Everything Josh Heupel Said After Tennessee’s First Fall Scrimmage

Josh Heupel

Josh HeupelTennessee HC Josh Heupel. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee football held its first scrimmage of fall camp Thursday morning inside Neyland Stadium. Third year head coach Josh Heupel met with the media afterwards to discuss the scrimmage and the Vols’ fall camp to date.

The Vols first scrimmage came on their eighth practice and right at the halfway point of the “camp” portion of fall practice before the semester begins.

Heupel discussed injury notes, the play of Tennessee’s top two quarterbacks and much more. Here’s everything Heupel said.

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Opening statement

“Really good day out there, great energy. We got some special teams work, some live work for those
guys, which I think is really important at this point in training camp. I really liked what our specialists
have done up until this point, but it was really good for the guys who are covering or blocking to get
some live work. Offensively and defensively, really good day. I think we got out relatively clean today
too, which is important. I thought defensively, great energy and great effort, in particular really early in
the scrimmage. They did a great job against the run early too and got off the field on some third downs.
Offensively, we created some plays on the back half of the scrimmage within the run game, and we had
a couple plays in the pass game too. All in all, it was a really good day. We have a lot ahead of us. We
have to grow. That starts this afternoon when they come back to us. All in all, really excited about what
happened today.”

On Cooper Mays status and what he saw from the center position

“Cooper had a minor procedure late yesterday, and he’ll be back and healthy as we get closer to kickoff.
I anticipate that being a couple-week deal. Today, we rotated through a bunch of guys like Ollie (Lane)
Parker Ball, Vysen (Lang) and Addison Nichols. Those guys are all competing for those spots. All of those
guys have taken some reps, even when Cooper was here too, as we continue to look for that backup
center spot.”

On Ollie Lane working at center after primarily working at guard

“Ollie is really smart. He’s played a lot of football and has played multiple positions. He’s repped at the
three interior spots since the time that we’ve gotten here. He’s been really good. The communication,
mechanics and us being able to play with tempo the way that we want to when it presents itself, it’s
been really easy for him to transition inside.”

On Joe Milton III operating in Tennessee’s offense

“Joe, I thought operationally was really good. There was some situational stuff that we can be better,
coming out in situation. We did some four-minute things at the end as well. It’s a great opportunity.
Coaches are completely off the sidelines, coaches are up in the box. Guys have to learn how to operate
between the white lines. There’s growth in that way for Joe. All in all, I was really pleased with his
decision making and what he did with the football all day long.”

On the status of Tennessee defensive backs Wesley Walker and Tamarion McDonals

“Those guys are in a good spot. We’ve held them (out) here in the last couple of days, but nothing long
term. It’s just based on loads and what they’ve been doing. I wanted to protect them today. Those guys
will be with us here as we move forward. Those guys have played really well in the secondary, and I
anticipate them playing at a really high level as we keep pushing forward.”

On how close he is to narrowing down the receiver rotation

“I think the rotation piece is going to be fluid with all of those guys. Some of our young guys continue to
grow and make some real strides too, Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb. The four older guys continue to push and compete. I like what they’ve been doing. They’ve operated really efficiently in what we’re doing offensively and within the scheme of what we’re doing. I think they’re playing with great fundamentals and technique. All in all, I like what they’re doing, and the back half of training camp—we’re essentially at the halfway point as far as pure training camp before we get into school—back half of it will be really important too.”

On if Dont’e Thornton will play out wide or in the slot

“Dont’e has the ability to play both. For us this year, we probably have a little bit more mobility, guys
who can do multiple things within the offense than probably how we’ve played them the first couple of
years that I’ve been here.”

On the defensive front’s development and depth

“The run game part of it, the defensive line, interior and guys on the edge, but I thought our backers did
a great job fitting gaps and our safeties were involved in it too. For a first scrimmage, I thought there
was a positive sign of just our tackling in space. I thought that was a real positive. Defensively as a
whole, you guys have heard me say it before, when we got here a lot of the kids that had left the
program, not all of them, but a lot of them were on the defensive side of the football. We’ve been thin
the first couple of years. We added some depth last year that helped us take a step, in particular in the
run defense. Feel like we’re continuing to add some real depth and competition and that leads itself to
real competition in practice. Who’s going to be the first one running out, how many snaps each guy is
going to play? The competition on the practice field and the meeting rooms are a coach’s best friend
and we have that. That’s in the interior, it’s out on the edges too. The athleticism, the ability to rush the
passer and not just defend the run, it’s also showing up here in training camp, too. I like some of the
strides that we’ve taken.”

On where he wants to see Joe Milton III develop in different situations

“Processing the offense, he’s operating and handling at a really high level right now. Decision making,
understanding protections, how to get himself protected or throw hot, his eyes as far as what he’s
seeing from the second level pre-snap and on the snap. He’s been really good at that part of it.
Situational football for the quarterback, continuing to grow just in understanding four-minute situation
– which we did from a backed-up situation today – clock management. All those things are a continued
part of all of those guys’ growth, from Joe all the way to Gaston Moore and everybody that is in the

On how much the offensive line will benefit from being limited right now

“I think having to move some pieces around a little bit, guys working at guard, at center – it’s tough
because you’re in multiple situations. It’s not like you’re just going into a day. Depending on the period,
we kind of cycle through so they get a little bit of that throughout the course of every single practice.
You want practice to be more difficult than it is on gameday, and so as we try and put the pieces
together and how guys are going to play, in the long run it’s going to make us a lot stronger unit. There’s
times you’re really fortunate at every position or on the o-line and d-line where you stay healthy for
most of the season, but a lot of times it isn’t that way. You go back to year one, two or three plays in a
game we lose a tackle and the next guy has got to be ready to play. We’ve gotten a lot of work where I feel like they’ll be cohesive when you have your five starters. At the same time, we’ve got some rotational stuff that I think will pay dividends as the year unfolds.”

On how Jabari Small is developing coming off of injury and the strides Dylan Sampson has made

“I talked about the defensive line. I thought as the scrimmage went on the running back group did a
really nice job. Jaylen Wright had some really nice runs, reading what’s happening up front with our
blocking schemes, doing a great job of pressing it and having a nice big run. I thought Jabari played really
well, it was important for him to get some live work too, missing the spring. Dylan Sampson did a nice
job in the run game, pass game too. The young guys inside of our program, all three young guys have
been really promising. Excited about that group. Coach (Jerry) Mack has done a great job with them.”

On what he’s doing at the star position after injuries

“There’s multiple guys that have been rotating. From Warren Burrell, Jourdan Thomas, there’s been
multiple guys that have played that position and we’re trying to find the right fit as you find the right five
to be out on the field. You want your best five out there and how you put the pieces together is how you
rotate those guys as well.”

On if Warren Burrell’s experience allows him to rotate positions easily

“I think he’s extremely bright. Being able to handle playing on the edge at corner, which he has a lot of
experience at. His total understanding of the principles and schemes and responsibilities and where your
eyes need be allow him to transition and take some snaps at that. His ability to understand your gap fits
off of that too are really important. He’s an intelligent player that’s been here for a while and that’s a
part of why we’ve been able to play him at that spot.”

On what he’s seen from Ethan Davis and McCallan Castles and what they’ve brought to the tight end

“Both of those guys have played a ton of football. At this point, really believe that both of them will play
at really high level when they’re out there on the field. McCallan and really both of them are so much
further ahead than they were when they finished spring ball. Both of them are seasoned in what we’re
doing offensively. McCallan has been really good out on the perimeter, Ethan Davis is too. It’s really
natural for both guys to be playmakers out in space. That’s true today, it’s been true through the first
seven practices before we got out here too. (They) have the ability to be dynamic in the pass game. Both
of them have gotten really comfortable and continue to grow inside the core too. McCallan, I thought
yesterday was his best day inside the core. Really pleased with what those guys are doing.”

On the value of offensive tackles being able to play on the left and right side

“We’ve rotated our tackles a bunch. Guys that have played on the left side and right side, (not only)
their understanding of what we’re doing, but their experience in general and the ability to flip
everything, from fundamentals and technique to scheme, gives us flexibility that you don’t always have.
From JJ (Jeremiah Crawford) to John (Campbell Jr.) and the rest of the crew, been excited about where
we’re at, but how we’re trending too at those positions. They compete really hard every single day. They
compete with each other, but they do it in a really positive way. That o-line group is extremely tight, and
I think you guys have seen that here the three years that Coach (Glen) Elarbee has been here.”

On Javontez Spraggins performance in fall camp and during the scrimmage

“First of all, he has great energy every single day. He’s the same competitor. That’s a part of why he’s
climbed personally. He has great influence on the offensive line unit, the offense in general and really
our football team. He’s a huge part of the energy that we have at practice every single day. He’s been
hyper focused on how he can grow to be the best player that he can be. You guys know he’s going to
play with great effort and be extremely physical. In the offseason, he continued to change his body.
Fundamentally, I think he’s continuing to grow. In particular, I think that pays dividends in pass pro

On balancing patience with pushing QB Nico Iamaleava

“When you have to grow, you have to grow. You have to be pushed. When we install it, he’s running
everything. You’ve heard me say that when they finish spring ball, when they come back at the
beginning of training camp, they should be a different player. He’s a different player. He has great
command and understanding of what we’re doing. He understands protections. He understands how he
has to get us out of run-run checks, pass-run checks or whatever it might be. He hasn’t been perfect, but
he’s grown. One of the things that we’ve talked about is not making the same mistake twice. He doesn’t
make the same mistake twice. He learns from it. There was a rep yesterday as he was going through his
reading progression. There was a tight window on the inside, he throws the ball and while he’s standing
in the pocket, you can see him visually be like, ‘Hey man, I should’ve gotten to the next one outside.’
He’s intentional and has great work habits.”

Author: Ethan Moore