Vols building depth during open week

Vols building depth during open week

October 5th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College
Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie, pictured, likes the developing depth he has in his position group, though John Kelly has been a reliable workhorse for the Vols this season.

Tennessee running backs coach Robert Gillespie, pictured, likes...

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's football team is dealing with its share of problems during an off week before hosting South Carolina on Oct. 14.

What running backs coach Robert Gillespie is facing is not really so bad, though.

"I have a good problem," Gillespie said Wednesday. "I have a lot of guys that deserve to play. There have been times this year when I've played all four guys. Whether it's two snaps, three snaps or four snaps, I've got a group of guys that I want to get in the game."

Though largely contained in a 41-0 loss to Georgia last week, John Kelly continues to lead the Southeastern Conference in rushing and all-purpose yards.

Behind him on the depth chart, three players continue to impress Gillespie and challenge each other for playing time.

Freshman Ty Chandler receives a lot of attention and has flashed the speed that made him a highly sought recruit from Nashville's Montgomery Bell Academy. Sophomore Carlin Fils-aime and freshman Tim Jordan have also shown they can help Tennessee's offense.

"Right now, I'm fortunate that I have a good group of guys," Gillespie said. "Ty is working hard, but Tim Jordan is a guy that flashes every day in practice. So he (Chandler) has to continue to work hard and show he deserves it.

"Carlin is more of a leader than we talk about. He is very unselfish. Man, I'm proud of the strides he's made as a teammate, football player. He runs hard when he gets in the game, and that's because he practices hard. He understands the offense in and out."

Expanding rotations?

This week gives some of Tennessee's other position coaches a chance to focus on developing the depth in their groups to match what Gillespie has at running back.

Defensive line coach Brady Hoke indicated Wednesday he would like to expand the defensive line's rotation to "eight or nine" players in games. Hoke made similar comments before the season, but the Vols have typically kept a short rotation so far.

"We had a couple of games where we didn't have to play that many defensive snaps," Hoke said. "Georgia Tech was a lot of snaps. But we've been decent that way. I do think as we move forward, I consciously have to do a good job of making sure I'm getting enough guys through the lineup."

Secondary coach Charlton Warren seems to have a settled rotation in the secondary with Micah Abernathy and Nigel Warrior at safety, Rashaan Gaulden at nickel back and Emmanuel Moseley, Shaq Wiggins and Justin Martin at cornerback.

All are veterans. But with no game to think about this week, there is an opportunity for freshmen safeties Theo Jackson and Cheyenne Labruzza to continue preparing in case they are needed in the season's second half.

"It's really big because it gives our guys a chance to focus on fundamentals, on details, on things we've done well and things we need to do better at," Warren said. "I think when you can take a step back and really focus on us as a DB unit, us as a defense, I think it gives our guys a mental break from trying to worry about an opponent to just worrying about Tennessee."

Darrell's delayed start

Hoke is preparing to be without starting defensive end Darrell Taylor for the first half of next week's game against South Carolina. Taylor was ejected in the second half this past Saturday after it was ruled he attempted to punch a Georgia player.

Hoke linked the reaction to "frustration" without excusing it.

"It's one of those penalties you can control," Hoke said. "Darrell has a high motor. He has a high-intensity demeanor, and there's times when there's got to be some composure and control."

Hoke said he plans to start Kyle Phillips in Taylor's place. Phillips has rotated with Taylor and Jonathan Kongbo at defensive end all season. If Kongbo or Phillips needs substitution in the first half against the Gamecocks, Hoke said he would look to freshmen Deandre Johnson and Matthew Butler.

"Deandre is coming around a little bit," Hoke said. "He's still young. And you know, Matt Butler is doing a better job each day he's out here."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.