butch Jones, Tennessee appeared to be a sharper, more focused football team during the early parts of Tuesday's practice.
The introduction of full pads and actual live football might have helped the Volunteers.
Tennessee didn't wait long to amp up the contact on a steamy Tuesday afternoon at Haslam Field, as the Vols went into some 1-on-1 end zone work, pass skeleton and hitting drills during the open period of practice.
Here's some notes and observations from those portions of practice.
• Immediately after stretching, Jones summoned for the Vols to gather around one end of the defensive field and called for the receivers and tight ends to face off against the defensive backs in a series of 1-on-1 matchups.
Justin Coleman started off the session by knocking the ball from Marquez North's hands to earn a point for the defense, and Von Pearson leapt above Cam Sutton to answer for the offense. Josh Smith, who's had a strong start to camp, beat Malik Foreman on a slant for a score.
Cornerback D'Andre Payne made a play against the much larger Jason Croom, and five-star freshman Josh Malone beat Riyahd Jones for a score.
Safety Brian Randolph had the play of the day for the secondary, knocking freshman tight end Ethan Wolf off his route before stepping in front of the pass for an interception. Wolf bounced back, though, beating Curt Maggitt off the line to catch a touchdown.
A.J. Johnson, the Vols' All-SEC linebacker, chased safety LaDarrell McNeil out of one rep to go up against A.J. Branisel and proceeded to throw the sophomore tight end to the turf.
• The pass skeleton -- or 7-on-7 drill, if you prefer -- provided a glimpse into who's where in the pecking order, particularly in a jumbled defensive backfield.
Justin Worley was the first quarterback up, and his only completion in four throws was a quick, wide throw to North. Randolph had a nice breakup of a pass intended for Pearson, as he came through the junior college transfer to knock the ball away. North just missed a long catch down the sideline on Worley's first throw.
Croom and Malone caught short passes from Josh Dobbs with the second group, and Payne excellently defended a deep ball intended for Croom. Among the second group defensively: Payne and Riyahd Jones at corner, Foreman at nickelback, McNeil and Lemond Johnson at safety and Dillon Bates and Kenny Bynum at linebacker.
• Safety Todd Kelly, cornerback Evan Berry and nickel linebacker Elliott Berry were among the true freshmen to rotate in with the third group.
• JuCo transfer Chris Weatherd spent some parts of practice working with the defensive line. Signed as a linebacker, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Weatherd may find it easier to find a role as an edge-rusher than at linebacker. He wasn't cleared to come to Tennessee until the middle of July and was the last member of Tennessee's 32-member 2014 recruiting class to arrive.
"He got here later than the other guys, so he was really behind the 8-ball when it comes to understanding the package and even offensive football," defensive coordinator John Jancek said after Sunday's practice. "He's got a lot of catching up to do, but athletically, he certainly looks the part."
• During a period it calls "Tennessee Tough," the Vols broke into one drill that had the defensive backs trying to tackle the receivers 1-on-1 in the open field. Coleman and freshman corner Emmanuel Moseley each bounced back after whiffing twice to make stops, and Kelly delivered a nice hit that briefly knocked the ball from freshman wideout Ryan Jenkins' grip. Randolph and Pearson stood out.
• There was a brief disagreement, if you will, during that drill. Receiver Drae Bowles had won his rep when safety Geraldo Orta came up and gave him a little bump. The two players, primarily special-teamers, faced each other and began pushing and shoving until teammates stepped in and separated them. Such flare-ups are common during preseason practices.
• There were a few players that seemed limited, or were standing to the side of drills with their helmets off. Receiver Pig Howard, who appeared dehydrated or overheated on Monday, was one of those, along with redshirt freshman guard Austin Sanders and freshman tailback Derrell Scott. Linebacker Gavin Bryant and defensive Jakob Johnson, both freshmen, didn't participate in parts of the Vols' stretching period.
More coverage online and in Wednesday's Times Free Press.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...