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

Helmet stickers from Tennessee vs. Florida

Nearly one year after the infamous Tennessee Hail Mary win over Georgia last season, the Vols lost in dramatic fashion on a last second heave from the Gators on Saturday. There were plenty of mishaps in the sloppy loss, but there were a few bright spots for Tennessee. Here are the Vols that earned helmet stickers from their 26-20 loss in the swamp.

1. John Kelly, running back

Kelly was the most impressive player on the field last night, tallying 237 total yards against the stout Florida defense. Over half of the Volunteers’ total yards on offense were courtesy of Kelly, as he averaged over seven yards-per-play. The junior out of Detroit set a career high in rushing-and-receiving yards on Saturday, and has officially set himself apart as one of the best running backs in the SEC. Through three weeks, Kelly leads the SEC in rushing yards (349), and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns (5).

2. Rashaan Gaulden, defensive back

Gaulden was the most efficient player for Tennessee on defense with 10 total tackles (five solo) and a defended pass. The redshirt-junior’s interception helped set up the Vols final possession that led to a game-tying score. Gaulden had the first interception for Tennessee this season and was the biggest playmaker on the field for Tennessee.

3. Ethan Wolf, tight end

With three catches for 37 yards and a touchdown, Wolf’s stats were not overly-impressive. However, he did make history. Wolf passed Tennessee great Jason Witten as the program’s all-time receiving tight end in terms of receiving yards on Saturday afternoon. While he has only been targeted seven times this season, he is still viewed as one of Tennessee’s most consistent pass catchers.

4. Tennessee defensive line

This was the first game this season that Tennessee received consistent pressure in the backfield from its defensive line. Jonathan Kongbo and Darrell Taylor were wreaking havoc off the edge, as they combined for nine tackles and a sack. The Vols’ defensive line looked promising against its first traditional offense. For the first time this season they were able to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, which is something that Butch Jones has harped over the past few weeks.

5. Tennessee defense

After being gouged by Georgia Tech and looking iffy against Indiana State, the Vols defense certainly looked better in Gainesville. Tennessee created three turnovers including one interception and two fumbles against the Gators. The last time the Vols created more than three turnovers on defense was against Missouri last season. By no means was the Tennessee defense flawless in its loss to Florida, but some improvement was seen.

Feature image courtesy of UT Sports

Edited by Ben McKee

 

 

 

Spring Practice: Week one notes

[title_box title=”Spring Practice: Week one notes”]

Despite the off-field distractions, the Tennessee Volunteers were finally able to mute the outside noise and get back to playing football. With three practices under their belts, spring ball is well underway. Here are some takeaways from the first week of spring practice.

Injuries

By our count, the Vols have been without 12 scholarship players this spring so far. The defensive line is taking the brunt of the blows, with the most notable absentee being Derek Barnett. They are also without several other young players on the line, such as Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, and Andrew Butcher. This is particularly frustrating for Tuttle and Phillips considering both would greatly benefit from a productive spring.

The remaining missing players include Josh Malone, Jashon Robertson, Chance Hall, Joe Young, Evan Berry, Joe Stocstill, and Alexis Johnson.

Newcomers & Position Changes

Although Rashaan Gaulden isn’t a new face on this Volunteers defense, he looks to solidify himself as a leader in the secondary. The redshirt sophomore is working at both safety and nickel after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Wherever he lands, Gaulden is a potential cornerstone for this defense, along with Cam Sutton.

Another position change making waves is Austin Smith’s move from outside linebacker to defensive end. Look for Smith to be utilized in a Curt Maggit-esque role for the Vols defense next season.

First-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has the daunting task of replacing both safety positions after the departures of Brian Randolph and LaDarrell McNiel. Sophomore defensive back Micah Abernathy certainly made his case this week. After playing most of last season in the reserve nickel spot, Abernathy worked primarily at safety this week. Due to Berry’s absence this spring, Abernathy, along with Gaulden, Todd Kelly Jr., Stephen Griffin, and early enrollee Desmond Howard, have all split reps.

On the offensive end, former wide receiver Jason Croom is finally healthy enough to make his mark with the tight ends. This move has always been an option for Croom since his large frame calls for added weight. He appears invested in the move as well, which could be a scary sight for Tennessee’s opposition in the fall. Pairing a pass-catching threat like Croom with the veteran Ethan Wolfe will give defense coordinators nightmares.

Another pass catcher making noise is lanky Jeff George. The 6-foot-6 junior college transfer is the ideal red zone target for quarterback Josh Dobbs. Although he looked a little shaky this week, it is safe to assume he is trying to get comfortable in an unfamiliar system. Because the Vols have so few healthy receivers, George will get plenty of reps to build chemistry with Dobbs.

Who Are We Watching?

The easiest answer is redshirt freshman Drew Richmond. With the departure of Kyler Kerbyson last season, Richmond has a clear shot at establishing himself as the left tackle for Tennessee. He has all the physical and mental traits to be successful. Even when he displayed his inexperience on the field, Richmond responded positively all week. 

Two other players to keep an eye on are sophomore wide receivers Preston Williams and Jauan Jennings. Williams struggled all last year trying to stay healthy after tearing his ACL during his freshman season. That coupled with a flagged ACT score in the fall spelt disaster. However, with that behind him, Williams can emerge as a downfield threat for Dobbs. 

Jennings looks for his first full spring at wide receiver as well. Although he was an early enrollee last year, Jennings came in as a quarterback and did not convert to wide receiver until the summer. But regardless of position, he has emerged as a vocal leader on the offense. He brings the kind of energy and competitive edge this team needs.

The next spring practice is scheduled for Tuesday, March 22.

Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by David Bradford