Jimmy’s blog: Heupel says left tackles making progress

 By Jimmy Hyams

After two weeks of practice and two scrimmages, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has indicated the left tackle spot is a battle between JJ Crawford and Gerald Mincey.

“It’s been back and forth a little bit through training camp,’’ Heupel said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to need both of them.

“Both of them have made a bunch of progress since spring ball and really since the beginning of training camp in understanding what we’re doing offensively. … Both of them have taken major strides in the pass-pro side of it, too.’’

Crawford is a junior college transfer who played sparingly last year.

Mincey is a transfer from Florida who arrive at in January.

Dayne Davis, the former walk-on from Sullivan County, has worked at left tackle, right tackle and right guard. He appears to be a potential backup at several spots.

Heupel said Crawford and Mincey have played well enough to keep Darnell Wright at right tackle. Wright started at left tackle last season but coaches feel his more natural position is right tackle.

In Tennessee’s uptempo offense, the left tackle doesn’t carry the same importance of a left tackle in the NFL since UT is snapping the ball so quickly and quarterbacks get rid of the ball so swiftly.

Hooker, Milton very sharp in practice

Quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton have been extremely sharp in the two open periods the media is allowed to watch. The ball has seldom hit the ground on a variety of routes run by the wide receivers and tight ends.

Coaches have praised Hooker for having a better grasp of the offense and using his eyes to look off defensive backs.

Heupel also lauded Milton’s progress.

“He’s been a better decision maker, in better command of what we’re doing offensively,’’ Heupel said of his strong-armed, athletic QB. “He’s taken better care of the football.

“You guys know he has the arm talent to make some really special throws, but I think … in the two scrimmages, he’s had really good command and presence in what we’ve done.’’

Competition at wide receiver

Jalin Hyatt is the obvious choice to be the No. 2 wideout to Cedric Tillman.

But who is No. 3? And 4? And 5?

Bru McCoy, the 5-star transfer from USC, is not yet eligible. Since he has transferred three times, he needs a waiver from the NCAA. He missed the first scrimmage with an injury but he’s a physical specimen who is big, athletic and fast.

Squirrel White (6-0, 160) has been clocked at 23 MPH on the GPS tractor UT uses. That’s Tyreke Hill fast.

UT defensive backs have been unable to cover White one-on-one, especially in press coverage. Defensive back Tamarion McDonald said when he lines up against White, McDonald takes a couple of steps back.

Heupel singled out Jimmy Holiday and Walker Merrill as having a good scrimmage Sunday. He said the next week or so are important for Jimmy Calloway (noted for his inconsistency) and White to “prove they deserve to be on the football field.’’

Even with Hyatt, Heupel said preseason chatter doesn’t matter.

“We’ve all got to prove it, and game day’s approaching,’’ Heupel said.

Simmons `freak deal’ injury has sidelined him

Defensive tackle Elijah Simmons suffered what Heupel described as a “freak deal’’ injury, apparently twisting his knee early during camp. He has been limited since.

The Vols will need him as build depth along the defensive line.

“Don’t think it’s a long-term injury for him that will inhibit him in any way as we get to the season,’’ Heupel said. “But we’ve got to get him back fully ready to go.’’

Heupel said he thinks Simmons will practice this week.

Defensive line depth is always a concern. With Simmons injured, UT has about five players it can count on now: Byron Young, Tyler Baron, Roman Harrison, Omari Thomas and Kurott Garland. UT likes the improvement it has seen from Dominic Bailey and Bryson Eason. Sixth-year senior LaTrell Bumphus has been injury prone. Kansas transfer Da’Jon Terry played 28 regular-season snaps last year.

Mitchell making progress at linebacker

Linebacker Juwan Mitchell, who led Texas in tackles in 2020, was injured last year and hardly played.

He’s back healthy and making plays. If he returns to the form he showed in Austin, the linebacking corps has a chance to be much improved.

Heupel said the unit is “deeper’’ because of Mitchell, some returners and some new additions.

Jeremy Banks (128 tackles last year, 11.5 tackles for loss) could be as good as any linebacker in the SEC, if not the country, said defensive coordinator Tim Banks.

Heupel said Aaron Beasley (84 tackles last year) and super senior Solon Page III have made “major strides in the offseason.’’

Heupel said the linebackers are tackling better, have done well in gap fits and “have a better understanding of what we’re doing defensively.’’

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