The Tennessee Vols open practice showed improvement in the offense from this extremely young team. I was able to attend the practice in Knoxville since I was dropping my youngest son off to begin his Sophomore year at Tennessee.
Butch acted as ringmaster in what I call a circus like atmosphere. Music was blaring from ex Vol quarterback Sterling Henton’s dj platform sitting just outside the Lauricella Center. The crowd of 40,000 was cheering as the players took the field, and cheered for each play made by a receiver or a defensive back. Did I mention this was practice?
If you have never seen a Tennessee practice it is hard to describe just what goes on. Each individual position group breaks into small units to work on individual drills for their specific position. These drills will last about 4-5 minutes before moving to a new drill.
The drills incorporate an array of apparatus that looks more like a gymnastic event than a football game. There are bars that lineman must stay under in order to teach them to stay low, like wise the receivers must run under these as well in order to stay low out of their breaks. There are student trainers that wear gear on their backs that extends well over their heads to make them “taller” to mimic the giant lineman that the QB’s will be facing and having to throw over. They stand in front of the quarterbacks while they throw.
They have padded batons that they hit the quarterbacks to make them uncomfortable and to feel under duress when throwing. They wave these in front of punt returners as well to hone their concentration on fielding the punt cleanly. There is even a drill where the blocking and tackling pads are piled up with a football underneath. Two players are placed on their backs and when the whistle blows, the two player’s jump to their feet and attack the pile to get to the ball first.
With Sterling, or Sterl the Pearl as they are calling him now, spinning tunes as loud as you can take, it is also is more concert like. The music will now be allowed to be “piped” into the stadium during the game. I personally hate this change. No longer will the Pride of the Southland be the only music playing, but now you will hear Florida-Georgia Line or Tupac being played inside Neyland. I wonder what General Neyland would say about this practice, and about the music.
As far as the offense goes, I still stand by what I wrote earlier in the year. This is the best group of receivers I have seen assembled. They are at least 7 deep, and they are championship quality receivers. The tight ends are extremely talented and ready to go. The quarterbacks are a little better. I still see too much hesitancy in getting their throws off to the receivers. I can count on one hand the number of passes that were caught in stride by the receivers. I can also count on one hand the number of passes that were in the air when the receivers came out of their breaks. They are each a half of a second too late, and that can be disastrous.
I have one big concern. The most glaring to me is the young offensive line. They just do not look like the Tennessee lines of the past. They look small, and not particularly imposing. I will have to see these guys work in the first game to see if they are SEC ready. I don’t think so. It is this reason that I am concerned about the running game. The Vols running backs are really good. Everyone knows Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd, but Derrell Scott, Devrin Young, and Treyvon Paulk are good as well. I’m just not sure they are going to have any lanes to run. The Vol defensive line consistently pushed around the offensive line in this practice.
Tennessee is on the right track. The skill players are here, although we know we need that big time quarterback to come in. Butch just needs to recruit top tier offensive lineman to be a more solid team. With some giant guys up front, his circus would be complete.