KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will take to Shields-Watkins Field today for what coaches and players have said will be a major scrimmage.
The No. 10-ranked Vols open the season on Sept. 1 against Appalachian State — a Thursday night contest less than three weeks away.
Coach Butch Jones has said on more than one occasion Tennessee isn’t ready to play championship football, as there are still wrinkles for this team to get ironed out.
Here are five things the Vols will surely be looking for in today’s closed scrimmage:
1. Offensive line rotation
Veteran offensive line coach Don Mahoney says no one in his unit should feel too comfortable about their starting job, though he did qualify that by saying junior left guard Jashon Robertson has had a strong fall camp. Mahoney is hoping today’s scrimmage will give him a better idea of who’s ready to play, and he’s hoping there are at least seven linemen who look capable of game day action.
2. Consistency at receiver
Talking with receivers coach Zach Azzanni at Friday’s media day, one gets the sense that the former Central Michigan receiver is throwing the kitchen sink at his receiving corps in an effort to get them ready for the 2016 season. Azzanni knows his head coach has had enough of the dropped passes, but he’s convinced the Vols go two-deep with wideouts that can get the job done.
3. Scrimmage etiquette
There will be live tackling, but coach Butch Jones has talked to his team about good practice etiquette, in terms of playing as clean and careful as possible. That means no cut blocks, certainly no head hunting, and early whistles on most plays. Tennessee had its fair share of injuries last season and doesn’t want a repeat this year.
4. Quarterback play
Josh Dobbs is a brilliant leader and dynamic dual-threat quarterback, but like everyone else on the team he’ll be looking to use Saturday’s scrimmage to get dialed in. Among the many things Dobbs has worked on in the offseason is the deep ball, to the point where UT coaches have made sure to cut up clips of the deep balls in practice and scrutinize those particular plays. There’s a quiet competition for the No. 2 quarterback role going on, too — but don’t expect Jones or anyone else to comment on it.
5. Orange Swarm norm
It’s a key dress rehearsal for first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to go up in the coaching box and see how he can communicate with Willie Martinez on the field, as the UT defensive staff’s game-day operations will be put to the test. Players will also get more valuable reps in Shoop’s scheme, which among other things will include the nickel back being interchangeable with the safeties, and defensive ends getting repetitions inside at defensive tackle in certain packages.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.