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

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

New Orleans Saints select Alvin Kamara

Photo by Sumner Gilliam

With the 67th overall selection in the 2017 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints selected Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara.

In Kamara, the Saints are getting a fantastic playmaker. Head Coach Sean Payton will have the former Vol plugged into the offense immediately, helping form a tremendous trio in the backfield with Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram. All of the sudden, the Saints have a strong supporting cast surrounding franchise quarterback Drew Brees, something New Orleans hasn’t had in recent years.

This is a great fit for both Kamara and the Saints. At Tennessee, Kamara was one of the most exciting playmakers in the SEC and now has the potential to be a star in the NFC South thanks to the system Payton runs. Kamara’s versatility will allow the Saints to use him in their rushing attack as well as in passing situations. He’s a powerful runner with a series of strong moves in his repertoire, making it hard for defenders to tackle him.

The talent of Kamara and the outstanding football mind of Payton makes for a fantastic head coach and player combination. Payton will be able to line Kamara up anywhere on the football field to create a favorable matchup. When Reggie Bush was at his peak in the NFL, it was because Payton was putting him in positions to succeed all over the football field, and that’s exactly what Payton will do with Kamara. During the draft process, Payton personally worked Kamara out.

Saints fans should be extremely excited about the addition of Kamara. He’s a fantastic personality and can be a leader in New Orleans. In a year or so, the former Tennessee running back will be a fan favorite.

Edited by Quinn Pilkey

Featured image by Sumner Gillam

Where Tennessee’s top draft prospects fit best

The 2017 NFL Draft is just a week away, and for the first time in two years, the Vols will be well-represented on draft day.

Tennessee has a handful of guys that are certain to be drafted, while a couple Vols could potentially sneak their way into the later rounds of the draft. With NFL teams searching for the next faces of their franchises, let’s look at where the Tennessee prospects would be good fits.

Derek Barnett:

 Best fits – Saints, Panthers, Bengals 

These three teams have one thing in common: they must upgrade their pass rush. Barnett would do just that for any NFL team, but especially these three. The Bengals finished 19th in sacks last season, while the Saints finished 27th in the league. With the departure of Kony Ealy in Carolina, the Panthers need an edge presence to replace his production. As a top-three pass rusher in this year’s draft class, Barnett would be an instant upgrade. With the Panthers picking at No. 8 and the Bengals picking at No. 9, don’t expect Tennessee’s all-time sack leader to make it out of the top 10.

Alvin Kamara:

Best fits – Eagles, Packers, Colts

Kamara is regarded as a borderline late first-round pick or an early second-round pick. Depending on the particular team’s grade, the former Vols running back could easily find himself being selected as early as the middle of the first round.

The Eagles, Packers, and Colts are in need of a dynamic running back that can take their offenses to the next level. Each of these teams has an excellent quarterback in place, and pairing them with Kamara could be deadly. Wentz, Luck, and Rodgers utilize the running back quite often in the passing game and Kamara is one of the best receiving backs in this year’s class. Dumping the ball off to Kamara on screen plays or in the slot allows him to do what he does best: make plays in the open field.

Josh Dobbs:

Best fits – Steelers, Patriots, Cardinals 

After a marvelous Tennessee career, Dobbs now takes his talents to the NFL, where he has the tools to be a successful pro. First things first: Dobbs would be best served to land with a team who is led by a veteran quarterback. Somewhere where he can sit for a year or two, learn from the best, and develop in the passing game would be ideal. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are nearing the end of their careers. Who better to learn from than a future Hall of Famer? Dobbs’ classy personality would be an excellent fit for two of the best organizations in all of sports.

After not having a true quarterbacks coach in Knoxville for much of his career, it would serve Dobbs best to land with a team whose coach has an offensive background. The Arizona Cardinals and Bruce Arians fit that bill perfectly. Arians has a fantastic track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks. He played an instrumental role in the development of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer, and Roethlisberger. Expect Dobbs to sneak his way into the second round of the draft as NFL teams continue to fall in love with Tennessee’s former quarterback.

Josh Malone:

Best fits – Titans, Buccaneers

 After leading Tennessee in receiving yards, Malone declared for the draft following his junior campaign. Many are overlooking Malone, but his size and speed allow him to be a big target down the field for quarterbacks. Along with blowing the tops off of defenses on deep routes, Malone is also exceptional at making plays on shorter routes. If Malone can take his route running to the next level, there’s no reason he can’t be a starter in the NFL for a long time.

Who has young gunslingers and no vertical threats at wide receivers? That would be the in-state Titans, as well as the Buccaneers. Malone would be a fantastic deep threat on the other side of Mike Evans in Tampa Bay or Tajae Sharp in Nashville. Expect Malone to come off the board in the fourth or fifth round.

Cam Sutton:

 Best fits – Steelers, Chiefs, 49ers, Falcons

Sutton enters the NFL as a corner, but don’t be surprised if he ends up at safety. Thanks to his versatility, teams are falling in love with the former Tennessee defensive back.

The Chiefs, Steelers, 49ers, and Falcons are all in a situation where they would be wise to upgrade the defensive back position. Sutton carries himself like a pro in everything he does, and would can provide an instant impact. The Georgia native is an elite athlete, has great football instincts, and has excellent football IQ. Sutton also excelled as a punt returner in college, making him even more valuable to teams. Expect him to be drafted anywhere from the third to the fifth round.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin:

 Best fits – Dolphins, Raiders, Redskins, Lions

Reeves-Maybin decided to return for his senior season in Knoxville, but things didn’t go to plan. The Tennessee native missed almost all of the season due to a shoulder injury, and because of it, NFL teams are nervous to draft him. General managers and team executives love his football IQ and production, but because of his injury history, many question just how effective he’ll be in the NFL.

Reeves-Maybin is a tackle machine, and, if healthy, could provide a spark to a team that doesn’t tackle well. His speed and play recognition allowed him to lead Tennessee in tackles in 2014 and 2015. Reeves-Maybin is also an excellent special teams player, which would help him carve out a name for himself in the league.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Top Five Quarterbacks: Why should teams take them?

Through the years, there have been draft classes that have provided NFL teams with an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to the quarterback position. The 1983 class saw six different quarterbacks taken in the first round, with names like John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. However, there have also been draft classes that have provided much less at the quarterback position. The 2013 draft saw only EJ Maunel and Geno Smith taken early on.

This year’s class certainly isn’t on the level of the 1983 class, but it also isn’t as bad as the 2013 either. There is some potential with the top five quarterbacks in this class, but the likelihood of any of them going in the first ten picks is unlikely. Here is the case for why each of the top five signal callers should and should not be taken.

Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina

Many people called for Trubisky to stay in Chapel Hill for his senior season in order to improve his draft stock. However, he decided to leave a year early, and it turns out that he is the best quarterback prospect in this draft. Trubisky had some impressive stats during his junior season, albeit against some weaker secondaries. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns.

As good as those numbers were, the best thing he did last season was throw just six interceptions. He commands the pocket well and has an above-average arm. He also has the ability to move out of the pocket and scramble when necessary. The concern over Trubisky is his lack of experience. He held the starting job at North Carolina for only one season after being a backup during his first two seasons. The grades on him after the combine have varied, but it seems most teams are willing to take a chance on his skill set despite the lack of experience. It’s even been rumored that the Browns have mulled over Trubisky with the first pick.

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

For college players like Watson, the question has been asked before: do winning ways automatically transfer over to the NFL? We’ve seen cases of both in past drafts. 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton has gone onto some major success in the NFL, winning an MVP award along the way. But then there have been guys like Tim Tebow, who didn’t translate well to the NFL after being a winner in college. So why will Watson be any different?

The skill set is there for Watson to have potential. His accuracy on the deep ball is probably the best in this entire class. He was given a good deal of freedom in Clemson’s offense to make decisions on his own, so he’s shown the ability to read a defense. However, the decision-making of Watson was questioned a bit. He threw 17 interceptions this past season, which was way too many. He has drawn comparisons to Dak Prescott, but Dak came into the league as a much more accurate quarterback. Watson will need to calm it down with the decision-making, but he has one redeeming quality that might give him an edge over others, and that is his ability to come through in the clutch.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

Based on physical tools alone, Kizer is the best at the position in the class. Physically, he compares very well to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. He has good touch on downfield passes and an ability to make plays with his legs when the need arises. Kizer threw 26 touchdowns with nine interceptions on the season. He’s flown under the radar a bit in this class behind guys like Trubisky and Watson. The knock on Kizer is that he simply isn’t consistent enough. He had some brilliant performances last season, like the shootout against Texas. But he also had games that left scouts scratching their heads, such as the loss against Stanford, where he was benched. With a much weaker supporting cast this past season, Kizer led Notre Dame to a 4-8 record. He will need to be surrounded with a good supporting in the league if he is going to be successful.

Davis Webb, California

When it came to pro prospects at the position, Kliff Kingsbury had an embarrassment of riches for a while. The former Texas Tech star turned Cal Golden Bear has seen a surge up draft boards since the combine. He threw for 4,295 yards and 37 touchdowns in his lone season at Cal. Webb transferred out west after losing the starting job in Lubbock to fellow draft member Patrick Mahomes. Webb stands in the pocket well and has some nice rhythm to his throws. Because of the offenses he played in at both schools, he had to adapt to standing in the pocket and being able to throw crossing routes with accuracy. However, the product of each offense has shown Webb’s weaknesses as well. At times, it seemed like his decision on where to throw was often made before the ball was even snapped.  A few of his interceptions were based off not being aware of the defensive backs. Webb has potential, but he’ll need to move past the run & gun offense he came from.

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

Mahomes is another quarterback that declared early. He took over the starting job at Texas Tech, which forced Davis Webb to transfer. Mahomes’ stat line was gaudy last season, throwing for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Watching his film, he has an undeniable swagger to him every time he steps out on the field. As for his skill set, his arm may be the best in the draft. He has the ability to throw deep to either side of the field. However, he is also someone you have concerns over because of his college offense. Like Webb, Mahomes came from an offense that used a lot of pre-determination. The difference in Mahomes and Webb, however, is that Mahomes would not always play within the offense. His gunslinger mentality would sometimes get him into trouble when he would force throws that just weren’t there. Mahomes also does not have as much experience, and NFL teams will need to see that he can play disciplined and composed.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image courtesy of The HIGHLIGHT Zone

Film Review: Alvin Kamara

Photo by Sumner Gilliam

Overview

A 5-star recruit and one of the top prospects in the 2013 class, 18 year-old Alvin Kamara was headed to Alabama to become the next “big thing.” After a preseason injury forced Kamara to redshirt his freshman year, he decided to leave Alabama. The following season Kamara enrolled at Hutchinson Community College, where he won conference offensive player of the year after racking up 1,211 yards and 21 touchdowns. After receiving attention from several SEC schools, Kamara took his talents to Knoxville where he collected 1,977 yards and 23 touchdowns on 284 total touches across two years. Those are impressive numbers for a back who, to the displeasure of many Tennessee fans, spent most of his college career as the Vols second-string back.

Projected as a potential first round draft pick, Kamara brings all the intangibles of an elite NFL running back. While his vision and first step quickness creates misses in tight spaces, Kamara is deadly in open space and has shown to be a sure-handed pass catcher either out of the backfield or at the slot position.

Strengths

Kamara is one of the most balanced running backs in this year’s NFL draft. Whether he is being utilized in the passing game or as the feature back in Tennessee’s run-heavy spread offense, Kamara has the athletic ability to be explosive at several positions on the field.

Kamara instantly brought big play possibilities to the Volunteers’ offense whenever he saw the field. His strong lower body provides extreme balance and flexibility, allowing him to quickly change directions in confined spaces. His flat-out athleticism allows him to twist, spin and ricochet off of defenders like a kid playing bumper cars.

While Kamara seemed to lack some vision behind the O-line at the beginning of the 2015 season, he quickly learned to become more patient, allowing the play to develop before using his vision and quickness to not only spot the open running lanes but hit them with speed. As the 2016 season progressed and Kamara took over the starting job, his vision and awareness in the backfield continued to get better and better.

Film Breakdown

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It took some time, but Tennessee eventually found multiple ways to utilize Kamara in the passing game. Here against Georgia, Kamara shows off his ability to catch the ball and create plays downfield. He’s lined up as a slot receiver running an out-route to the top of the field. Showing his unwillingness to go down, he sheds a tackle and kicks on the jets for a highlight-reel touchdown

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With the Vols needing a big play late in the 4th quarter against Texas A&M, Kamara showed off his vision and lateral quickness. He spots the Aggies’ blitz and beats the first defender behind the line of scrimmage before turning his shoulder pads downfield. His vision and quick acceleration allows him to turn a sure-fire tackle for a loss into positive yards and a crucial Tennessee first down.

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Again showing his vision and acceleration, Kamara spots and hits a massive hole opened by his offensive line. Whats more impressive here is his cut once he reaches the second level. Kentucky’s middle linebacker looks to be filling the hole, but Kamara hits him with a shifty cut and he’s off to the races.

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To be fair, Vanderbilt really struggled to wrap up Kamara on this play. Still, this touchdown perfectly displays Kamara’s ability to bounce and ricochet off defenders. Nine of the Commodores’ 11 defenders touch Kamara but with his shiftiness and strength, the Norcross, Georgia native is still able to lower his head and finish the play.

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Kamara was an explosive option for the Volunteer’s return game, which already featured high school track-star Evan Berry and standout senior Cameron Sutton. Kamara didn’t see as many touches as Vol fans would have liked, but when he did he looked explosive. At home against Western Carolina in 2015, Kamara brought Neyland Stadium to their feet with this nifty punt return, carving through the Catamounts for a touchdown.

Weaknesses

At 5 feet 10 inches tall and just 215 pounds, most people think of Alvin Kamara as a speed-back, but his 4.56 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine shows that he lacks the top-end breakaway speed that most top backs in the league have. That being said, he makes up for where he lacks with his aggressive, shifty running style.

Another one of Kamara’s issues is his predictability. He prefers to cut left, even if it means cutting back inside towards defenders rather than avoiding contact and step out of bounds. While everyone loves the show-stopping running back who can finesse his way through a defense, there are points where his unwillingness to go down has also led to some ball-control issues.

Even though his vision and patience in the backfield has improved, but it’s still hit-or-miss at times. There have been points throughout Kamara’s short span at Tennessee where he struggled drastically with his ability to simply read the progressions of his blocks, especially on stretch plays.

Film Breakdown:

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Even though Kamara was able to shed the tackle and finish the run, this play against Bowling Green perfectly sums up his lack-of breakaway speed. That’s a Mid-American Conference defensive back. A starting SEC running back should have the ability to break away and waltz in for an easy six.

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Early in the game against Texas A&M, Kamara was trying to spark the Volunteer offense with a miracle touchdown, but instead he did too much. He ended up showing too much of the ball to the Aggies, allowing them to force and recover an easy fumble deep in their own territory.

Within Kamara’s first few years in the NFL, Tennessees fans will be looking back and regretting what could have been if Kamara started from day one in Knoxville. He’s yet to reach his ceiling and can only grow with experience and first team reps. Unfortunately, the Vols just weren’t able to give him that.

Edited by Quinn Pilkey

Featured image by Sumner Gillam