KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — There’s a nice symmetry to August. A bad performance by a unit one day is usually followed by a bounce-back performance the next afternoon.
Sometimes the coaches orchestrate the ups and downs. But on Saturday morning, the defense’s dominance appeared genuine.
In a wide-ranging, hour-long situational and special teams scrimmage at Haslam Field, the Vols defense clearly won the day.
Or at least the morning. There will be another scrimmage this evening at Neyland Stadium. Don’t be surprised if the offense looks better.
Plenty of meaty observations today…
* First, it appears that senior linebacker Channing Fugate may have left the team, judging by his absence from practice and his recent social media posts. We will ask Jones for clarity on the situation after practice this evening. A native of Jackson, Ky., Fugate has played in 37 games and started six during his Vols career.
* The depth charts are fluid and can change minute-by-minute. Many of the positions have co-starters who share first-team duties. Injuries also can have an impact. With those disclaimers out of the way, here’s what we saw Saturday morning:
First-team offense: QB Justin Worley, RB Rajion Neal, WR Vincent Dallas, WR Pig Howard, TE Brendan Downs, OL Ja’Wuan James, Antonio Richardson, Zach Fulton, James Stone and Alex Bullard. (I’m missing a receiver, but I can’t read my notes. I will check the video and update).
Second-team offense: QB Josh Dobbs*, RB Alden Hill, WR Ryan Jenkins, WR Marquez North, WR Devrin Young, WR Jason Croom, WR Jacob Carter*, OL John Simcox, Kyler Kerbyson, Mack Crowder, Marques Pair and Dylan Wiesman.
(* Don’t read anything into Dobbs’ appearance. The quarterbacks have rotating off-days and quasi-off days and both Dobbs and Riley Ferguson have regularly worked with the second group when Worley or Nathan Peterman get a breather. For receivers, they rotated multiple guys in, so I listed all of them. Crowder was the center on the line. I didn’t list a tight end, but I will check the video later).
First-team defense: DL Daniel Hood, Daniel McCullers, Marlon Walls and Corey Miller; LB Dontavis Sapp and A.J. Johnson; DBs Cameron Sutton, Brian Randolph, Byron Moore, Michael Williams, JaRon Toney.
Second-team defense: DL Jason Carr, Danny O’Brien, LaTroy Lewis, Jordan Williams; LBs Greg King, Brent Brewer, John Propst; DBs Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Riyahd Jones, Max Arnold, David Priddy.
* What stands out about these depth charts? One thing jumps out immediately. Freshman Cameron Sutton is ahead of Riyahd Jones at cornerback. That may stick. Coaches love Sutton.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the receivers at this point. Coach Zach Azzanni is trying to work them all in with the ones. It is worth noting that I think Friday was the worst practice of the year for Marquez North, and I don’t doubt that they get their grades daily. Depth chart moves might be made accordingly.
* The injury list may offer some clarity about some of these positions.
WR Josh Smith did some jogging on the sidelines. He’s been out for a few practices now and has missed some critical reps.
We saw WR Paul Harris, CB Malik Foreman and CB Justin Coleman in “The Hole.” Jones said Coleman “didn’t eat his breakfast today.”
LB Curt Maggitt, LB Justin King and DB LaDarrell McNeil were among those in non-contact jerseys. Maggitt’s ongoing rehab is at least a bit worrisome, as his presence this year will be crucial for the defense.
DL Maurice Couch was also out. We’ll let Butch Jones address his status later tonight.
* Most of the Vols’ situational work was in hurry-up or two-minute drill formats. That means it was most taxing on the young players. Marquez North had an up-and-down day. He caught a nice catch over the middle, but was flagged for illegal procedure on the very next play. Butch freaked out. “How can that happen??!”
* North was also at the center of the most intriguing play of the scrimmage in a “fourth down” play on the last series. The game was on the line.
North leaped and nearly made a brilliant catch near the sidelines. But he was just blown up by a defender (update: Brian Randolph) and dropped the ball. The defensive sideline cheered, but everybody else looked for a flag.
It was very, very close to a “targeting” penalty which not only would have given the offense a crucial first down, but would have also led to an automatic ejection.
The play vividly illustrated how difficult the penalty will be to call. I was standing five feet away, and I’m not sure if it was helmet-to-helmet, forearm-to-helmet (which can still be a penalty) or none of the above.
The defender did leave his feet but I’m not sure he “launched,” as he was almost parallel to the receiver when he made contact. He stayed in an upright position, not at a splayed-out, 90-degree angle to the receiver.
In any case, officials didn’t throw a flag, but the back judge had a long talk with defensive coordinator John Jancek. I’d be curious to know what he said.
* There was a delay of game penalty on the offense in that last series and Butch’s microphone reaction was priceless: “CATASTROPHIC! CATASTROPHIC MISTAKE!”
* Butch to an exhausted receiver: “Wideouts run all day in our offense, or they transfer to a Division II school.”
* Bad news: Michael Palardy missed back-to-back field goals. Good news: They were both from 57 yards out, and although both were a couple of yards short, they weren’t bad kicks.
* George Bullock had an ugly kick blocked at the line of scrimmage. Jones used it as a teaching moment for the defense. If it’s on your side of the line, the ball is “poison.” Don’t touch it. Otherwise, be alert. And, whatever you do, “Don’t celebrate until the game is over.”
* Nathan Peterman took a sack in one two-minute situation. The offense “lost” the game in that possession. “We can’t have sacks in that situation,” Jones said.
* Pig Howard caught the first touchdown of the scrimmage. (It might have been the only one, now that I think about it). However, he dropped a pass in the end zone a few minute later. Worley’s pass hit him in the hands. “Dropped passes cost games,” said Jones.
* On defense, Jalen Reeves-Maybin had a really nice pass breakup and Riyahd Jones blew up a play behind the line of scrimmage.
* Offensive lineman Marques Pair earned an attaboy from Jones for sprinting on and off the field in fast-paced “NASCAR” situations.