Neyland Scrimmage, Pro Day Take Centerstage Wednesday In Front Of NFL Scouts
Courtesy / UT Athletics

Neyland Scrimmage, Pro Day Take Centerstage Wednesday In Front Of NFL Scouts

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – NFL scouts and personnel got an all-access look at Tennessee football on Wednesday beginning with the Volunteers’ first spring scrimmage in Neyland Stadium before shifting to Pro Day in the Anderson Training Center.

All 32 NFL teams were in attendance and watched 15 VFLs participate in Pro Day. They also got a taste of the 2024 Vols in full pads during a two-hour scrimmage that saw UT work all three phases. Head coach Josh Heupel praised the group of young players who went through their first scrimmage.

“Mike (Matthews) made a big play down the sideline today,” Heupel said. “I thought he competed hard throughout the course of the day. I thought some of our young DBs showed up just tackling in space. As we go through spring ball, those fundamentals are extremely important. Boo Carter did a great job making plays in space.”

Heupel announced that sophomore running back Cam Seldon will miss the remainder of the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery on Tuesday. Seldon’s absence allowed junior Dylan Sampson, true freshman Khalifa Keith and redshirt freshman DeSean Bishop to take the bulk of the reps in the backfield.

Pro Day standouts included tight end McCallan Castles, who at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, posted a 10-foot-6 broad jump and a 37.5-inch vertical jump. Those marks would have registered first and third, respectively among tight ends at this year’s NFL Combine.

Cornerback Kamal Hadden, a Combine invite, notched marks of 34.5 inches in the vertical and a 10-foot-2 broad jump. The next best vertical jump figures came from running back Jabari Small and defensive back Gabe Jeudy-Lally, who each posted 36 inches.

Jaylen Wright, who many experts consider one of the top two running backs in this year’s draft, took part in his position group workout and stood on his strong NFL Combine numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.38), broad jump (11-2) and vertical jump (38 inches).

Quarterback Joe Milton III was unofficially clocked at 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Milton then made his way around the route tree, throwing to wide receiver Ramel Keyton, tight end Jacob Warren, Castles and the running backs inside. Milton punctuated the day when the action shifted outside for his final five throws. He launched multiple 80-yard deep balls in stride to receivers.

Multiple VFLs were on hand to watch the action, including Baltimore Ravens quarterback coach Tee Martin, Miami Dolphins personnel executive Reggie McKenzie and Detroit Lions quarterback Hendon Hooker.

The 2024 Vols will review the film from the spring scrimmage on Thursday before breaking for the Easter holiday. Tennessee returns to the practice field with four workouts next week.

Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel

Opening statement…
“Huge day here on campus for us. We have 15 former players who will be working out here in just a few minutes for Pro Day. I’m excited to see those guys go through this part of the NFL experience. Guys that have helped us turn this program around and been a huge part of winning a lot of football games. It was also great this morning that we were able to get into Neyland and go scrimmage for the first time here, we’re six days in. It’s great to see the competition and plays made on both sides of the football. As much as anything, I thought we played extremely hard from snap to whistle. There’s a bunch that we’ll learn here as we continue to push after Easter break on the backend of spring ball.”

On what he was looking for in the first scrimmage…
“It does start with playing hard. At this point in spring ball, you want your veterans to act like veterans and play sound football, play penalty-free but go out and execute. We have a lot of young guys inside your program that are getting their first taste of what it means to go play live football. So, by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not going to be perfect, but you want to see guys that are going to go make plays. That’s offense, it’s defense, we did a lot of good-on-good in special teams, primarily on punt and punt return. You want to see guys that are putting themselves in the position where you can start gaining trust in who they are as a player. When something doesn’t go right, I think it’s important that we see guys that are going to respond the right way. A lot of good, a lot of things that we’re going to have to learn from today off the video when they come back in tomorrow.”

On what stood out most with the young players today…
“I don’t know if there was any one guy. Mike (Matthews) made a big play down the sideline today. I thought he competed hard throughout the course of the day. I thought some of our young DBs showed up just tackling in space. As we go through spring ball, those fundamentals are extremely important. Boo Carter did a great job making plays in space. Some of those guys are consistently showing up day-to-day as they go through this experience and grow.”

On what he’s seen in terms of urgency from the younger players…
“Just their competitive spirit when they’ve been out on the practice field. Those young guys don’t take a backseat to anybody. Individual drills, they’re up in the front of the line. They’re constantly pushing to get reps. They’ve been great inside of the meeting room in the early part of spring ball. They expect themselves to do the right things and be mature and be a vet almost as far as their understanding of the game. Those guys continue to compete in a really good way: offense, defense and special teams.”

On the tight end position and Miles Kitselman’s development…
“Miles wasn’t here for bowl preparation. Those guys inside of our program, the guys that just got here, Miles and Holden (Staes), but Ethan Davis a young player. All those guys made plays out there today, but they’ve been really consistent in the first five practices too. I thought the new guys operated within our offense extremely well for their first time out on the field. There’s a certain way you have to play from snap to the echo of the whistle, but then how we function and operate and communicate offensively from the whistle, getting themselves lined up, getting in position, being efficient with their movement. I thought they did a really good job here for the first time.”

On the status of Cameron Seldon
“With Cam, unfortunate, just the early part of spring ball, had an injury to his shoulder, had surgery on it. We’ll kind of evaluate where we’re at as the rehab process gets started and base our decisions off of that and kind of where we project where he’s going to be.”

On Nico Iamaleava‘s operation today and what he liked from him…
“He’s been really good in practices leading up to it, being intentional, having conversations and making sure he’s getting on the same page with the skill guys, but also with the offensive line, growing and bringing energy to that group before a drive and during the course of it. I thought today, just the way he functioned and operated, controlled the huddle – we went into a four-minute situation at the end. Understanding the play clock, game clock and all of that, just functioned and operated extremely maturely today.” 

On Nico Iamaleava‘s operation today and what he liked from him…
“He’s been really good in practices leading up to it, being intentional, having conversations and making sure he’s getting on the same page with the skill guys, but also with the offensive line, growing and bringing energy to that group before a drive and during the course of it. I thought today, just the way he functioned and operated, controlled the huddle – we went into a four-minute situation at the end. Understanding the play clock, game clock and all of that, just functioned and operated extremely maturely today.”

On the most exciting part of Pro Day as a coach seeing guys go through the process…
“Ultimately at the end of it, it’s them getting to a franchise and putting the helmet and shoulder pads on and getting a chance to go compete for a job. It’s the next part of their journey. Just the maturity that our guys have had and some of the feedback that we’ve gotten from NFL personnel that have been at postseason bowl games and how they’ve handled the combine process – really excited for those guys. Shows some of the maturity and some of the things that our coaches are teaching those guys on a consistent basis while they’re here in our program. I’m excited for today because they get an opportunity, for those that didn’t go to the combine, to put their next foot forward and put themselves in a position to go where they want to go. Today, they are going to have an opportunity to showcase their athletic traits that NFL personnel have already seen on the film, so excited to go see them go compete today.” 

On opportunities for other running backs with Cam Seldon being out…
“D-Samp (Dylan Sampson) has been awesome with just energy, leadership, maturity and the understanding of our offense. The young guys continue to take steps forward. Khalifa (Keith) has done a really nice job. He’s been extremely physical, was today as well. I thought he finished going forward all the time. DeSean Bishop, a young guy that got nicked up last year, his growth inside of our program, for him to get back on the field and showcase his skillset, handled the rehab process extremely well and I love the competition that he’s brought. (Patrick) Wilk and Hunter (Barnes) have done a really nice job.” 

On young defensive backs who stood out to him today…
“I already mentioned Boo (Carter). I thought he made plays. John Slaughter did a great job today defending a deep ball down the sidelines, just a ball, me, man relationship and playing the 50/50 ball. He did a nice job on some of the tackles. I’m excited to go watch the scrimmage here. Edrees Farooq is a young guy that’s consistently shown up here in the early part of spring ball too.” 

Defensive Back Kamal Hadden

On what teams may have liked about today’s performance…
“They like my playmaking ability. My ability to go out there and get back settled, being about to make a comeback play or make a play on the ball. I feel like they like my aggressiveness, as well.” 

On his five-month recovery journey…
“It was a lot, but I feel like it put me in the best position as far as going where I need to go. It makes my story even greater. I overcame a lot during college, leaving different schools and having to fight through a lot of adversity. This was just another one of those things where I had to overcome and accept where I am, accept what happened to me, and put my best foot forward and come back and work even harder.”

On last season’s realizations before his injury …
“One of the things that clicked for me was that the game became a lot slower, and I was maturing a lot. I feel like it was a combination of a lot of things but most definitely the game slowing down, me understanding what’s going on, understanding my role better, what the scheme is of our defense, what the weaknesses are and what the offense is trying to attack. That’s really what clicked for me and helped me make a lot of plays.”

Tight End McCallan Castles

On his opportunities to showcase his route running and pass catching skills…
“Every route that I ran, I took it like it was a game rep and if I can make Joe (Milton) look good, that makes both of us look good. It’s a win-win for both of us.”

On how playing at Tennessee prepared him for the next level…
“When you’re playing in the SEC, you’re playing against a majority of guys who are going to the NFL at some point so I think it prepared me for that. It put me in the mind frame of the work that I needed to do after the season to get ready for this.”

On what NFL scouts liked from his performance…
“Just the versatility. I can play a fullback, I can insert off the ball and run block, run different routes. So, just being a jack of all trades and being able to play each tight end position.” 

Quarterback Joe Milton III

On how he thought his Pro Day went…
“It went great. I feel like I ran what I needed to run for one. Two, I feel like I threw the ball very well. Shout out to the guys that caught the ball today.”

On if there was a point he was trying to make coming into Pro Day … 
“Nope, just be who I am and who I am always going to be and doing what God brought me here for.”

On the words of encouragement that Nico Iamaleava had for him and the guys going into today…
“Just go be me, do what I normally do. He [Nico Iamaleava] actually came to my house two days ago and told me about myself and what he has seen since he has been here. He said I played my best when I was having fun. I feel like that is very true, and I look forward to keep doing it.”

On his workout script… 
“On the drop aspect of it, I said I wanted to be away from it so I could throw across the field because I know out here the field is only 80 yards. I know if I go right while he is running left that it is going to be a further throw. 

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