KNOXVILLE – Fall camp officially ended on Monday evening for the Vols after over two weeks of grueling practices.
That doesn’t mean a huge break for the team, though. The Vols will get two days off the field before the attention shifts to preparing for the season opener against Austin Peay on Aug. 31.
But despite there being less than two weeks left before the season begins, the Vols haven’t updated their official depth chart. Some of the positions are beginning to sort themselves out. Others remain a mystery.
“It’s always ongoing,” defensive coordinator John Jancek said of some of the position battles,“we always want to create competition. Hopefully some of those guys who are getting second-team reps push the [starters] and make everybody better every single day.”
Jancek did give some clarification on who he sees as the starters at this point for some of the defensive spots. The first-year defensive coordinator said, at this point, he sees Cameron Sutton and Justin Coleman starting at cornerback and Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNeil as the starting safeties. McNeil has been locked into a battle with Byron Moore at one of the safety spots.
He also said he would pencil in Brent Brewer, A.J. Johnson and Dontavis Sapp as the three starting linebackers at this point as Curt Maggitt continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered last fall.
Offensively, there are still several questions that must be answered in the coming weeks. Many SEC teams have settled their quarterback battles by now, but UT’s staff doesn’t seem to be in too big of a rush to make anything official.
“The day before the game, yes, we’ve done that,” offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said of deciding a quarterback competition during his time at Cincinnati.
Wide receiver might be the most unsettled of the position groups at this point. Position coach Zach Azzanni declined to name any starters, but did say that sophomore Pig Howard would be on the field a lot, and that he was the closest UT has to a consistent playmaker at this point.
Freshmen Marquez North and Josh Smith have been primarily working with the first team, but Azzanni said not to look too much into that, especially for Smith.
“We’re just trying to get him as many quality reps as possible,” he said in reference to Smith. “If he ends up starting the opener, that will be because he had a great week in practice that week.”
- OUT: DE Jacques Smith (thumb), TE Justin Meredith (hamstring), DE Corey Vereen (knee), CB Riyahd Jones (calf), CB Michael Williams (shoulder), Allex Ellis (foot)
- LIMITED: WR Ryan Jenkins, WR Paul Harris, WR Johnathon Johnson, RB Marlin Lane, LB Curt Maggitt, LB Justin King, LT Tiny Richardson, WR Pig Howard, G/C Dylan Wiesman, LB Greg King
• Ellis, who has been working as the team’s second tight end, was seen walking with crutches and a boot on his right foot during practice.
• Jancek said he is currently working under the assumption that Smith and Maggitt will not be available for UT's opener.
Notes and observations:
• The defense stopped both two-point conversion attempts in one drill. A false start penalty pushed the ball back to the 8 and quarterback Justin Worley couldn’t find a receiver before being sacked by Daniel McCullers and Daniel Hood. The second team (which also had to start from the 8 due to the penalty from the first unit) failed when Nathan Peterman threw a pass into double coverage that was tipped and eventually intercepted by safety Byron Moore.
• Defensive end Jordan Williams got some work with the first-team D ahead of Marlon Walls. Left guards Marcus Jackson and Alex Bullard both worked some with the first team. Worley continued to lead the first-team offense, while both Peterman and freshman Josh Dobbs got snaps with the second unit during the open portion of practice.
• A few notable plays ran during the open portion of practice as the Vols worked on red-zone situations: (1st team)
- Marquez North took a reverse handoff, but defensive end Corey Miller stayed at home on the backside and stopped him for a loss.
- Two plays later, North took a jet sweep around the left end, broke an attempted tackle by A.J. Johnson and scored from 8 yards out.
- Rajion Neal ran 10 yards almost untouched for another touchdown.
- Drae Bowles took a reverse handoff, got about 7 yards before fumbling and losing the ball to the defense.
- Tom Smith had back-to-back touchdown runs of 10 and 8 yards.
• Preferred walk-on punter Trevor Daniel of Dickson, Tenn., has joined the team and was at practice on Monday evening.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga