Heupel Quotes: Defense Sets Tone In First Spring Scrimmage

Heupel Quotes: Defense Sets Tone In First Spring Scrimmage

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee football is at the halfway portion of spring practice as the Vols’ defense set the tone in the first scrimmage on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.

The two-hour workout was the seventh of the spring, and Tennessee’s defensive depth has shined.

“I thought they tackled well, were disruptive at the line of scrimmage, had good pressure on the quarterback and third-down defense was really good,” head coach Josh Heupel said. “They found a way to get off the field. Lineman assignment, execution and energy from the guys on the field but also guys on the sidelines too. It was very noticeable during the course of the scrimmage.”

The defensive front got significant pressure for much of the day.

“We have great competition on the edges,” Heupel said. “That’s at defensive end—Tyler Baron and Tyre West on the edges, with our Leo’s being Roman (Harrison) to Josh (Josephs) to James (Pearce Jr.) to Caleb (Herring). We have great competition there and can do so many things with our front. I like how our interior is playing. I feel like we’re playing with better pad-level and using our hands better coming off the ball. I’m excited about the growth and looking forward to the back half of the spring.”

The Vols will practice three times next week—Monday, Wednesday and Thursday—before taking off for Easter break. Thursday will serve as another scrimmage day. All practices and scrimmages are closed to the public.

Fans will get a chance to see Tennessee again in the Orange & White Game on Saturday, April 15 at 2:30 p.m. in Neyland Stadium.

Admission is $5 for non-premium seats, and all proceeds will count as a contribution to the My All Campaign. All seats can be secured now at AllVols.com or by calling the UT Athletic Ticket Office at (865) 656-1200. All open sections of the bowl of Neyland Stadium will be general admission seating.

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening Statements…
“I loved the energy, really from the entire squad. I thought defensively, we were relentless and played with energy. They did a really nice job, in particular the defense. I thought they had a really good day.”

On what the defense did well today…
“Their ability to get off the field. I thought they tackled well, they were disruptive at the line of scrimmage, had good pressure on the quarterback and third-down defense was really good–they found a way to get off the field. Lineman assignment, execution and energy from the guys on the field but also guys on the sidelines too. It was very noticeable during the course of the scrimmage.”

On what today’s scrimmage meant for the newcomers..
Great opportunity for every young guy in our program and all of the (young) guys, it was their first opportunity to play in here. The freshmen, 18 guys and the transfers, it was their first experience in here. It was a great opportunity to learn a lot. We’ve got to continue to grow with all of those guys, and I do really like the energy and effort today. Now, the attention-to-detail, we have to continue to get better at but that’s a really good young group.”

On what he saw from Joe Milton III and Nico Iamaleava
“I thought Joe did a really good job taking care of the football. I thought he slid in the pocket a couple of times and continued to get out of it. Now, it’s a little bit different when the quarterback is not live in some of these situations. I thought he had really good command of what’s going on. We got to some situational football at the end—four-minute situation. There’s some things we can learn as far as clock management. Nico had a great first drive to go put it in the endzone. I thought he responded to everything well. He’ll learn some things about command and control on the field but it was a really good day for those guys.”

On the wide receiver group today…
Squirrel White did a really good job today. I thought he did a good job of working the middle of the field, he executed from the whistle to the next snap and did that efficiently. Chas Nimrod did a couple of really nice things. Kaleb (Webb) made some nice plays. Nathan Leacock did a couple of nice things on the back half of the scrimmage and thought he settled in too. There’s a lot of positives but also a lot of things we have to learn from too.”

On his offensive front’s performance…
“We’re going to play one’s-on-one’s and two-on-two. Iron sharpens iron. What we do defensively, being multiple, our guys have to be able to execute and adjust during the course of a scrimmage. They have to treat it like a game day. I thought there were times we ran the ball extremely efficiently and effectively, creating a couple of big plays. The young running back DeSean Bishop did some really nice things today—pressing the hole and coming out of the back side. Dylan Sampson too. There are a lot of things we can get a lot better at too. I thought our pass protection at times was good but there’s some things we have to clean up.”

On the potential backup center…
“We don’t ever want to miss Cooper (Mays). That’s a guy in the middle that’s playing a lot of football, and he’s a great leader for us inside of our program. Addison (Nichols) and Vysen (Lang) have to continue to grow and step up. There have been some really positive things from them in the first seven days and I’m excited to go back and watch the tape. We’re going to need those two guys to grow on the back half of spring ball.”

On what he saw from his linebackers…
“They were relentless and played with energy and passion. We’ve done a good job of tackling in some of the small space but also in the open field. That group’s got a lot of leadership traits. I like how the young guys have grown and fit in the culture. We’ve got to have them grow as we continue with spring ball but I’m excited about that group.”

On if the defense is ahead of the offense so far…
“I wouldn’t say that. You’ve got to continue to come out here, compete and grow. Offensive football is 11 guys playing as one and defense is the same way. You have to play with great effort. There are a lot of things we have to clean up on both sides of it, but I was really excited about the way the defense played today.”

On who’s brought pressure in the front seven that he’s liked…
“There’s been times where all of them have. We have great competition on the edges, that’s at defensive end—Tyler Baron and Tyre West on the edges, with our Leo’s being Roman (Harrison) to Josh (Josephs) to James (Pearce Jr.) to Caleb (Herring). We have great competition there and can do so many things with our front. I like how our interior is playing. I feel like we’re playing with better pad-level and using our hands better coming off the ball. I’m excited about the growth and looking forward to the back half of the spring.”

On the pass defense …
“Pass defense is all three levels. I think it’s important that everybody in our program but also on the outside understands that too. We’re deeper in the secondary. As long as we stay healthy, there’s a chance for these guys to grow fundamentally, technique and then scheme-understanding that can help make us a lot better as we get to the fall. There’s real competition there which forces these guys to compete every day—on the field, in the meeting room and everything that they’re doing. Our second level has gotten better dropping in coverage and in our zone principles, playing off the quarterback’s eyes and making plays in the middle of the field. You’ve also got to be able to rush and affect the quarterback. You have to have rush integrity, keep your lane assignment and not let the quarterback get up or escape out of it. We have to continue to grow in those areas for us to take another step on the defensive side of the ball. I thought they were physical, ran to the football and in all third-downs, got themselves off the field.”

On Elijah Simmons
“We’ll go back and watch the tape. He was playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage today at times and when he flashes, you don’t miss him just by pure size. He’s had a really good first half of spring ball. I’m excited about his growth and development, him controlling his mind and how he’s going to play every single rep. I’m excited again to see his consistency in the back half of spring ball.”

On Nico Iamaleava’s performance today…
“Nico did a lot of really nice things—having his eyes in the right place, being able to make decisive reads, moving the pocket, pushing the football down the field and being accurate in the middle of the field. I thought for his first time being inside the stadium, he did a really nice job with controlling everything that happens when you’re playing within the tempo of how we play. I didn’t think he played outside of himself and never was in a hurry. I saw a lot of positive things.”

On how efficient their tempo was today…
“I thought it was relatively efficient with the one’s and the two’s, guys that have experience in it. Our three’s at times could have been a little bit better just in our mechanics after the whistle. For their first time being in it, I actually thought they did a really nice job.”

On the special teams…
“We did some punt coverage, just the back half of the play, some punts and field goal situations.”

On the specialists…
“I like the group as a whole. They compete hard with each other. They’re really positive and push each other. There is competition at the field goal kicking spot, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out in the back half of spring ball but also when we get into training camp.”

On who stood out in terms of young guys on defense…
“I could rattle off a bunch of them. I don’t want to leave anyone out. The secondary, the second level but also the first level guys on the edge in particular. I think they played with great energy, were relentless and physical at the point of contact. It was a really good day.”

-UT Athletics

Vols DB Wesley Walker / Credit: UT Athletics

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