I was one in the fairly large crowd at today’s scrimmage, the final “preseason game” for the football Vols before the season opener against Western Kentucky in two weeks. I was at last week’s scrimmage and the practice the Thursday before that, but most of what I’ll hit on here will be about today. I only stayed for the first half, however, but I feel I saw enough…
First, Bryce Brown is a stud. It’s a real shame (and a load of BS) that he’s involved with this mess with the NCAA three years after-the-fact, but regardless he wowed the crowd today. He showed a scary-good combination of power and speed.
Three of his runs really stuck out to me. His first featured him getting stopped basically at the line of scrimmage, but he kept churning and moved the pile for a five-yard gain. Another carry he hit the hole full-speed and ended up with a 10-plus yard gain, breaking through to the second level of the defense. Finally, on his TD run, he tried to go up the middle, but bounced it back outside and had enough speed to get to the corner for six.
All of this on a bad hip. Who knows exactly how close to 100% he was, but if this was Brown at less than that, it’s exciting to think about.
Brown’s fellow freshman back David Oku also showed some ability, as he was effective in making one cut and getting through the hole. Add these two guys to Montario Hardesty and Tauren Poole, and these running backs could be a special group. Given the quarterback situation, I expect Lane Kiffin to run the ball quite a bit. Of course so will opposing defensive coordinators, so it will be interesting to see how the Vols handle stacked boxes.
Speaking of the quarterbacks, I still think Jonathan Crompton will be the guy. I know Kiffin said this week the race between Crompton and Nick Stephens was very close, but, based on the three times I’ve seen both guys play, Crompton’s been more consistent. Neither have been amazing, but Crompton has clearly been the better of the two. We’ll see if Lane thinks the same way later this week (he’s expected to name a starter by the middle of the week).
Gerald Jones played today, and had a couple of nice catches. Quintin Hancock caught a touchdown after catching a short pass and breaking a tackle. The Vols also ran this route a number of times: with one-on-one coverage on the outside, the receiver runs a go route up the sideline, and the QB throws it on a line to the wideouts back shoulder, catching the cornerback with his back turned to the play. They tried this play three or four times, completing one of them.
That looks to be the extent of the downfield passing game. Much of it was shorter stuff: rollouts with open guys in the flat and over the middle, quick slants, hooks, outs, etc. Expect the running backs to a big part of the passing game as well. Swing passes, for example. Also, Crompton scrambled and hit fullback Kevin Cooper for a long gain that setup a score (a pass down the field to the fullback? what is this?) I’m not saying Tennessee won’t ever go deep, but they haven’t all that much in the three times I’ve seen them.
Defensively, Brent Vinson didn’t play, but fellow cornerback Art Evans did. A number of freshman – linebackers Jerod Askew, Greg King, Nigel Mitchell-Thornton and Robert Nelson and defensive backs Janzen Jackson, Mike Edwards, Eric Gordon and Darren Myles – got work with the first and second teams. To me it’s always hard to really judge the defense in these scrimmages, because they are probably somewhat familiar with Tennessee’s offense having practiced against it for three weeks now.
They bounced back last week and pretty much dominated after getting basically shredded in the first practice, but today they weren’t as dominant. I don’t think it’s an area of concern – ie, if there’s something to worry about on this team, it isn’t the defense.
Wes Brown played a few series at defensive tackle, which was good to see. I didn’t see much from the guys behind Brown, Dan Williams and Montori Hughes – Marlon Walls, Rae Sykes and Victor Thomas. I’m not sure if that’s because they weren’t making any plays or because I just couldn’t tell.
A couple of other things: first, Lane wasn’t in the huddle today, as the first and second team offenses used signals, wristbands and play cards attached to their belts. The defense also had their plays on their belts as well, and the coaches on the sidelines were all wearing headsets, so I assume we had coaches in the press box. Secondly, on every third down, the intro to AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells” began to play. I have no idea why. Finally, both teams were on the sideline closest to the fans, and between each possession they had short breaks – probably to give the guys a quick breather, but also to simulate TV timeouts.
Either way, we’re just two short weeks (although they’ll be the longest two weeks of the offseason) from Football Time in Tennessee.
Oh, and more thing…