Dave Hooker’s Day 4 Practice Recap
Being a leader doesn’t just mean A.J. Johnson is more apt to scream at a teammate following every misstep. To the middle linebacker, being a leader means being able to answer all of their questions.
That’s why Johnson studied every defensive position in the off-season. If a teammate – young or old – isn’t sure what to do on a particular play, Johnson wants to be the player to turn to.
“It’s something you’ve got to do as a Mike [middle linebacker],” Johnson said. “You’ve got to learn every position. I don’t have every position down but I’m learning them each day.”
Bringing Dontavis Sapp along is part of Johnson’s responsibility. Sapp, a former defensive back, is playing outside linebacker this year and is a stalwart on special teams.
“I feel like he’s going to build his name this season,” Johnson said of Sapp. “He’s going to be one of the top linebackers coming out, I believe. He’s worked his tail off this spring. He’s working his tail off in fall camp, getting better and helping the defense.”
Sapp has been practicing at weakside and strongside linebacker during preseason camp. The goal for Sapp is to be a utility player that the Vols can utilize at multiple positions.
“I try to be,” the senior said. “I just try to go out there and perform no matter what I’m doing…If they want me to catch punts I’ll do it.”
Of course the biggest question amidst the linebackers during fall camp is the health of Curt Maggitt. The junior outside linebacker is returning from an ACL tear and a shoulder injury suffered last season.
“He’s looking real good,” Johnson said. “He’s getting better each day.”
If not, Sapp had better be ready to show off that versatility. Along with Brent Brewer, another former defensive back, Sapp would need to fill the gap until Maggitt is healthy.
Peterman with the 2′s
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman said he is getting most of his work with the second team. He said he occasionally receives first team snaps, most of which have gone to junior Justin Worley in the first four practices of preseason camp.
“I just do the best with what they give me and don’t question,” Peterman said.
Freshman quarterbacks Riley Ferguson and Joshua Dobbs have also received some second-string snaps. Understandably, their play has been somewhat inconsistent although there have certainly been flashes of ability.
Peterman’s accuracy was a concern in spring practice. Shaky footwork played a part in some of those erratic throws. That’s something Peterman has worked on.
“Everybody says that with quarterbacks ‘It’s all in the feet.’” he said. “Footwork is very important. I’ve been trying to work on that all summer and even in camp to keep the fundamentals now…Maybe I wasn’t as focused on the details as I needed to be. I think now that the coaches have pointed that out to me I’ve done my best to do what they told me and focus on what they said.”
Redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien looks to have the early, inside track on nailing down a second-team defensive tackle spot. With the 4-3 alignment the Vols are going to use this season, that will be a valuable position.
O’Brien said his high school team primarily played a 4-3. Therefore, he’s much more comfortable in that alignment as opposed to the 3-4 the Vols utilized last year.
“In a 3-4 you get a lot of double teams from both ways,” O’Brien said. “You don’t know which way they’re coming. In a 4-3 you get a little more space, especially in pass rush. We know which side the center is going to. We know when we’re getting a one-on-one.
“I was definitely happy when I heard we were going back to a 4-3.”
Head coach Butch Jones was pleased with the fourth practice of the preseason.
“I thought it was an extremely productive day today,” he said. “Still working to build our identity with this football team and what happens now is our players have to understand now the consistency in performance, the consistency in their preparation, the mental effort, and the mental intensity that it takes.”
In a bit of an unusual move, Jones began practice with team period. He said that was by design to motivate a fatigued group.
“It was calculated,” Jones said. “I try to really study our football team. They’re going through a grind right now. Our practices are demanding…I knew we needed to do something to jump start them and get their competitive juices going.”