KNOXVILLE — On another steamy summer evening, Tennessee practiced in just helmets and shoulder pads, hitting Haslam Field one last time this week before an off day Friday.
Then the real fun starts.
The Vols will be in full pads Saturday, but coach Butch Jones kickstarted the intensity early for the second straight day, opening practice with a long period of ‘Circle of Life’ drills.
Once again, the media was largely blocked from seeing the 1-on-1 battles, but freshman tight end Austin Pope did get revenge on linebacker Daniel Bituli, putting the 6-foot-3, 235-pound freshman on his back one day after Bituli drove Pope out of the circle.
That’s exactly what senior linebacker and team captain Jaylen Reeves-Maybin wanted to see from Tennessee’s freshmen, saying earlier Thursday, “You’ve got to establish yourself as a physical player. I like to talk to the offensive guys, (tight end) Austin Pope and (receiver) Brandon Johnson, I just told them to put your identity out there. I’ve got to know you’re willing to put your face in there. … As long as I know that you’re not scared to go in there and get dirty, that’s what really matters.”
During another blocked battle, sophomore lineman Charles Mosley came out huffing at defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, yelling, “Get that man in the weight room, Shoop!”
The media did see freshman cornerback Marquill Osborne win his rep, destroying an unidentifiable receiver. Freshman offensive lineman Nathan Niehaus also got the best of slimmer-sophomore DT Kahil McKenzie.
The drill set the tempo for the rest of practice, as Tennessee worked on special teams fundamentals, individual drills and finished with some spirited 11-on-11 work.
* Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who met with the media earlier Thursday, remained in a green, non-contact, as did defensive lineman Austin Smith and wideout Jauan Jennings. Star tailback Jalen Hurd was also in a green jersey — likely for precaution.
* Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, who actually wore a regular orange jersey but without pads, continues to be brought along slowly, mostly participating in conditioning and individual drills.
* Receiver Latrell Williams has yet to debut with the Vols, as the freshman is out with a hamstring injury. Jones expects Williams to return to action sometime next week.
What we know
* Tennessee’s competition at left tackle remains ongoing, but heralded redshirt freshman Drew Richmond took the initial reps with the first-team during 11-on-11 drills Thursday. Chance Hall worked with the 1s at right tackle.
* Meanwhile, Mr. Manimal — a.k.a. Jonathan Kongbo — was impressive once again, displaying ridiculous explosion during individual drills. The dude is 6-foot-6, 270-pounds and runs like a souped-up Bugatti. Kongbo drilled tailback John Kelly for a tackle-for-loss during 11-on-11s.
* Emmanuel Moseley worked opposite Cam Sutton as the other starting boundary corner, and the junior picked off quarterback Josh Dobbs during team work. Tennessee’s starting defensive line consisted of Derek Barnett and LaTroy Lewis at end and Kendal Vickers and Danny O’Brien inside.
* Jones confirmed Tennessee’s recent roster subtractions, as former walk-ons Cody Blanc and Joe Stocstill are no longer with the program. Blanc, a Knoxville Central High product, graduated, while Stocstill could not return due to injuries.
* Former Vols great Deon Grant, a consensus All-American and member of Tennessee’s 1998 National Championship team, will speak to Tennessee on Friday and hang around for Saturday’s practice. Jones plans on bringing back multiple former players over the next month.
* While star tailback Jalen Hurd wasn’t particularly impressed with Tennessee’s preseason Top 10 ranking, Jones could barely be bothered with the news. “One minute spent even thinking about that is a minute wasted that you could be working on your football team,” he said.
* All-American cornerback Cam Sutton reiterated teammate Derek Barnett’s assertion that Tennessee’s vets shoulder much of the leadership responsibilities for Team120. “We need to be a player-led team,” Sutton said. “(We) need to be an extension of the coaching staff.”
* Sutton, tailback Alvin Kamara and wideout Josh Smith all took turns catching punts during one of Thursday’s open periods.
Quote of the Day
“We always talk about, ‘Hunt the ball.’ We want to create more takeaways, create more TFL, create more sacks.” – Reeves-Mayin on defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s attacking scheme.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com