Tennessee football returned to the Haslam Practice Field Sunday morning for its 10th practice of fall camp ahead of Monday’s off day.
With the Vols taking Monday off, the team was in full pads Sunday and if the open portion of practice was any indication there was going to be plenty of contact and physicality.
The media got to watch the first three period of practice, roughly 20 minutes, so as always there’s only so many takeaways to gather.
Here’s our notes and observations from practice the Vols’ 10th fall practice.
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We’ll start with injuries, per usual. Tennessee’s receivers were back at full go during the open portion of practice. There hasn’t been any serious injury concerns at receiver but Dont’e Thornton, Bru McCoy and Squirrel White have all been banged up and limited during some practices this fall. That wasn’t the case Sunday as all three were fully dressed out and going through routes on air.
The only absences I noted on the offensive side of the ball were Cooper Mays — who underwent a “minor procedure” earlier this week — and back-up offensive tackle Larry Johnson III. Johnson was out on the practice field but wasn’t dressed out.
It was a super efficient routes on air portion for both Joe Milton III and Nico Iamaleava. The only pass I saw hit the ground from either was a Iamaleava pass to freshman tight end Emmanuel Okoye on a curl route. The freshman quarterback’s throw was on time and accurate but Okoye couldn’t haul it in.
Other than that, Milton and Iamaleava were accurate and on time with the football and the Vols’ receivers were steady hauling in passes.
The only other note from routes on air is that Squirrel White was working with the first team while Dont’e Thornton worked as the second team slot receiver. Both will have big roles this season but it’s typically been flipped as to who works with the first and second team.
Jacob Warren was unsurprisingly working as the first team tight end while McCallan Castles was the second team tight end and Ethan Davis was the third team tight end.
The final period of practice we watched was thud work across the board. Defensive linemen going one-on-one with offensive linemen, linebackers with running backs and tight ends and receivers with defensive backs. The drills started in close quarters and as “thud” indicates, there was no tackling to the ground. Still, it was an interesting competition period to watch.
Here’s some pro offense observations from reps (receivers and defensive backs worked too far away from the media to glean observations.
Gerald Mincey had a really good rep against Roman Harrison. Connor Meadows got the best of freshman linebacker Jalen Smith in a rep. Veteran tight end Charlier Browder also bested Smith in a rep.
Freshman running back Khalifa Keith beat linebacker Ben Brown in a rep, driving his legs for extra yards in the drill.
The injury portion of the defensive observations is a little bit longer than offense though most is similar to what it’s been. Defensive backs Wesley Walker and Tamarion McDonald as well as defensive lineman Omarr Norman-Lott were fully dressed out but stayed inside the Anderson Training Center to work off to the side when their teammates went outside.
That’s been the case for the last few days but defensive end Tyler Baron joined his teammates working inside. I didn’t spot sophomore safety Jourdan Thomas during the open portion of practice. He’s been banged up throughout camp.
Two players that have been getting an abundance of extra reps with Walker, Thomas and McDonald sidelined are redshirt sophomore Andre Turrentine and freshman John Slaughter.
The safeties and STARs work together during drills while the corners have their own group. The STARs and safeties are running thin and both Turrentine and Slaughter are getting an overload of reps. Turrentine could push for playing time at safety in his second year in Knoxville and Slaughter is a solid looking athlete as a freshman.
I’d be surprised if Slaughter gets much more than special teams snaps this season but the additional practice reps is helping his development.
Graduate assistant Robert Ayers was getting after redshirt freshman defensive end Jayson Jenkins during a drill. Josh Heupel was observant watching the defensive line and was even getting after freshman defensive lineman Tyree Weathersby, making the big defensive lineman redo a rep.
On to some positive defensive reps during the “thud” work at practice. McCallan Castles talked earlier this week at how fast and physically freshman Arion Carter closes holes. That was on display as Carter got the best of Khalifa Keith during a rep.
Austin Lewis beat freshman offensive guard Ayden Bussell on one rep.
Senior linebacker Aaron Beasley was the most consistent Tennessee defender during the reps I saw at practice. Perhaps the best consistent matchup I saw was between John Campbell and Joshua Josephs. Both of those guys are going to play a lot of football for Tennessee this season and made some nice Sunday morning entertainment.