UT Football: Time to Walk the Walk
UT football players did their last bit of talking. It’s time to walk the walk.
The Vols reported for preseason camp on Thursday. They’ll begin practice on Friday. Players lugged duffle bags, suit cases and even an occasional television into Gibbs Hall, which is scheduled to be demolished this fall.
UT made five players available to the media to discuss the beginning of fall camp. All eyes were on linebacker Curt Maggitt, the junior who is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in November. Perhaps coincidentally, Maggitt was late for his interview session in order to undergo further rehabilitation on his knee.
“I feel like I’m running better, more confidence in it,” Maggitt said. “Great staff in there, helping me out every day, support system with the team and the coaches. Everybody has my back and my best interests, so I want to get better for the team and myself.”
Maggitt will surely be limited in preseason camp. Just how much remains to be seen. It has been said he’s 90-percent recovered.
“I don’t feel like any player plays a complete season being 100 percent,” said Maggitt, “so it’s just being able to push through it and some things you can deal with, some things you can’t.”
Maggitt said he hopes to be 100-percent by Aug. 31 when the Vols open the season against Austin Peay. Considering the opponent, it’s not mandatory he make it back by then.
Tennessee plays Western Kentucky the following week. The Vols first significant opponent will be Oregon when they travel to Eugene, Ore. and play the Ducks on Sept. 14. Therefore, Maggitt, who has also been rehabilitating a sore shoulder, could take his time in returning to active duty.
He isn’t thinking like that. He wants to take the field in the season opener.
“If I’m not in class, eating or working out, I’m getting rehab on my shoulder and my knee,” he said. “Just preventative maintenance is what we call it.”
Junior Justin Worley met with the media during UT’s opening press conference of preseason camp on Wednesday. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman got his chance on Thursday. The two quarterbacks are bracketed as co-starters on Tennessee’s depth chart.
“It is not very important right now,” Peterman said of the lineup that was released on Tuesday. “The depth chart is preseason and you can’t really pay much attention to that. A lot of work is going to be done. We are just really excited to get started.”
Most think Peterman is slightly more mobile and has a slightly stronger arm than Worley. Accuracy, however, has been an issue. Peterman hopes summer meetings with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian will help remedy that issue.
“Focusing on the accuracy and focusing on a mastery of the offense,” Peterman said, describing his work this summer. “I have been talking to coach (Bajakian) about that, like post-snap reads and stuff like that.
“I viewed all the film from the spring a lot. I tried to make improvements on the reads and post snap recognition of the defense. Hopefully that will show here in camp.”
Sophomore receiver Jason Croom was deemed a starter by that much-discussed preseason depth chart. He’s not taking his spot for granted.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” Croom said. “[Receivers] coach Z [Zach Azzanni] emphasizes that nothing is guaranteed. You’ve got to come bring it every day, every practice.”
Croom played in just three games as a freshman. He was a standout in spring practice before suffering a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the remainder of spring drills. Now, he’ll try to fend off a talented group of freshmen eager to steal his starting spot.
“Whoever is making the most plays and is working hard will get playing time so I have to compete every day,” Croom said. “[Camp] is everybody’s chance to show what we’ve been working so hard for; show [the coaches] that you’ve been working hard on techniques and everything, and being able to be that playmaker.”
With so much playing time at stake, Croom said the vast – and vastly unproven – group of receivers were driven this summer.
“Each and every day we came out with a mentality, like we had a chip on our shoulders,” Croom said. “We came together a lot too. Our unit has come so much closer. We do a lot more stuff off the field.”
Senior Michael Palardy said he’s never been around a coach that puts as much emphasis on special teams as head coach Butch Jones. The media has noticed as much. It has been a frequent topic of conversation during interviews.
Palardy has struggled at times during his career to stay healthy. He has taken steps during this offseason to prevent that. He’s focused more on weight training and hasn’t kicked as much this summer as in the past. Instead of kicking four times a week, he said he only kicks twice a week. He said he also has focused on his flexibility.
“I’ve improved a lot,” Palardy said. “My weight has gone up on squats and bench. My flexibility has increased. I’ve been hitting the ball better than I ever have, better than in the spring and I thought I had a pretty good spring. I think I’m pretty confident going into the fall camp.”
Palardy may have to handle kickoffs, punts and place kicking. He said he’s ready for the challenge.
“It keeps me on the field and that’s something that I’ve wanted to do ever since I got here is just be on the field as much as I possibly can, whether it’s punting, kickoffs, field goals,” Palardy said. “The mentality of it, going into my senior year, is `I’ve done it before. I know what’s expected of me.’”
Dig Set Spike
Former volleyball player Woody Quinn didn’t seem taken aback by the dozens of media members asking him questions. However, it was clearly different than what he was used to before transferring from Dana Point (Calif.) Santa Ana College.
When asked how volleyball could help him in football, Quinn said, “A lot of people point out to me the leaping ability. I think it’s a little exaggerated, but volleyball is a quick game as far as hand-eye quickness. I don’t think about it much, but I guess just general athletic ability will transfer over with quick feet and quick hands. Hopefully that will help a bit.”
Quinn said he felt like his catching ability would be his strength. However, he declined to go so far as to call himself as strictly a receiving tight end.