Vols hold first scrimmage of Heupel era; next practice open to fans

Tennessee Athletics photo / Brian Maurer competed in Tennessee's first scrimmage Thursday inside Neyland Stadium along with fellow quarterback competitors Harrison Bailey and Virginia Tech graduate transfer Hendon Hooker.

So, who won the first scrimmage of the Josh Heupel era?

Heupel didn't declare a victor Thursday evening, but the first-year Tennessee football coach has an open invitation for his offensive and defensive players to clash with the shared goal of seizing the day.

"We're going to go good on good, and we're going to make sure that we're challenging them to compete with each other every single day," Heupel said on a Zoom call after the Neyland Stadium scrimmage represented the seventh of 15 spring workouts allotted by the NCAA. "That's out on the practice field. That's in the strength and conditioning arena. Part of our foundation is going to be that competition.

"Who won and who lost? I don't have the scoreboard from that side of it today. I know there were a bunch of plays made by both sides of the football with each group, and there were also some things that were glaring that we've got to get corrected. We're learning how to have winning habits inside of a program, and we're getting rid of a bunch of habits that aren't going to help us win."

Heupel did give his defense the early edge due to its energy and physical play but said the offense by the midway mark was blocking better and creating vertical seams for the running backs. He estimated 85% of the scrimmage contained "full-throttle" tackling before that was adjusted late when the third-team units collided.

No players were singled out for their performances, but Heupel did explain how quarterbacks Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker and Brian Maurer have been handled to this point.

"We've gone from day to day in practice with each quarterback being designated to run with the ones, twos or threes on that day," he said. "When you get into the scrimmage, it's a little bit different. They basically rotated through, getting a set with the ones, the twos and then the threes.

"When it got late in the scrimmage, we kind of based everything off play count and got those guys close to evening out, but I thought all three of them did a good job of managing the game. Their communication was good, not great, and they pushed the tempo."

Tennessee's eighth spring practice is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10, and it will be open to the public at no charge.

"It will be pretty close to what we go through on a typical day," Heupel said. "Our guys are going to have an opportunity to meet tomorrow and hopefully learn a bunch from what they saw today and have an urgency in making those corrections. On Saturday, we have an opportunity to go out and get one day better."

All fans will be asked to enter through Neyland's Gate 21, which will open at 9:15. Face coverings are required upon entry and when moving throughout the stadium, and social distancing in lower seating levels will be enforced.

Should inclement weather result in the practice taking place indoors, it would then be closed to the public.

Odds and ends

Heupel did not have any eligibility updates on linebacker Aaron Beasley, who was suspended earlier this week for alleged animal cruelty, or the suspended quartet of quarterback Kaidon Salter, defensive tackle Isaac Washington and linebackers Martavius French and Aaron Willis, who were arrested early last month on misdemeanor drug charges. "I feel like we're getting closer to knowing some of those things as it goes through the appropriate channels," Heupel said. ... Heupel on his inside linebackers: "It's a group that doesn't have a ton of experience, but it's a group that continues to compete and work hard. We're growing in that area, and it's a position that needs to come on for us to be who we're capable of being when we get to the fall."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.