UT Preseason Camp Report: Linebackers and Tailbacks
UT Preseason Camp: Linebacker Lowdown
Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen knows his starting middle linebacker is a good athlete. However, it’s A.J. Johnson’s instincts that have impressed Thigpen.
“He has an uncanny knack for playing in traffic, things look congested, most guys can’t see, for a big guy he has an uncanny ability to get the ball, he has a nose for it,” Thigpen said. “I mean there are a lot of things you can’t coach, I mean I look at him some times and say ‘How did you make that play?’ He has a great knack, a great sense of how to get to the ball then he’s such a strong tackler, he very rarely misses a tackle.”
Fellow junior Curt Maggitt seems to be closer to returning to full action. The outside linebacker has been slowed in preseason camp by a knee and shoulder injury suffered last season.
“He will start in a couple days,” Thigpen said. “He’s been doing all of our drills and stuff. He’s starting to work on his pass skills and slow to start building. He’s trying hard and we teach a lot of effort, that’s one of our main priorities, effort, effort, effort on every single play. He dropped off in one scrimmage and we got after him and he came back and responded to that.”
The Vols will likely lean on Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer, especially if Maggitt isn’t 100-percent by the beginning of the season. So far, the converted senior defensive backs have taken to the move at linebacker.
“You want guys to be playing in space as those two guys being in the back end before that’s got to be their advantage,” Thigpen said. “They don’t panic. D.B.’s are usually out there in space so the offense is trying to take advantage of that. Guys like Brewer and Sapp, they don’t panic when they get out in space.”
Jalen Reeves-Maybin may soon be counted on to lead the Vols linebackers. At 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Reeves-Maybin came to UT a defensive back but has been moved to linebacker.
“He’ll learn as he goes along, as time goes on he’ll start getting the calls,” Thigpen said. “We see that in practice now, he’s not afraid of contact by any stretch of the imagination. He gets after it and he’s a really smart and cerebral kid and that’s kind of our motto to him. Great linebacker, just smart and tough, you know, and he possess a lot of good qualities of a linebacker.”
Rajoin Neal’s 98-yard run turned some heads over the weekend. Could it be a sign of good things to come for the senior tailback?
“He’s been doing well,” running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. “Just has to get better in some areas in pass protection. Just still getting his body in bad position in some of those aspects but overall, his attitude’s been pretty good. The competition has made him step his game up and become a better football player. So, so far he’s doing pretty good.”
When asked about junior Marlin Lane, Gillespie said, “You can just tell that he’s more appreciative of being here and being around his teammates. Slowly but surely he’s starting to become a guy that’s vocal, being a good leader, encouraging guys, coaching when I can’t get to a guy because of our speed of practice. I can just tell that he’s excited to be back and he’s been a really good teammate so far.”
If he and Neal continue to push each other to become better football players, then Vols fans will all be excited that Lane is back.