Heupel describes second scrimmage as 'great day' for Vols

Tennessee Athletics photo / Former junior-college transfer JJ Crawford, shown in Tennessee's win over Vanderbilt last November, is battling Florida transfer Gerald Mincey for the starting job at left tackle.

Tennessee's starting opportunity at left tackle is coming into a little more focus following Sunday's second preseason scrimmage inside Neyland Stadium.

What began earlier this month as a competition among Jeremiah "JJ" Crawford, Dayne Davis and Gerald Mincey appears to be down to Crawford and Mincey or a combination of those two. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Crawford played in 10 of 13 games for the Volunteers last season after arriving from Butler (Kansas) Community College, while the 6-6, 337-pound Mincey transferred from Florida last December on the heels of vying in 10 contests for the Gators.

"Those guys are continuing to compete, and that's not going to stop after today," Vols second-year coach Josh Heupel said during a news conference. "That will happen all the way up to kickoff, and I anticipate both of them playing during the course of a football game throughout the season and certainly in week one.

"Who gets the majority of that and what the breakdown is we'll continue to evaluate."

Crawford played 135 offensive snaps at either right or left tackle last year, including a season-high 31 at right tackle in the Music City Bowl. The senior from Goddard, Kansas, also served on Tennessee's field goal and extra point teams.

Mincey, a redshirt sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, played 49 snaps last season without allowing a sack or committing a penalty.

"Both of them have made a bunch of progress from spring ball and really since the beginning of training camp in understanding what we're doing offensively in the run game - playing with better pad level and being able to create some movement up front - and both have taken major strides in the pass pro side of it, too," Heupel said. "I feel like both of those guys are continuing to progress as they should."

Heupel added that the plan remains to keep last year's left tackle, 6-6, 335-pound senior Darnell Wright, at right tackle.

The second scrimmage for the Vols was also the 12th preseason practice. They will be off Monday before resuming Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It was a great day," Heupel said. "It's always good to get inside of the stadium here. It was a big day for our players and staff and a great day, too, because we had a bunch of families here to share in the scrimmage.

"I thought there were a bunch of positives. We played cleaner on both sides of the football and tackled better in space compared to our first scrimmage, but I know there will be things we need to clean up, too."

Can't have enough

Tennessee's running back contingent contains junior Jabari Small, sophomore Jaylen Wright, senior transfer Lyn-J Dixon, and freshmen Dylan Sampson and Justin Williams-Thomas. Wright has been sidelined in camp, which is why Heupel isn't putting a limit on how many backs will see action this season.

"At times we had to play five last year, so everybody has to be ready," he said. "As we continue here on the back half of training camp and before we get to game week, those guys are having to prove that we can trust them, whether that's with the ball in their hands, taking care of the football or understanding what we're doing offensively.

"The two young guys in particular, I think, have grown throughout the course of training camp in terms of where their eyes are and understanding protections, but we're going to need a bunch of guys at that position this year."

photo Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Milton throws to freshman running back Justin Williams-Thomas during Sunday's second preseason scrimmage.

Better decisions

Heupel expressed Sunday that backup quarterback Joe Milton has displayed a good presence through two scrimmages.

"He's been a better decision-maker and has a better command of what we're doing offensively," he said. "He's taken the strides you would hope and think he needs to take. He has taken better care of the football.

"There is a bunch left out there for him, and you guys know he's got the arm talent to make some really special throws."

Gibson commits

Tennessee picked up the 20th commitment for the 2023 signing cycle Sunday, landing a nonbinding pledge from three-star cornerback Rickey Gibson. The 6-foot, 171-pounder from the Birmingham suburb of Trussville is the nation's No. 43 cornerback and No. 461 prospect overall in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Missouri and Ole Miss were the other Southeastern Conference programs to offer Gibson a scholarship.

Odds and ends

Heupel said two redshirt juniors who missed Sunday's scrimmage, cornerback Kamal Hadden and nose tackle Elijah Simmons, should return to practice this week. ... When asked to name some receivers who stood out, Heupel praised redshirt junior and Southern California transfer Bru McCoy for being physical with the ball, junior Jimmy Holiday for making some nice plays and sophomore Walker Merrill for having a good camp overall. ... Heupel did not have an update on McCoy's eligibility status.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.