Dave Hooker’s 8/6 Practice Report
8/6 Practice Report:
Tommy Thigpen has a tough job. Other than junior standout A.J. Johnson, he has questions among his set of linebackers. Potential starters Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer are converted defensive backs. Both made the challenging moves late in their college careers. Potential star Curt Maggitt is still hobbled from his knee injury suffered last season.
“I think we got better,” Thigpen said after Tuesday evening’s practice. “We got a lot better with our hands. I think guys did a lot better with their eyes and hands and that’s what we’ve been emphasizing and then just knowing the schemes. Put in a little bit more defense today and I thought we were going to have more busts but it seemed like they got a good grasp of what we were doing today.”
Maggitt’s status is still unknown. He has been limited in practice. He has said his goal is to be 100-percent healthy by the season opener against Austin Peay on Aug. 31. That remains to be seen.
“He’s getting there,” Thigpen said. “I think he’s a lot more comfortable. We put him through drills every single day. I’ll tell you he’s just as strong as the other kids. We go through the tackling drills and he has a natural pop, a natural bend and I didn’t know he was that strong until I watched him get off blocks and the pop that he has.
“Just the size and the physique that the kid has, he’s going to bring a presence. The sooner he gets back the faster we get better on defense.”
Being able to hit with full pads on Tuesday likely helped UT’s linebackers. It didn’t do the same for the Vols’ offense.
“Today, we didn’t execute very well,” offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. “I felt like we took a step back. Putting on the pads for the first time may have been a contributing factor, but we will come out tomorrow and get after it again.”
A Hidden Bonus
In a perfect world, the Vols wouldn’t have to move Brewer and Sapp from the secondary to linebacker; the Vols would have a glut of players who are perfectly suited to play linebacker. That is not the case. However, moving Brewer and Sapp to linebacker could actually help the Vols schematically since the pair knows much of the secondary’s responsibilities.
“The more communication we do on the field the better we are and I think the kids feel good about the communication,” Thigpen said. “And part about that is the more you know, the more confident you get in the communication.”
Credit Brewer for some serious improvement. Coaches have said he’s more physical than he was just a few months ago.
“Brewer is doing well,” Thigpen said. “I’ll tell you he’s gotten lot more physical since this spring. I thought in the springtime he was still learning the position but now he’s getting to a comfort level. He doesn’t mind taking on guards and pulling guards and tackles.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger; he got a lot stronger in the summertime and you can see it in his physique. He’s got a lot more confidence now so he knows he can hold up a lot more against lineman so he’s playing a lot more fast now.”
Fighting for Every Snap
UT’s receivers had better assert themselves with haste. Receivers coach Zach Azzanni is looking for the Vols’ four best receivers. That chosen quatro will receive most of the early playing time this fall.
“Whoever [the best four] might be, if that means it’s Jason Croom in the slot, it’s him in the slot,” said Azzanni. “If it’s [Alton] ‘Pig’ Howard outside, it’s him outside. Whatever it might be I am going to get the best four guys out there to give us a chance to win. I am going to develop that as we practice and find out who the playmakers are. And the playmakers are going to go play and I will teach them the position.”
Those four will be the go-to guys. However, they won’t be the only ones to hit the field. Azzanni said he would like to travel and play nine receivers in a game.
“When you are moving as fast as you can, you want to stay fresh,” Bajakian said. “The guys that can contribute and make plays, they will find the field. Let’s put it this way. Trust is a big factor when it comes to play calling. Can I trust them to be in the right spot and make the play? If you earn our trust you will find your way on the field.”
Safer at Safety
Players and coaches have repeatedly said that redshirt sophomore Brian Randolph would have helped UT’s secondary that struggled mightily last season. Then, Randolph was sidelined with a knee injury. So far, Randolph is living up to the billing.
“He obviously looks a lot better than he did in the spring as far as moving around,” secondary coach Willie Martinez said. “He is doing a great job. He is a smart player. He is a great leader. The guys respect him.
“He is a playmaker. He makes a lot of plays when he is in there. He does a great job of communicating. That is what we need, the quarterback of our defense. He is doing a good job.”
Middle linebacker A.J. Johnson isn’t the biggest talker on the team. However, the junior is improving on calling defensive plays.
“He’s gotten a lot better [communicating],” Thigpen said. “We run the same calls we did in the springtime and we’ve kind of amped it up a little bit more but he watches a lot of tape.”
Tough on Quinn
Junior college transfer tight end Woody Quinn has drawn the coaches’ ire more than once during practice. It’s hard to miss the criticism since head coach Butch Jones uses a microphone that is piped into several loudspeakers. Quinn, a former volleyball player, should treat the critiques as compliments. It means UT needs him – soon.
Tennessee’s coaches would like a receiving threat at tight end. Quinn, who has good athleticism and good hands, should be able to provide that – if he proves he can be physical enough to handle the blocking duties required of UT’s tight ends.
“Coach [Jones] has been hard on Woody,” tight end coach Mark Elder said. “I’ve been hard on Woody. Woody’s a very prideful individual; it’s important to him. I mean there is no question about that. So as far as that’s concerned, he’s taking that hard, but not losing confidence with it. He understands that I’m coaching him, and Coach Jones is coaching him to get better; and that our ultimate goal is not to get on him because we like doing that. It’s to get him better.”
So why did UT’s coaches offer a scholarship to a prospect more adept at digs, sets and spikes than blocking, running pass routes and catching touchdown passes? When asked that question, Elder said, “We liked his film right from the get-go for a number of reasons. We liked his size and his frame. We liked him as a blocker. We thought he was a good receiver, solid athlete. So he fit a lot of the things we were looking for, as far as size, speed, parameters.
“As far as him as a blocker, I mean he is still a little bit raw, but you saw some good things on film, and it’s not what he could do.”