August 8, 2008

Vols seek ball security, depth

With summer school out of the way, the Tennessee football team moved practice to the morning and inside on Friday as the focus of the two-hour workout was getting ready for Saturday's scrimmage, the Vols' first major one of the preseason.

Offensively, there was a great deal of time spent working on goal line situations in the passing game. In that drill, the receivers caught the ball really well as both Quintin Hancock and
Austin Rogers made really good catches in the back corner of the endzone. Additionally, Dave Clawson had guys lined up in all kinds of places during that drill.

But the biggest priority for the Vols offense is making sure they end up with the football at the end of the play.

"It's the little things that make the difference," quarterback Jonathan Crompton said.

"We are trying to eliminate the false starts, the interceptions, and the fumbles and all of that stuff. We are going out there to play good team ball with great effort."

After seeing some turnovers in Wednesday's 58-play scrimmage -- two fumbles and an interception, head coach Phillip Fulmer said ball security remains a priority moving toward the scrimmage and season-opening contest Sept. 1 at UCLA.

"It's always a concern," Fulmer said of possessing the football. "There are seven big factors in winning and losing ballgames, and giveaways and takeaways are No. 1. You have to take care of the football. We feel like a 40-yard punt is a whole lot better than giving it back to them somewhere on our end of the field."

The special teams work of the day was on kickoff coverage as right now Chad Cunningham appears to be the front runner to handle kickoff duties. Fulmer also indicated the scrimmage would be crucial to help identify players who can lend depth to the Vols in several areas.


It might be easier to read the book "War and Peace" -- heck, write the book -- in the time it's taking the slow-afoot ruling bodies to determine the eligibility of Brandon Warren. Tennessee won't hear anything today and now expects the decision could hold until late next week -- possibly even beyond.

Fulmer stuck with a familiar refrain Friday and then added the suspenseful situation is taking a toll on all involved.

"I told you, I'd put it on the billboard out there," Fulmer said of how he'll distribute the news of Warren's appeal. "We've got one lady in the compliance office on a hunger strike right now, so I hope it's pretty soon."


Running back Arian Foster did not practice on Friday. Foster did some running on the side, but he did not workout with the team. Foster had some knee soreness but it is by no means any kind of concern.

Tight end Jeff Cotttam watched from the sidelines as he still nursing his ailing leg. Offensive lineman Cody Pope remains out with an illness. Linebacker Savion Frazier did not practice because of the ankle sprain.

Offensive guard Preston Bailey did not practice again on Friday because of a concussion he suffered on Wednesday in the first day of full contact.


Guard Jacques McClendon was the last player to leave the practice field on Friday as he got in some extra work snapping the ball as offensive line coach Greg Adkins looks to build depth. Adkins has spent the first week of camp working guys everywhere. Josh McNeil has worked at center at guard. Anthony Parker has worked at guard, center, and tackle and would likely be the third offensive tackle at this point. Vladimir Richard had worked at guard and tackle.

For offensive tackle, Ramone Johnson it's a big day. Johnson is the third offensive tackle at this point and knows he needs a big day.

"I have to stay focused and have no mistakes," Johnson said. "I have to try to be perfect. No one is perfect, but you have to try and be perfect. I am getting more comfortable with the offense every day. I am actually starting to like playing the right and left. I am starting to like it more and more."


Fulmer indicated Tennessee would look at starting defensive ends Robert Ayers and Wes Brown inside at defensive tackle, if needed, in key situations.

"We've done that forever," Fulmer said of sliding an end inside in pass-rushing situations. "We're going to get our best four pass rushers on the field, regardless of the position they play. It could be linebackers like Jerod Mayo (previously) going down on the edge. It could be secondary guys playing at the position that they can come. We can work around not having enough effective pass rushers, and that would be the only reason really that Wes would go inside. Or Robert.

"The defensive tackles should take that as a challenge. If you can't get around the guard, we need to push the pocket more and help ourselves. I think everybody does that. Pro football, everybody. The idea is to get matchups you can win."


The battle for strongside linebacker continues to be a good one as seniors Adam Myers-White and Nevin McKenzie battle for the starting spot. Myers-White knows he needs a big scrimmage but said you can only focus on what you can do.

"It's a big day for the whole team including our position," Myers-White said. "It should be a good day. It's a challenge, but it's a great challenge. You just think about what you can do. If you play to the best of our ability then that's all you can ask for.

"My mental mistakes have been minimized. I feel like I have gotten more physical in the weight room. Everything has slowed down for me. I just need to make plays. That's what I need so show everyone."


Sophomore cornerback Brent Vinson, who has faced an uphill climb on the Vols' depth chart, isn't quite fully recovered from offseason shoulder reconstruction. But he's getting close enough to be optimistic.

"I'm excited. I just now got my shoulder back, and I've just been trying to work on my techniques in one-on-ones and man-to-man," Vinson said. "We do seven-on-seven stuff, and I'm just trying to work on the things I struggle in. Playing off the ball, just different techniques. That's our own personal time to get better. Whenever we have practice, I just try to work on things that I really couldn't work on when I was out and had my shoulder surgery.

"It's not all the way 100 percent. I can't really do like tackling drills and things like that, but it's pretty good. It's almost 100 percent."

The Hampton, Va., native says the competition for a starting cornerback spot -- Vinson has been buried at third on the depth chart through the opening week -- hasn't caused any problems.

"I don't really feel like I've got to show the coaches anything. I just get out there everyday and try to get better and encourage my teammates and try to be the best player that I can be," said Vinson, who finished summer classes Thursday and said everything was good on the academic side. "One-on-ones and stuff, we don't really see it as competition. Everybody supports everybody. Everybody's idea is just getting better. We watch film all the time, and today I had a good day in one-on-ones. I played good and I'm just looking to improve every day, try to stay positive. Don't let any negative attention get brought to me. People tend to gravitate toward negative things and I just try to stay positive, that's all."

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