Heupel praises Charles, Hyatt after Vols' first spring scrimmage

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5), receiver Jalin Hyatt (11), running back Jaylen Wright (20) and receiver Ramel Keyton (80) celebrate a play during Saturday's first spring scrimmage in Knoxville.

Tennessee conducted its first spring football scrimmage Saturday, reflecting the latest measuring stick to the crash-course chaos of last year.

Saturday marked the seventh of 15 spring workouts for the Volunteers.

"Obviously we're a year further ahead than where we were after the first scrimmage a year ago," coach Josh Heupel said in a news conference, "and you do try and compare where you were during each phase of the spring. There were not a lot of pre-snap issues on both sides of the football for the most part today, and I thought they were efficient in the way they communicated and were getting lined up.

"I thought our young guys actually handled the day pretty well, and there were competitive plays."

The scrimmage was closed to the media, and Heupel unloaded his share of generalities that are typical at this time of year - how there was "give and take" with the offense versus the defense and how he wanted to watch the film before singling out too many performances. Heupel did say that Marquarius "Squirrel" White, the freshman receiver from Birmingham, Alabama, had some big plays.

Asked specifically about the quarterbacks, Heupel said Hendon Hooker made nice decisions, Joe Milton extended some drives and that Tayven Jackson continues to progress.

"Nobody in our program can rest on anything," Heupel said. "What happened a year ago or a day ago or on the previous play, none of that matters. Being able to reset and compete the right way is something we're emphasizing with our entire roster, and for our young guys, this is a great opportunity to feel what the flow and the speed of the game is going to be like on game day.

"I expect them to make huge strides from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage, just like they have since we put pads on."

No position group is more improved in Knoxville compared to last spring than linebacker, where walk-ons and long snappers were being used a year ago due to the lack of depth.

"We've got a lot of guys who are back and played a ton of football last year and had good offseasons," Heupel said. "Their strength and size is showing up, and they have their eyes in better places as far as their keys. They're being more efficient with their movement, and they're doing a better job of defeating blocks and with block disruption, which is critical for us defensively.

"It's a group that has become more consistent in their behavior off the field and who they are."

The flip side to that, however, would be at cornerback due to several players nursing injuries this spring.

Heupel did offer praise to junior receiver Jalin Hyatt, who he said has made a "huge jump" since last year, and sophomore defensive back Christian Charles, who he said is "going to be a phenomenal leader inside our program." Charles played safety last season but has been needed at cornerback this spring.

Tennessee will resume practices Tuesday morning.

Odds and ends

Vols sixth-year senior defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus is dealing with a knee injury that could sideline him for the rest of spring but not affect his status for the fall. ... Gerald Mincey, the tackle transfer from Florida, did not scrimmage due to an ankle injury. ... Heupel said fifth-year senior punter Paxton Brooks has put on 12 pounds and is looking to regain the kickoff role he occupied from 2018-20 before losing it last season to Toby Wilson.

Tuscaloosa update

Alabama held its first scrimmage Saturday, with coach Nick Saban saying junior quarterback Bryce Young and the first-team offense moved the ball effectively and that two transfer portal additions, former Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs and former Georgia receiver Jermaine Burton, performed well.

Redshirt freshman Jalen Milroe is the Crimson Tide's backup quarterback, with midyear enrollee Ty Simpson from Martin, Tennessee, running the third team. Saban said on a Zoom call that Simpson is having a lot thrown at him but added, "We're not at all disappointed in the progress he's making."

Will Anderson, the standout junior outside linebacker, didn't scrimmage. Saban said that was by design.

"This team has been good," Saban said. "This team doesn't have any complainers."

And at Auburn

Auburn's 85-play scrimmage Saturday was its second of the spring.

The expected quarterback competition between T.J. Finley, who transferred from LSU after the 2020 season, and Zach Calzada, who transferred after this past season from Texas A&M, hasn't materialized in recent weeks due to Calzada battling a shoulder injury.

"Zach would be getting more reps, but he's limited," Tigers coach Bryan Harsin said in a news conference. "He's in the yellow jersey, and it's killing him. He wants to go out and play."

Robby Ashford, a transfer from Oregon, and midyear enrollee Holden Geriner also are vying at quarterback.

Because of injuries at specific positions, Harsin isn't sure whether next Saturday's A-Day game will consist of evenly split teams or an offense-versus-defense format.

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