Quotes: Offense Starts Fast In Vols’ Second Preseason Scrimmage

Quotes: Offense Starts Fast In Vols’ Second Preseason Scrimmage

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Led by sixth-year senior quarterback Joe Milton III, Tennessee’s up-tempo offense started fast with a touchdown on its first drive as the Volunteers wrapped up their second scrimmage of preseason camp on Wednesday in Neyland Stadium.

“He was really accurate with the football, really decisive and been a really good decision maker,” said head coach Josh Heupel of Milton. “(He’s) been in control of protections for the most part. We have continued to push their hand on that side of it.”

Milton led Tennessee’s first-team offense down the field vs. the first-team defense, and the drive culminated with a Jaylen Wright touchdown run. Wright, who finished the 2022 campaign strong, has enjoyed an outstanding camp in his third season with the program. He was the Vols’ leading rusher last season with 875 yards on 146 carries and 10 scores.

“He’s been very intentional in his work,” said Heupel. “He’s continued to grow and just being able to have a championship mindset, be able to reset from play to play, play with passion, not playing just straight out of emotion. He’s been great with the young backs. He’s been a great leader (and) great teacher for those guys.

“On the football side of it, he’s a guy that early in his career, just wanted to run around everything and just use his speed to his advantage. He can still do all of those things, but he’s got really good vision. He understands blockers, he understands how to use them, he delivers double teams to the second level (and) he finds space. His vision on the back door cuts has grown, (and) he’s doing it at the right time. He’s playing at a really high level.”

The Vols shined in third-down defense, provided pass rush and forced a turnover late in the scrimmage.

“Third-down defense was really strong for the most part, and in overtime, I thought the defense did a great job,” Heupel said. “They played really good football in the overtime period, so all-in-all, a good day’s work.”

Thursday is an off day for UT, which returns to the practice field for back-to-back practices on Friday and Saturday at Haslam Field.

The Vols open the season on Sept. 2 against Virginia at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CT on ABC. The game is being presented by Nissan.

Tickets for the season opener in Nashville are on sale now through the Nashville Sports Council and Nissan Stadium via Ticketmaster.com.

Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening Statement
“Good day out there; good energy on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Got some good special teams work, did some normal drive work, but got some coming out and finished it with some overtime. Plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage, offense got some things going early. I thought defense did a really good job in the middle part of the scrimmage getting off the field. Third-down defense was really strong for the most part, and in overtime, I thought the defense did a great job. They played really good football in the overtime period, so all-in-all, a good day’s work. Two weeks and change away from kickoff; we have a lot of things we need to continue to clean up on both sides of it. The communication side I thought could have been better offensively, just some of the mechanics stuff. But all-in-all, good work; it also lets us know where we have to improve before we get to Nashville.”

On the offensive improvements from the last scrimmage…
“I thought they made some plays; some of our vets, we did let go in this one. They got some early work in and then got out in the middle part of the scrimmage. I thought there were some really good things that happened up front in protection early in the scrimmage. There are some things just mechanically, how we function and operate, that we have to get better at, too. It was all positions.”

On the personnel of the offensive line…
“We have had multiple guys going at center, like I said when I talked about Cooper [Mays] being out. Thought all those guys handled it, as far as the communication once they got the play call, in a really positive way. Our protection with the one group in particular has been pretty sound for the most part; those guys have to continue to grow. We will find out as we continue to finish up training camp where we are with who we will run out there with the first group the first game.”

On Joe Milton III’s accuracy in the scrimmage…
“He was really accurate with the football, really decisive, been a really good decision maker. I do not know if he has thrown a pick all training camp. Been in control of protections for the most part; we have continued to push their hand on that side of it. That is Joe and the guys behind him, too, and I think they have continued to grow in that way.”

On if the mechanics that need to be cleaned up are common…
“Some of it is–the first scrimmage, in all reality, was probably a little cleaner than today’s just operationally: sideline, play clock, getting things settled as we get out there on the field the first play of a drive. I am not worried about where we are. We are pretty intentional on working those things during practice. I thought today could have been cleaner, but it was not just one guy. All of us just need to be a little bit cleaner.”

On what he’s seen from Kaleb Webb that shows he’s been intentional with his growth…
“From the offseason to where we are today, he’s been very intentional. I don’t know if anybody spends more time in the building catching balls off the jugs. He’s always coming back for extra work in the middle of the day to understand what he’s doing, what he’s seeing to continue to grow within our offense, understanding defensive structure. He’s gotten a lot stronger, his lower body in particular, that’s helped him with speed, getting in and out of breaks. He’s just continuing on his football journey with a real purpose every day and small strides end up to big gains by the time we get to kickoff. Been really pleased with him. Chas Nimrod is a guy that has done the exact same thing. He’s continued to grow; he’s played multiple positions within our offense. Really excited about Chas and Kaleb.”

On how long DeSean Bishop and Tyree Weathersby will be out…
“Weathersby will be out for the year. DeSean is not out for year but will be out for an extended period of time. Probably a couple of months.”

On if they are waiting on Cooper Mays to recover before beginning game prep or if they are proceeding as if he will not be able to play…
“We believe we’ll have an opportunity to have him back. Everything has gone well since he missed training camp and had the issue that he had. At the same time, and it’s true for every position but in particular the offensive line, you better have contingency plans. You don’t know when that’s going to happen. A guy gets an ankle, you guys have seen that since we’ve been here. Every week, you’ve got to understand where you’re at going into the game, how you want to manage and play those guys if you’re healthy. But if something happens to one of those five guys, somebody gets nicked up, who’s the next in, how are you shuffling your front five, in particular if your center goes down. Those are the things that you work through every training camp and throughout the course of the season.”

On how he would assess the run game after the second scrimmage…
“We’ll be able to see more as you go back and watch it with all the bodies and the moving parts up front. I thought, at times, we were really efficient and effective. There are some things that are unique within our run game that I thought our guys handled really well. Some of that in our pull schemes. I thought the backs did a really good job of pressing, making cuts, some of that coming out the back door. We manage the load of the guys that you’ve seen play a lot of football here. A lot of our young backs got a lot of work today. I thought they handled and operated better than they did in the first scrimmage. They continue to get comfortable in how they play.”

On where the team is in terms of the four-man pass rush…
“Not just the scrimmages, the practices are extremely important too to evaluate where you’re at. I know that we’ve taken strides, that’s in the interior, that’s on the edges. We’ve added depth which allows those guys to rotate more and stay fresh. I’m excited about what we’re doing on the front four at this point. Some of the things that we have to grow in, in particular pass defense in general, but third down defense, third and long defense in particular as well. A huge part of that is the back end, your backers included, but it starts with getting a really good pass rush. I’m excited about the growth that I’ve seen so far.”

On what progress he’s seen from Joshua Josephs and James Pearce Jr.
“First of all, those guys dramatically changed their habits off the field. They changed their bodies, because of that, within what we’re doing, strength and nutrition. Their level of play and understanding of what we’re doing has continued to grow in a really big way. I’ve said this before, but there’s a difference between guys that come in in mid-year, I’m talking about true freshmen, and guys that show up late May or early June. Those guys were both June arrivals last year. They did some really positive things last year, but they’ve had a really good offseason of continued growth.”

On if any defensive backs are starting to separate themselves apart from the others…
“Similar to the offensive line, you got to have contingency plans as far as where guys are going to truly navigate to get your best five on the field. You got to have some depth at those positions too and rotate some during the course of a ball game. We got some young guys that have really grown here over the last 11-12 practices. I’m excited about them. They’ll play some defensive snaps, but they’ll play a ton on special teams too. Our vets, I’m excited about the guys that maybe missed a little bit of time last year or here early in training camp. I feel like they’ve really grown in understanding our scheme, communication, fundamentals and technique. The next couple of weeks are important as we get everyone back healthy to make sure that we grow the right way before kickoff.”

On how Jaylen Wright has done during fall camp…
“He’s been healthy throughout the course of training camp. His body is dramatically different. He’s one of the guys that we recognize as we started training camp for what he had done in the offseason (and) the changes he had continued to make to his body. He’s been very intentional in his work. He’s continued to grow and just being able to have a championship mindset, be able to reset from play to play, play with passion, not playing just straight out of emotion. He’s been great with the young backs. He’s been a great leader (and) great teacher for those guys. He’s into it when he’s not even the guy that’s getting the reps. On the football side of it, he’s a guy that early in his career, just wanted to run around everything and just use his speed to his advantage. That’s how he kind of developed as a young back in high school with some of what they did. He can still do all of those things, but he’s got really good vision. He understands blockers, he understands how to use them, he delivers double teams to the second level (and) he finds space. His vision on the back door cuts has grown (and) he’s doing it at the right time. He’s playing at a really high level.”

On if he feels like the team has more depth in the secondary…
“We absolutely are deeper on the second and third levels. The growth of the young guys inside of our program, that can be at the linebacker spot, guys that were here playing a lot of special teams last year like Elijah (Herring) and Kalib (Perry), those two guys in particular. The young guys that we’ve added, the true freshmen at that position, Arion Carter has had a great training camp. I said it I think a week ago, but he’s taken a major step from where he finished spring ball. I’ll say the same thing about (Jeremiah) Telander and Jalen (Smith) too. On the third level, the young guys are going to play some snaps for us. We have great competition that creates urgency in the meeting room, creates urgency in the offseason. It shows up in the way they play and compete on the practice field and today when we’re inside of the stadium. We have guys that are vets that played a lot of football last year, those guys have taken a step in their understanding of how we want to play too. We absolutely have more depth, more competition, and as we get closer to kickoff figuring out the rotation as those guys continue to compete and show that they’re going to play at a championship level.”

-UT Athletics

Vols John Campbell Jr, Jaylen Wright and Joe Milton III / Credit: UT Athletics

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