Practice Standouts After Three Sessions
Ok, we’re three practices in to Tennessee’s spring allotment for 2014. After going without pads for the first two, the Vols put the pads on for the first time on Tuesday night at Haslam Field.
Now – It’s just three practices (and only one in pads), but there are already a few players standing out and making an impact on this team. Here’s a VERY early look into what I’ve seen/heard as the Vols head into practice four on Thursday before their first scrimmage on Friday night.
The early buzz has been surrounding Von Pearson, and rightfully so. While still trying to learn the position and playbook, Pearson has been able to flash his ability and make some plays in the team sessions of practice. The move he put on Cam Sutton was Cordarrelle Patterson-esque and will serve as motivation for both players moving forward. Coach Zach Azzanni was consistently in Pearson’s hip pocket on Tuesday as he challenged him to learn various positions and be ready to contribute to this team in the fall. Pearson is a smooth runner, has great hands, and looks primed to carve out a starting role with this team in the wake of Pig Howard‘s leave of absence.
Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf both look the part. Each of the freshmen tight ends will get plenty of reps this spring as Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel recover from injuries. Helm has shown a great ability through three practices to get open and catch the football while Wolf has proven, so far, to be the more physical of the two. Look for both to carve out a significant role with this team over the next few weeks as they benefit from the veterans’ absence.
All the hype over Josh Malone and Jalen Hurd is NOT unwarranted. When it comes to athletic ability and potential, these two have it all in spades. Malone is much bigger and stronger than I thought he would be at this stage, and Jalen Hurd has everything you look for in a big-time running back. The key with these two is how quickly they can adapt to the college game and learn how to practice the way this staff wants them to practice. They have the ability, but they have to learn the routine, learn the playbook, and learn how to compete consistently in this conference. They are used to being the biggest, fastest, strongest players on the field…Can they adjust to playing with guys who can make plays against them? Friday’s scrimmage will show us how far these two have come, and how far they have to go.
The quarterback battle will be the head storyline all spring long, and rightfully so. This offense hinges on the quarterback’s ability to read the defense, make accurate reads, and pass the football efficiently. All quarterbacks have their strengths and weaknesses and whoever can minimize mistakes, protect the football, and move the offense will likely be the guy regardless of age, experience, or ability. In my opinion, it is WAY too early to give anyone the edge in this competition. Scrimmages will tell us what we need to know about the quarterbacks and their first scrimmage is Friday.
Jason Croom has changed his demeanor. The redshirt sophomore was criticized last year by his coaches for being too timid and not playing physical enough. This year he has met that challenge head-on. Croom has been man-handling corners in one-on-one drills and using his size advantage to get the best of his competition in both passing and blocking situations. If Croom continues at this pace and builds on his momentum during the spring, he will be a nightmare for opposing defenses in the red-zone…an area where Tennessee struggled mightily last season.
Defensively, it’s really hard to tell much at this point. Until defenders are able to pursue and tackle, judging them in practice is difficult. When it comes to speed and athleticism, however, Emmanuel Moseley has been impressive early. He his still thin, but he has great feet and isn’t afraid of bigger wide receivers. He also fielded some kickoffs and punts and looks like he could potentially provide a boost in the return game. He has a great stride and reaches top speed quickly. Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson will obviously anchor the linebacker unit, but finding the consistent third guy will be the battle all spring. Jalen Reeves-Maybin looks to be the early favorite to take that spot, but can he perform consistently enough to lock it down.
Another guy who has really impressed with his ability through three practices is defensive tackle Owen Williams. As Tennessee tries to fill the void left by departing seniors Daniel Hood and Daniel McCullers, Williams will have every opportunity to be a starter on the defensive line. The JUCO transfer is already the strongest player on the team, and as he learns how to give SEC effort and practice consistently he will only get better and better. Coach Jones nearly came unglued in one drill after Owen violently tackled a ball carrier during a ‘thud’ or ‘touch’ portion of practice. He seems to have the type of attitude that Tennessee has been missing at defensive tackle in recent years.