No one would confuse Tennessee for a healthy football team during spring camp this season. However, things could be much worse.
“Most of the injuries were postseason,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, referring to surgeries performed after the 2015 season. “We’ve had — knock on wood — very few this spring.”
However, the Vols added another over the weekend. Defensive end Austin Smith was the latest Volunteer lost for the remainder of spring camp. The sophomore, who moved from linebacker to end this spring, suffered a shoulder injury.
“He’ll be lost for rest of the spring,” Jones said. “We’ll get him back in June.”
The Vols have faced a handful of shoulder injuries recently, namely to senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin earlier in spring practice. Jones said it’s an issue the Vols are addressing.
“We’re looking at that,” he said. “We’ve looked around the country. Every school we’ve talked to is having the same issues.”
Jones said a likely culprit is the prevalence of spread offenses, which can lead to lunging and poor tackling technique.
“It’s the change of football,” Jones said. “It’s more of a lateral game. It’s more of a sideline-to-sideline game with spread offenses, so you have to have cover more territory.”
Jones said junior offensive lineman Austin Sanders has been sidelined with a sprained ankle, but could return by Thursday. Junior defensive back Justin Martin missed Saturday’s scrimmage and Tuesday’s practice with the flu.
Jones said he referred to Villanova’s Kris Jenkins and his game-winning shot in the national championship game when he addressed his team on Tuesday before practice.
“It’s making clutch plays and being clutch players,” Jones said. “It’s like I spoke to the team about. That young man that hit the shot last night. One shot changed his life. He’ll live forever. He’s a legend now. It’s having that composure in those critical moments and the only way you can manufacture that is to be in a competitive situation.”
To simulate such conditions, Jones said the Vols held a physical practice on Tuesday despite the various injuries they’ve had to deal with. Jones called it a “competition day.”
“Winner take it all,” Jones said. “It was very spirited in every drill. Every repetition was scored.”
Jones said sophomore quarterback Quinten Dormady is beginning to show coaches that he can make “all the throws.” While that may seem like a compliment to Dormady’s arm strength, it’s not. That has never been a question. Jones meant that Dormady is improving when it comes to putting himself his teammates in the right position to handle different situations, such as hot reads on blitzes.
“I think just the overall management of the offense,” Jones said of Dormady’s improvement. “We always talk about a line of scrimmage command, a command presence, confidence, being able to make all the throws.”
Jones saw the positive and negative sides of Tennessee’s scrimmage on Saturday. Turnovers were at the crux of his focus.
“Offensively, we didn’t turn the football over, but on the flip side, defensively, we must start generating ball disruptions,” Jones said. “We talk about it all the time. It’s taking the football away … We have to become a much more physical football team. I think some of that is we still have some youngsters still learning.”