Evan Berry stands out in UT Vols' scrimmage

Alvin Kamara, left, talks with Evan Berry during practice March 31, 2015, at Haslam Field in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE -- The crunching tackle to blow up a screen pass wasn't enough for Evan Berry.

Tennessee's rising sophomore safety decided he needed to follow up that play with an interception.

Berry added a second pickoff later in the Volunteers' first spring scrimmage at Neyland Stadium to draw praise from head coach Butch Jones for his performance.

"It's been a work in progress," Jones said after the scrimmage. "There's been good days; there's been days that have been better than others. One thing about Evan is he's extremely competitive. You saw that today.

"We all know he can run. Now it's being able to have the instincts, understanding offensive schemes and what they're trying to approach and just letting it go. I thought today he played downhill."

The younger brother of former Tennessee All-America safety Eric Berry made his biggest impact as a freshman last season on special teams, where he handled kickoff-return duties and played on multiple coverage units.

The 5-foot-11, 199-pounder appears to be coming along fine at safety, too, as the Vols take it easy and limit the repetitions of presumed veteran starters Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil this spring.

After knifing through blockers and delivering a form tackle on the ball carrier on the second play of the second-team offense and defense's first series of Saturday's scrimmage, Berry, while defending a tight end on a corner route, snagged an interception of quarterback Quinten Dormady.

"He's a little wide-eyed sometimes," Randolph said, "but once he gets it going, he looks just like his brother."

Center of attention

The last time Jashon Robertson could remember playing center was as a 7-year-old in a basic wing-T offense.

Thus getting some work there is basically new for the rising sophomore, who was an All-SEC freshman-team selection after starting every game at right guard last season.

"I've enjoyed playing center very much," he said. "My reps are going to increase next week, and I'm looking forward to it. I've been enjoying it so far."

Robertson probably won't move from guard, where he seems to have a very promising future, by the time the season rolls around, but the Vols like their offensive linemen to be versatile and be able to play multiple positions.

"I wanted to do whatever the coaches want me to do," Robertson said. "If they told me, 'Look, we need you to work at right tackle,' even though I'm 6-foot-3 on a good day, I'd still do my best.

"Whatever they want is what I want -- whatever the team needs."

Sanders surging

Former Bradley Central High School standout Austin Sanders continues to get first-team work at left guard, the position vacated by rising fifth-year senior starter Marcus Jackson, who's out this spring following shoulder surgery.

The 6-5, 311-pounder got the most extensive action of his career when Jackson went down in the second half of last season's loss to Ole Miss. After injuries hampered him late in the season, Sanders is getting an excellent opportunity to develop.

Jones said Sanders is "showing great progress" this spring.

"I thought he had his best practice on Thursday," the coach said. "Where Austin gets himself in some challenging situations is when he starts to play high in his pad level. He's worked very, very hard on playing low, and everything in football is about a foundation, it's about a football position, it's about a base and it's a pad level. It's a leverage game.

"He's worked really hard on his leverage, and you can see him making great strides in terms of that."

Hungry like Wolf

Jones said rising sophomore tight end Ethan Wolf, who caught 23 passes for 212 yards as a freshman in 2014, turned in his "best performance" of the spring Saturday.

"He did some really productive and good things in the run game, allowing some big runs to hit, but also ball skills, there was a number of times where the ball was thrown behind him and he was able to make the catch," the coach said.

"Ethan continues to progress, but he's still a youngster. He's added the strength. Not a finished product, but I like his mentality, I like his effort and I thought today he had his best performance."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.