Tennessee holds 2018 Pro Day

Football finally came back as Tennessee hosted its Pro Day to show off more than 20 athletes Monday in the Anderson Training Center. Players included running back John Kelly, punter Trevor Daniel, defensive back Rashaan Gaulden and defensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie. Each player appeared in the NFL Combine in Indianapolis as well.

The Anderson Training Facility filled with representatives from 31 NFL teams and multiple general managers, including Jon Robinson of the Tennessee Titans. Oakland Raiders General Manager and former Volunteers football alumnus Reggie McKenzie also made an appearance in Knoxville.

Maybe the biggest buzz of the day came from defensive back and returner Evan Berry, who saw some action as a receiver on Monday. Berry infamously remained underutilized on the offensive side of the ball in the Butch Jones era despite his incredible field vision. He logged five touchdowns in just two seasons as a kick/punt returner.

“I was planning on doing both earlier on, but I decided that I wanted to put my all of my focus into one thing and do that to the best of my ability without having to worry about two things at once,” Berry said about switching to a wide receiver for drills.

Gaulden also accumulated praise and enhanced his draft stock since declaring for the draft earlier this year. Scouts report that Gaulden could be picked within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft despite a slower 40-yard dash than expected (4.61) at the Combine. Gaulden said he followed the example of others to improve.

“Guys like Derek Barnett and Cam Sutton showed me that in the offseason you really have to take it to another level as far as film study,” Gaulden said about his dominant play in Tennessee orange. “You have to get on the field and get extra time in, and you also have to step up as a leader and be able to rally your defensive backs and get them on the same page.”

John Kelly became one of the most anticipated players at the Pro Day. He did not run his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine earlier this month. Kelly clocked 4.65 officially. Still, some people can’t help but compare his play style to former Vols running back Alvin Kamara.

“A lot of teams have compared me to Alvin Kamara just as far as what we can do for an offense. I definitely feel like I was able to develop at Tennessee,” Kelly said. “Now in the NFL, there’s a lot of running backs that have to catch the ball and you have to give an easy target for the quarterback.”

Some scouts say Trevor Daniel could even be picked in the NFL Draft. He averaged 45 yards per punt and has solid size for his position. Daniel logged 23 reps in bench press and ran an impressive sub-five second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Other Notables:

Kahlil McKenzie made changes Monday morning, as he took some reps at offensive line. McKenzie said he’ll “do whatever they need me to do” to get on an NFL roster.

Some lesser scouted Tennessee players also got their time to shine on Monday, and some possibly put themselves in position to reach an NFL roster.

Ethan Wolf looks forward to the opportunity.

“Each and every one of us is just trying to come out here and put all of our hard work on display,” Wolf said. “Again, you know more later on, but right now you just get all the reps you can. I feel like a lot of guys out here did well.”

Full list of Pro Day participants:

Elliott Berry, Evan Berry, Trevor Daniel, Logan Fetzner, Holden Foster, Rashaan Gaulden, Jeff George, Jakob Johnson, Colton Jumper, John Kelly, Brett Kendrick, Justin Martin, Kahlil McKenzie, Aaron Medley, Emmanuel Moseley, Thomas Orradre, Jashon Robertson, Josh Smith, Coleman Thomas, Kendal Vickers, Shaq Wiggins and Ethan Wolf.

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Lexie Little

Neyland Stadium jumbotron receives upgrades

After months of question and confusion, the jumbotron atop Neyland Stadium finally received an update. Tennessee added former team captain Al Wilson, hall of fame head coach Robert Neyland and Jason Witten to the jumbotron.

Before the update, Butch Jones, General Neyland and Reggie White loomed over the Tennessee River. Fans expressed outrage and confusion after the terminated Jones remained on the jumbotron. Nearly four months later, crews removed the former coach’s image.

Many fans approved of Neyland and White on the jumbotron. However, the university decided to change all three photos. While Neyland remains on the jumbotron, he receives recognition in a new picture. The previous photo showed Neyland in a Volunteers baseball jersey. Now, he is shown in his iconic kneeling position, much like the one his statue portrays in the stadium concourse.

Wilson replaced Jones on March 5. The former linebacker Wilson captained the 1998 National Championship team and went on to play eight years in the NFL after his tenure from 1995-98 as a Vol.

Jason Witten replaces Reggie White. Witten played for the Vols from 2000-2003 and left after his junior season for the NFL. Witten played all 15 seasons of his pro career with the Dallas Cowboys. The Elizabethton native left Tennessee with the third-most receptions by a tight end and fourth-most receiving yards by a tight end in program history.

With the new trio of Wilson, Neyland and Witten ready to go for the beginning of the Pruitt era, Vols fans look forward to the coming season. Though pictures on a jumbotron seem like little to celebrate, Tennessee fans will take any upgrades after a disastrous 2017 season.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Featured image courtesy of Mark Nagi 

Vols’ 2018 National Signing Day: Pruitt signs multiple defenders

Tennessee has finished up its 2018 National Signing Day recruiting cycle and the Vols landed themselves the No. 20 overall ranked recruiting class according to 247sports.com.

Head coach Jeremy Pruitt and his assistants are proud of where they went with this class, regardless of where they are ranked.

“We’re excited about the 20 young men we’ve added to this class,” Pruitt said. “These guys are going to lay the foundation for the next four to five years.”

The Vols finished the official signing day with six total signees, and five of the six came on defense.

3-Star Trevon Flowers, freshman, safety, 6-1, 185 lbs.

From: Tucker HS, Georgia.

A former baseball player who only played one year of high school football, Flowers chose to come to school and forego playing major league baseball.

“He played shortstop on his high school team and he’d possibly be getting drafted but wants to go to school,” Pruitt said. “He wants to play football and he’s going to be really good at it,”

Flowers is a versatile defensive player and will most likely be used as Pruitt’s prototypical “Minkah Fitzpatrick” type of player, otherwise known as the “star” position in Pruitt’s 3-4 style defense.

Pruitt sees Flowers playing a large role in the defense down the road.

“The good thing is he’s only done it for a year so he doesn’t have any bad habits. He could come play corner for us, he could play star, he could play safety. When we get him here we’ll see what he’s best suited for.”

He is expected to play everywhere on the defensive side of the ball, and Pruitt doesn’t see him having a problem with that.

“(Flowers is) a very unique individual, has a very good skill set as a defensive back and could probably play all six positions back there,”Pruitt said. “I think this guy’s going to be a very good player for us one day.”

3-Star Kurott Garland, freshman, defensive lineman, 6-3, 250 lbs. 

From: Heritage HS, Georgia.

Garland was a player the staff was looking at in between preparing for the playoffs and getting settled in at Tennessee.

“(Garland) was a young man that we found kind of over the break … looking through all the all-state teams just trying to find guys that possibly were under the radar,” Pruitt said. “He fits a need as far as a guy that can play defensive tackle for us … he’s going to be a really good football player.”

Garland, an undersized defensive tackle in Pruitt’s defense, would have to bulk up in order to receive significant playing time this upcoming season. Pruitt’s prototypical defensive tackle is roughly 285 pounds and takes up a lot of space in the middle of the defense.

4-Star Emmit Gooden, junior, defensive lineman, 6-4, 305 lbs.

From: Haywood HS/ Independence C.C. – JUCO.

Gooden is a transfer from junior college that has been trying to get to the university for a couple years now. After a stint at Independence Community College, Gooden is close to returning to his dream school.

“He’s going to finish up in May,” Pruitt said. “He has a little bit of work to do, but he’s a big man … really good motor, and another guys that fits for us inside with what we’re trying to do defensively.”

Gooden chose to return to Tennessee over Mississippi State, West Virginia and Arkansas. He also had offers from Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

3-Star John Mincey, freshman, defensive lineman, 6-4, 255 lbs. 

From: Clinch County HS, Georgia.

Mincey is a player that the staff has had their eyes on for a couple of years, and Pruitt is glad he decided to choose the Vols over South Carolina.

“Probably all of our guys on staff have had him in camp at some point in time,” Pruitt said. “He’s very athletic, plays basketball, and that’s another guy on the defensive front.”

Although he fits the frame of an ideal 3-4 defensive tackle, Pruitt believes he needs to put on some weight and fill out to compete for playing time this upcoming season – as Mincey sits at 255 pounds.

Mincey chose the Vols over South Carolina, Georgia, Auburn and Florida.

4-Star, JJ Peterson, freshman, linebacker, 6-2, 230 lbs. 

Colquitt County HS, Georgia.

Peterson is the crown and jewel of the class, plain and simple. Peterson was thought late to be considering flipping his commitment from Pruitt and the Vols to Alabama, but made himself a household name by sticking with his commitment on a patchy signing day for the big orange.

Peterson received high praise from his new head coach Jeremy Pruitt, and rightfully so. Peterson is the No. 48 overall player in the class, and one that Nick Saban pushed hard for, which left the Tide short of a coveted outside linebacker.

“We would have liked to have two inside linebackers but we got one,” Saban said in his press conference after the Tide wrapped up their 2018 recruiting cycle.

Pruitt is very optimistic about Peterson and his on-field ability.

“(JJ Peterson) has a very unique skill set at linebacker and can actually play all four positions, inside or outside,” Pruitt said. “He’s a guy that can play man-to-man on third down, he can rush the quarterback, but he’s a guy that can make plays in space also.”

Pruitt held on tight to his highest rated target, and wants the fan base to know it won’t be that way next spring.

“Give this staff a full year,” Pruitt said. “When you look at the rankings next year on National Signing Day, we’re gonna be right at the top.”

Edited by Seth Raborn

Vols in the Pros: Season in review

Photo by Sumner Gilliam

Even though the 2017 season was a tough one to swallow for the current Volunteers and their fans, former players now playing in the NFL had a big year. Here’s a look at how all of the NFL Vols faired in 2017.

Baltimore Ravens

Long-snapper, Morgan Cox – Cox started all 16 games for the Ravens. The Ravens finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers 

Punter, Michael Palardy – Palardy played in all 16 games for the Panther, registering 71 punts. His average was 46 yards with a long of 63 yards. The Panthers finished the season 11-5 and lost to the Saints in the NFC Wildcard playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Wide receiver, Josh Malone – In his rookie season, Malone played in 11 games and had six cathes for 63 total yards. The Bengals finished the season 7-9.

Cleveland Browns

Punter, Britton Colquitt – Colquitt played in all 16 games for the Browns and had 80 punts on the year. He had an average of 47.6 yards per punt with a long of 67 yards. The Browns finished the season 0-16.

Dallas Cowboys

Tight end, Jason Witten – Jason Witten finished his 15th season in the NFL with 63 receptions and 560 yards and five touchdowns. The Cowboys finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

Detroit Lions

Linebacker, Jalen Reeves-Maybin – Maybin finished his rookie season playing in 14 games with 30 combined tackles and 0.5 sacks. The Lions finished the season 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

Houston Texans

Linebacker, LaTroy Lewis – Lewis had three total tackles and one sack in his rookie season while playing in two games. The Texans finished the season 4-12 and did not make the playoffs.

Jacksonville Jaguars 

Defensive lineman, Malik Jackson – In his sixth season in the league, Jackson played in all 16 games for the Jags. He had 39 total tackles and eight sacks on the year. The Jaguars finished the season 10-6 and lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

Tight end, Mychal Rivera – Rivera did not play in 2017 due to a hand injury. He was placed on IR and has not played since the 2016 season with the Oakland Raiders.

Kansas City Chiefs

Safety, Eric Berry – The all-pro safety Berry played in only one game in 2017 due to an Achilles tendon injury. In his only game played, Berry had seven tackles.

Quarterback, Tyler Bray – Bray played in one game and had one passing attempt in 2017.

Punter, Dustin Colquitt – In 2017, Colquitt played in all 16 games for the Chiefs. He had 65 punts on the year with an average of 45.2 yards and a long of 77 yards.

Offensive lineman, Zach Fulton – Fulton started in all of the Chiefs games in 2017. The Chiefs finished the season 10-6 and lost to the Titans in the opening round of the Wild Card playoffs.

Miami Dolphins

Offensive lineman, Ja’Wuan James – James played in all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2017. The Dolphins finished the season 6-10 and missed the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints

Running back, Alvin Kamara – Kamara burst onto the scene in his 2017 rookie season. With over 1,500 yards of total offense and 14 total touchdowns, Kamara earned the honor of Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017. The Saints finished the season 11-5 and lost to the Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

Oakland Raiders

Wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson – The electric return man Patterson finished the season with 19 kickoff returns, 968 total yards and two touchdowns.

Offensive lineman, James Stone – Stone played in the last two games of the season this year after sitting out all of 2016 with the Falcons due to injury. The Raiders finished the season 6-10 and did not make the playoffs.

Philadelphia Eagles

Defensive end, Derek Barnett – The Nashville native burst onto the scene in 2017 in his rookie season. Barnett finished the season with 23 total tackles and five sacks. He also had a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in the week 15 matchup with Oakland. Barnett had a key fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl to seal the win for the Eagles. The Eagles finished the season 13-3 and won Super Bowl LII.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Quarterback, Joshua Dobbs – Dobbs did not play in any games in his 2017 rookie season.

Offensive lineman, Ramon Foster – Foster played in all 16 games for the Steelers in 2017.

Wide receiver, Justin Hunter – Hunter finished his fifth season in the league with four receptions, 23 yards, and one touchdown. Hunter only played in 7 games for the Steelers in 2017.

Defensive tackle, Daniel McCullers – In his fourth year in the league, McCullers played in five games with only one tackle on the year.

Corner, Cameron Sutton – In his rookie season, Sutton played in five games and finished with five combined tackles. Plagued by injury in 2017, Sutton looks to surge up the Steelers roster in 2018. The Steelers finished the year 13-3 and lost to Jacksonville in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks

Cornerback, Justin Coleman – The third-year corner finished 2017 with 42 combined tackles, two interceptions and two touchdowns. Seattle finished the season 9-7 and did not make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Defensive end, Robert Ayers – In his ninth NFL season, Ayers finished with 31 combined tackles and two sacks. The Buccaneers finished the season 5-11 and missed the playoffs.

Tennessee Titans

Tight end, Luke Stocker – Playing in nine games in 2017, Stocker had three catches for 18 yards and one touchdown. The Titans finished the season 9-7 and lost to the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

 

 Feature image courtesy of Sumner Gilliam

Former Vol Alvin Kamara named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year

Former Tennessee Volunteers running back Alvin Kamara beat out Kareem Hunt and Deshaun Watson for the AP Rookie of the Year Award on Saturday. Kamara was the fifth running back taken in the 2017 draft by the New Orleans Saints and is just the second Tennessee player ever to win the award.

Kamara racked up 14 total touchdowns including two scores in the postseason. He led all running backs in the NFL with 826 receiving yards. He also led all running backs with over six yards per carry. Kamara fell behind only Pittsburgh Steeler Le’Veon Bell in most receptions by a running back.

Fans voted Kamara the Pepsi Rookie of the Year in his first Pro Bowl appearance last week where he stood beside his teammate and fellow running back Mark Ingram. Ingram and Kamara were the first pair of running backs to log over 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.

“I wish he was here because he’s a big reason why I’m standing right here and ya’ll are interviewing me as the Offensive Rookie of the Year,” Kamara said of Ingram. “Great teammate, great friend, a brother to me, great mentor.”

Ingram set career-highs with the help of Kamara, as he put up over 1,100 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in the 2017 season. They are also the first pair of running backs from the same team to be nominated to the Pro Bowl in over 40 years.

New Orleans swept the Rookie of the Year awards, as first-round cornerback Marshon Lattimore won Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Kamara is the first player to tally five rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and a kickoff return touchdown since Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. He led all rookies with 14 touchdowns and came in second with over 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“It would be awesome (if he wins),” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “It would be so well deserved. … Listen, he’s certainly deserving. I’m just excited about the future with him.”

Kamara was famously underutilized in his times at Tennessee under former head coach Butch Jones. He recorded just over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in his career in Knoxville. Still, Kamara averaged over six yards per carry and registered 23 touchdowns in his limited playing time.

“I’m not going to say too much. Thank you, Mom,” said Kamara on Saturday. “She told me not to say anything other than ‘Thank you’ because she thinks she looks ugly when she cries.”

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of Jason Behnken

Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden declares for the NFL Draft

Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden announced through his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon that he would be forgoing his senior season and declaring for the NFL Draft.

“After a lot of thought, prayers and counsel from my family and close friends, I have decided to enter the 2018 NFL Draft,” Gaulden said. “It has been an honor to wear the Orange and White, and represent the Power T while playing in Neyland Stadium the last four years.”

Gaulden, a redshirt junior out of Spring Hill, Tennessee, went on to thank everyone who helped him throughout his collegiate career.

“To my brothers, the memories will last a lifetime and I will always have your back,” Gaulden said. “To my coaches, thank you for believing in me and developing me into a versatile defensive back. To Vol Nation, THANK YOU for believing in me. There is NO BETTER fan base in the country.

“The process begins for me now as I prepare to pursue my dream of playing in the National Football League,” Gaulden concluded.

According to John Brice of Gridiron Now, Gaulden will be training with Eric Berry – former Vols star –  in preparation for the combine and the NFL.

“I’m going to be training in Boca Raton with Tony Villani and Jeremy Lincoln and Eric Berry, getting some good mentoring from him,” Gaulden told Brice. He’s also expected to be represented by Knoxville-based A3 Athletics, which also represents Berry.

The 6-foot-1, 193 pounder declares for the NFL following a season in which he was the Vols best defensive player. Against No. 24 Florida, Gaulden recorded a career-high 10 tackles and picked off a pass that led to Tennessee’s game-tying drive.

Gaulden finishes his career having recorded 140 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and an interception.

With the departure of Gaulden, and the graduation of Justin Martin and Emmanuel Moseley, it’s pivotal Jeremy Pruitt finishes strong in recruiting at the defensive back position. As it appears today, that’s exactly what the Vols first year head coach will do.

Tennessee is currently viewed as the lead for four-star corner Olijah Griffin – the No. 4 rated corner in the class of 2018. The Vols are also in good position to land five-star corner Isaac Taylor-Stuart – the No. 2 ranked corner in the country. If Pruitt can land the two California natives, it’ll soften the blow of losing Gaulden a year early.

Gaulden is the second Vol to declare early for the draft, as running back John Kelly declared on Dec. 29.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Brad Matthews