• 77°

Defense shines In first preseason camp scrimmage


KNOXVILLE – With exactly three weeks until Tennessee’s season-opener under head coach Josh Heupel, the Volunteers went through their first preseason camp scrimmage on Thursday morning in Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee worked all three phases for two hours and the scrimmage featured live tackling.

“There’s only one way that we should compete when we walk in that stadium,” Heupel said. “I’m proud of a lot of the things we did on both sides of the ball.

“Defensively, I think we played with great effort, energy and strain. We competed extremely hard and tackled well in space. A lot of really positive things from them. Offensively, we showed glimpses of those things, but didn’t really string it together the way that we want to or need to.”

Heupel gave equal reps to all three quarterbacks battling for the starting spot, including Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker, and Joe Milton III.

“They kind of cycled through. If a guy had a three-and-out he might have had an extra drive just to keep the play count relatively close.”

The Vols will take Friday off before practicing three straight days beginning on Saturday morning. That leads to the squad’s next scrimmage, which is scheduled for Tuesday in Neyland Stadium. The scrimmage will be closed to the public.

Tennessee opens the 100th year of Neyland Stadium, Shield-Watkins Field on Sept. 2 against Bowling Green at 8 p.m. ET on SEC Network. Tickets are on sale now at AllVols.com.

Other Heupel comments from the scrimmage

On the quarterbacks during Thursday’s scrimmage, specifically Joe Milton in his first time in a scrimmage setting in the offense …

“I thought he managed things really well inside the pocket. For Joe, Hendon (Hooker), and Harrison (Bailey), some of it’s tough because you’re not in a live situation, either you have to make a play or you have to get out of the pocket in those types of scenarios. But I thought all of them did a great job of taking care of the football, being efficient in calling it.

“For the most part, I thought their decision making in what we’re doing in the run game and controlling the passing game was pretty solid.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think we collectively offensively strung things together the way that we need to. Some of that is just 11 guys all doing their job at a really high level. It’s not just one position and one guy, it was a little bit of everything at all points.

“Through the first seven days, I thought all those guys have competed really well and been really sound decision-makers.”

On if he is pleased that his defense had a good day during Thursday’s scrimmage …

“As a coach, I don’t think you’re ever comfortable or completely satisfied with where you’re at in any phase of what you’re doing. You’re constantly trying to push and get better.

“Offensively, there have been days and portions of practice where you string things together and you feel really good about the efficiency, how you’re operating, and 11 guys playing as one.

“Defensively, they’ve had those same moments during the course of it. I think as a coach, you get concerned when it’s one side of the football that is consistently dominating practices or scrimmages.

“There has been good back-and-forth. I think our guys on both sides of the line of scrimmage have a much better understanding of what we’re doing schematically (and) fundamentally with technique. We’ve continued to progress.

“Their practice habits have been really good. I think that’s what brings a sense of confidence to myself and our coaching staff, too. There’s a process that you have to go through. Our kids are straining and competing through that.”