Vince’s View: UT football observations & notes from practices 5/6 including close look at LOS & H. To’oto’o

KNOXVILLE, TN – APRIL 13, 2019 – The Tennessee Volunteers during the 2019 Chevrolet Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

By Vince Ferrara / @VinceSports

Below are some observations and notes from the University of Tennessee’s last two football practices, 5 and 6, along with comments from Jeremy Pruitt and three UT players the last two days here in my blog, Vince’s View.

-The full pads are now on the UT football team, which can be a game-changer for many players

-The big news this week was the injury to DT Emmit Gooden that will cost him the entire 2019 season. As Pruitt pointed out, he will have another year of eligibility next season.

-Gooden was the only player on the defensive line that you could pencil-in as a starter with any confidence. DE Aubrey Solomon will definitely start if he’s eligible, but that’s obviously still up in the air. Matthew Butler has the most game experience on the d-line, so he’s maybe the favorite to start, but that’s also still a question mark. Now, you have a wide-open, unsettled situation at defensive tackle.

-Here are the games played and career starts for the entire d-line along with their most likely positions on the defensive front after removing Emmit Gooden and Kurott Garland (transfer portal and hasn’t practiced)…

Defensive Tackles (3)
Kingston Harris (R-Fr) 6’3, 306 (3-star) 2 GP/0 starts
Greg Emerson (R-Fr) 6’3, 309 (4-star) 1 GP/0 starts
Elijah Simmons (Fr) 6’2, 340 (3-star) 0 GP
Total: 3 GP/0 starts

Defensive Ends (7)
Matthew Butler (Jr) 6’4, 295 (3-star) 17 GP/1 start
LaTrell Bumphus (Jr) 6’3, 273 (3-star) 22 GP/1 start at TE
Ja’Quain Blakely (R-Jr) 6’2, 284 (3-star) 14 GP/0 starts
John Mincey (So) 6’3, 271 (3-star) 5 GP/0 starts
Darel Middleton (Jr) 6’7, 311 (3-star) 0 GP
Savion Williams (Jr) 6’4, 304 (4-star) 0 GP
Aubrey Solomon (R-Jr) 6’5, 299 (5-star) 18 GP/0 starts
Total: 76 GP/2 starts (only 1 at DL)

One start left as a defensive lineman. Think about that. This is arguably the most important position group in football after quarterback and UT has very little experience. Even after this remaining group gets experience, the question remains if they have any difference makers among them.

You could very well see Savion Williams, Aubrey Solomon or Darel Middleton get some reps inside to add to that competition there. Pruitt didn’t sound concerned about the numbers on the defensive front. There will also be plays (especially in pass rush situations) where you can slide ends inside to go smaller and quicker with outside linebackers like Darrell Taylor, Deandre Johnson, Quavaris Crouch or Roman Harrison put their hands in the dirt to replace those ends that are inside. They have options. The quality in the combined front seven is the unknown. Finding stars among the newcomers can make a huge difference here.

I think this group, although not perfect, has looked improved in camp so far. The group is definitely bigger, looks stronger and for the most part, gives DL coach Tracy Rocker effort.

-True freshman QB Brian Maurer has some juice in that arm. His sideline throws get there in a hurry and are impressive.

-QB Jarrett Guarantano continues to look solid and accurate in the viewing periods we’ve seen. Seeing him in team settings would be much more telling though.

-The team will hold a closed scrimmage this Sunday. That will be big for the players to start to show separation in competition at their respective positions.

-Another big story this week was OL Nathan Niehaus leaving the team and releasing a statement explaining injuries taking a toll on his body as the reason for it. Niehaus played in 10 games at Tennessee with 6 starts. Twice when LT Trey Smith came out of games last season before returning, Niehaus was the first option off the bench at LT. He’s played both guard and tackle with the ability to play on either side of the line.

-Niehaus’ departure leaves the Vols now with 13 scholarship OLs. I broke down the main positions of the OLs in my post-practice 4 blog.

-OL coach Will Friend and OC Jim Chaney still have sufficient bodies to work with. Trey Smith, Jerome Carvin, Riley Locklear, K’Rojhn Calbert and Chris Akporoghene have been getting a lot of the guard reps during our viewing periods. You have young OLs Ollie Lane and Jackson Lampley that could see their roles grow. Plus, Jahmir Johnson, Wanya Morris, Ryan Johnson and Brandon Kennedy all have the potential to play guard, if needed.

-WR Jauan Jennings didn’t want to get in trouble by talking about individual teammates rather than the team and positions as a whole. Instead, he did most of the interview session with a smile on his face and delivered some great lines after I first asked him about trash talking. He also has a hilarious answer to Jimmy Hyams’ question about being the alpha male of the wide receiver room. Listen to that interview HERE.

-Jeremy Pruitt raved about true freshman LB Henry To’oto’o this week…

“Henry’s a guy that things have come really easy to him. He picks things up. Instinctive. He can cover. Fits the runs. He’s what you’re looking for as a linebacker. He’s pretty advanced for a young guy at the position. He’s capable of being a signal caller. He’s a guy that can play all three downs. He goes out there and works every day. He’s a hard working guy. He’s tough. He’s physical. He’s just got to continue to do that and work hard to improve every day.”

-I’ve said going back to recruiting how good I thought he would be and that he was my favorite player in last year’s class. He’s the total package at linebacker…can run, great size, physical, instinctive, smart, versatile, tough, coachable, hard-working and from all accounts has great passion for the game. Boom. He’s going to find a spot on the field sooner rather than later. Then, it will be very hard to find a reason to take him off the field in my opinion.

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