Tag Archives: Zach Azzanni

Von Pearson makes SportsCenter top 10, plus more video, photos, .gifs from practice

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VIDEO: Here's Pearson at #9 on #SCTop10!

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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — If you thought there was no way the hype surrounding Tennessee receiver Von Pearson could grow any larger, think again.

On Friday morning, after a mere four days of spring football, Pearson’s one-handed catch appeared on the SportsCenter top 10.

Pearson, 23, took a long route to college football through Feather River College in California. Subscribers can read my story about him in today’s News Sentinel.

Pearson has yet to appear in a Division I game, or even a scrimmage.

I asked receivers coach Zach Azzanni if he was afraid all this attention would go to his head.

“He’s not wired like that, oddly enough,” Azzanni said. “But I’ll guard against it. I’m pretty good at that.”

Check out two views of Pearson’s catch in our practice videos after the jump.

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Tennessee spring football Saturday roundup (photos, video, .gifs)

Butch Jones at practice on Saturday (photos by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee coach Butch Jones started his tenure last spring with several practices forced indoors by chilly weather.

So perhaps the two brilliant days on Friday and Saturday are a good omen for his second season.

Jones didn’t talk to reporters on Saturday, as he handled Junior Day duties. But we did have interesting interviews with Corey Vereen, Marquez North, Cameron Sutton and others.

You can read all our coverage on GoVolsXtra, although some content is for subscribers only.

You’ll want to check out at least the beginning of today’s practice video for some solid one-on-one footage.

Here’s some of what I wrote about Sutton, who has been victimized by the Von Pearson show so far in spring camp:

Tennessee sophomore cornerback Cameron Sutton made some nice stops during drills on Saturday morning, but he’s having hard time forgetting one play on which he was burned badly Friday night.

In that play, junior college newcomer Von Pearson caught a pass near the sidelines, juked left and then turned upfield, all but buckling the knees of Sutton, normally one of the Vols’ fastest and most reliable defensive backs.

Why can’t Sutton forget it?

Because it’s playing on a loop over and over again in the Tennessee football football facility as part of the daily practice highlights.

“He’s shifty,” Sutton said of Pearson.

When Jones said the 14 early-enrolled newcomers would elevate the level of competition in spring camp, this is what he had in mind.

Not only will players like Pearson and highly rated freshman receiver Josh Malone create new competition at receiver, they’ll also be providing tougher daily tests for the secondary.

I also wrote about Vereen, who lived up to Butch Jones’ billing as a serious and studious worker. Here’s a snippet from his interview, and a little bit of Marlin Lane.

Offensive graduate assistant Nick Sheridan on Saturday (photo by Evan Woodbery)

The Vols didn’t have much coaching staff turnover during the offseason, but they did welcome a new offensive graduate assistant in Nick Sheridan, who will work a lot with the quarterbacks.

Sheridan is a former Michigan quarterback who last worked at South Florida.

Check out more photos and .gifs after the jump. Or click here for a link to the full gallery.

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Ranking the recruiters: Tommy Thigpen has been consistently near the top

Tommy Thigpen coaches Malik Foreman in practice last August (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, who was named Rivals.com recruiter of the year earlier this month, is one of several assistants who scored well in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings.

247Sports added the new ranking to its arsenal about a year ago, and has since used its database to rank assistant coaches from past years as well. (The numbers are not as complete as 2014, but are still useful to review).

The rankings show that Thigpen’s prowess as a recruiter is nothing new.

The change in coaching staffs at Tennessee makes it difficult to get an exact picture in 2013.

But in 2011 and 2012, Thigpen was No. 5 and No. 18 nationally, respectively, credited with signing a dozen recruits who helped build Auburn’s SEC championship team in 2013.

If recruiting rankings were once controversial, 247Sports opened up a whole new realm by ranking the recruiters. Initially, I thought coaches would freak out. Coaches are already a competitive breed, and I thought we’d see internal fights about who gets credit for signing each recruit. Maybe that stuff occurs behind the scenes, but I think most coaching staffs have long since made their peace with the recruiting industry. And 247Sports (full disclaimer: the company is a News Sentinel partner with GoVols247) has done a nice job pushing the franchise into new territory.

So let’s take a look at the 2014 rankings. Thigpen, No. 10 overall, was listed as the primary or secondary recruiter on an incredible 17 prospects in this cycle. (Second place was Cincinnati’s Robert Prunty with 14).

Other Vols assistants ranked this year:

Despite a midseason knee injury, running backs coach Robert Gillespie was a prolific recruiter. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

No. 28: Running backs coach Robert Gillespie

No. 38: Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Mark Elder

No. 60: Defensive line coach and assistant head coach Steve Stripling

No. 107: Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez

No. 150: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni

Nationally, 247Sports said the top recruiter was Georgia’s Bryan McClendon. Former Vol quarterback and current USC assistant Tee Martin was No. 2.

But small sample sizes or a singe elite player can skew the one-year rankings. In 2013, there was a largely new crop of names in the top 10. (McClendon was No. 122; Martin was No. 92). Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, now defensive coordinator at Georgia, was No. 1.

The fluctuation shows that plenty of factors lead to a good recruiting ranking. It could depend on the number of players a team plans to sign at a certain position or whether it was a particularly strong year for a certain geographical area.

But Thigpen’s strength seems to transcend those fluctuations. And it’s worth noting that he was a closer of sorts for the Vols’ staff. Butch Jones put him on recruits that weren’t necessarily at his position or his geographic area.

Thigpen came to Tennessee after Auburn dismissed its staff in the wake of a dismal 2012 season. His link to Butch Jones’ Midwestern crew was Martinez, who was also on that Auburn staff in 2012.

Auburn’s coaching staff was stocked with top recruiters — including Trooper Taylor, running backs coach Curtis Luper, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and others. Coaches always pretend not to care about recruiting rankings, but it was either Taylor or Luper who once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If they’re keeping score, I want to win.”

That was refreshing honesty. And there’s no doubt that Thigpen has won a lot.

Recruiting on the river: Sunday morning boating has become staple of Vols’ weekend visits

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The gorgeous photo of Knoxville and Neyland Stadium is courtesy Vols receiver coach Zach Azzanni‘s Instagram account.

He has all the basics of photography down pat — good lighting, good framing. He didn’t go crazy with filters. He held the camera the right way. Thumbs up.

The photos from the Tennessee River you often see on Sunday mornings are from morning boat cruises that the Vols arrange as a finale for weekend recruiting visits.

The boat tours offer a way for coaches and players and families to hang out in an informal setting while getting a scenic view of Knoxville. It’s become a tradition of sorts under coach Butch Jones.

The weather can play havoc with the plans in the winter. On Sunday, as the photos illustrate, there was a one-day reprieve from the cold. It was sunny and brilliant, with a high of 51 degrees.

The Vols were scheduled to have five verbal commitments take official visits this weekend: Derek Barnett, Jerome Dews, RaShaan Gaulden, Todd Kelly and Vic Wharton.

Running back Darrel Williams was also scheduled to be in town, as the Vols are seeking to add another running back to their class.

Photo publicly posted by Vic Wharton (No. 4, to right of Butch Jones) this weekend. https://twitter.com/vwharton4

Vol-lympics are no more, but VFL Challenge is its winter replacement

Butch Jones talks to reporters after the season-ending game at Kentucky (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Did you plan to gear up for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi by monitoring the Vol-lympics?

Did you already place bets on the strongest Vol-lympic team?

Did you buy T-shirts to support your favorite Vol-lympic squad?

If so, there’s some bad news. The Vol-lympics are no more.

The good news? It’s replacement seems like basically the same thing with a less exciting name.

The VFL Challenge (sometimes rendered #VFLChallenge) is under way. The emphasis is more on grades and community service than any sort of physical challenges. But the competition element is intact.

“The VFL challenge is the foundation of our off-season personal growth and development program,” coach Butch Jones said in a release this week. “It incorporates all aspects of our VFL program; academic excellence, being champions in the community and becoming an overall better football player and team each and everyday.”

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Vols practice highlights from Tuesday (video)


KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The Vols practiced on a gray afternoon at Haslam Field on Tuesday. Rain held off until overnight, but could force the team indoors on Wednesday.

The highlights video includes some good shots of receivers and some jokes from Butch Jones. As always, the video features the most comprehensive stretching you will find anywhere.

Watch in the highest HD setting for best results.

Tennessee practice highlights from Tuesday (video)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — This is a bye week, not an off-week, Tennessee coach Butch Jones reminded players (and media) on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s practice video includes plenty of receiver action, some offensive line blocks, some quarterbacks, some Young Jeezy and more.

Watch the video above in your highest available HD settings for best quality.

Fans snapping up $20 flex tickets; more than 90,000 sold for Austin Peay opener

Butch Jones

Butch Jones demonstrates a point during a special teams drill on Aug. 28, 2013 at Haslam Field in Knoxville. (Photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Dynamically priced tickets — which can fluctuate throughout the season based on market demand — have helped drive the Vols over 90,000 tickets sold for Saturday’s opener against Austin Peay.

The Vols have sold about 5,800 of the 6,700 south end zone seats allotted for flex pricing, senior associate athletic director Chris Fuller said. Some of the sales have been to groups.

The tickets, which are limited to the highest rows of the upper deck, are priced at $20 each for this game. Other games are priced considerably higher, but the cost could fluctuate over the coming weeks.

Fuller said the Vols have sold about 58,000 season tickets, down from 59,700 a year ago.

The Vols drew an announced crowd of 87,821 in last year’s home opener against Georgia State. Fuller said just over 90,000 have been sold so far for the Austin Peay game, which is Butch Jones’ first as UT head coach.

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Tennessee football practice: After Monday practice, Vols get short break (video and photos)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Few argue that the offensive line is the strongest part of Tennessee’s football team.

Is it also the most important unit to the Vols’ success in 2013? John Adams weighs in with a column in today’s paper. I wrote about line coach Don Mahoney and how he worked to earn the trust of his new players. Brendan Quinn talked to running backs coach Robert Gillespie, who insists the Vols have no true No. 1 tailback.

The video is brief, because there wasn’t a whole lot to shoot on Monday. The Vols won’t have open practices on Tuesday or Wednesday. They’ll be back on the field Thursday, but camp is essentially over.

A few images from Monday:

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