LET’S GO CAMPING.
The first week of training camp for the University of Tennessee football team, aka Team 118, is in the books. As we move further into camp, toward the Utah State opener, updates will be on a more frequent basis, but first weeks are often spent learning the ropes, so for this week, we will just give it to you all at once…right now.
Unsurprisingly, we are left with many questions, as things slowly take focus for this young team. Here’s what we now know, and what we’re left wondering, in the wake of the first week:
BLACK STRIPES: When new players arrive on campus, a black stripe goes onto their white practice helmet. They are also assigned an upperclassmen, to track their growth on the field. Whether they are a true freshman or a transfer, they wear the stripe until their upperclassman decides that they have made enough progress to take it off. Coaches describe the removal of the black stripe as a moment of pride and achievement for players. Many of the new vols received high praise during media sessions, from both players and coaches, but to our knowledge, all black stripes remained, as of Friday evening. Vic Wharton, Ethan Wolf, Von Pearson, and Dillon Bates have all received major props from staff and teammates, but our money (for now) is on Freshman Defensive End Derek Barnett, who’s play has “elevated the defense,” according to Butch Jones.
WHEN PIG FLIES: There is very little question that Tennessee has the most depth at the Wide Receiver position, with even a slight advantage in experience over other positions, despite being heavily populated by new-comers. Team 118 returns Jason Croom, Jacob Carter, and third-team All-SEC sophomore Marquez North, among others, but the return of Alton ‘Pig’ Howard is critical and a bit of a surprise. Along with North, Howard was an extremely productive part of the 2013 offense, and served as one of the emotional leaders of the receiving corps, however, citing ‘personal reasons,’ Howard withdrew from the program in the Spring, and most fans assumed that was the end. Instead, the player affectionately known as “Pig” returned in the summer, and has looked explosive in the first week of training camp, punctuated by a mid-air, one-handed catch earlier this week.
That’ll do, Pig!
THE ELEPHANT(S) IN THE ROOM: It is no secret that Tennessee is entering a season that will feature the rebuilding of its entire line, on both sides of the ball, rebuild its entire kicking game, and will enter the second year of the search for a true starting Quarterback. We will be exploring these enormous problems in the print edition of Metro Pulse over the next few weeks, but here are some basic thoughts, based on what we’ve seen this week.
Quarterback: With the departure of Riley Ferguson, who many assumed was the favorite to seize the position (until he stunk up the Spring game and subsequently left the program), we are left with a 3 man race, featuring senior Justin Worley, and rising sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nate Peterman. To this point, based solely on the eye-test, there’s no front runner, as all three quarterbacks have looked evenly inconsistent. Dobbs and Worley both show flashes of potential and good velocity, but both seem to be having serious struggles with aim and control. Dobbs is substantially quicker on his feet, but Worley has two extra years of maturity. It will be interesting to see how tonight’s first scrimmage changes things.
Offensive and Defensive lines: As opposed to the Quarterback situation, both players and coaches seem to feel a confidence in saying that, while they aren’t where they need to be, that the overhaul of both lines isn’t nearly as dismal as fans and analysts have billed it. Though smaller, this year’s set of linemen, on both sides of the ball, are quicker, have slightly better depth (though less experience) and are (planning to be) more physical. We have mostly only seen them pushing sleds, but there’s been nothing to suggest that they aren’t on course to reach those goals. The offensive linemen have seemed very aggravated, in media sessions, at the suggestion that they are the weak link of this year’s team. It never hurts to have something to prove.
Kicking: The kicking game seems to be the least troubling, with Freshman Aaron Medley impressing coaches with his strength and consistency in field goal scenarios, while Matt Darr has been solid, getting most of the reps (that we’ve seen) on the punt team.
CODY BLANC TO MISS 2014: On the first day of Fall camp, former Central HS standout and current Vols wide-receiver Cody Blanc suffered a torn achilles tendon, an MRI revealed. Coaches have confirmed that he will likely miss the entire season. Regardless of how big or small his role was likely to be, in an expanding field of talent at receiver, it’s very disappointing to see a player that has worked hard and kept a good attitude go through an injury like this, and especially before the season even begins. We first spoke to Blanc back in 2011, when he was still at Central, and we wish him a fast, thorough recovery.
INJURY UPDATE: Aside from Blanc, no serious injuries have come to light, thus far during camp, though several players have been limited, or sidelined taking “mental reps.” Freshman running back Darrell Scott and sophomore O-lineman Dylan Wiesman have mostly been a non-participators during the last few days, and wide receiver Marquez North spent a large portion of Friday on the exercise bike (for undisclosed reasons).
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