A fierce "Tennessee Drill" that pitted Demonte Bolden against Jacques McClendon was among the overall highlights of the Vols' first practice in full pads Wednesday at Haslam Field.
Though seniors were told they would receive just one turn, Bolden requested and received an extra round after an initial stalemate with Vladimir Richard. When his defensive teammates celebrated wildly around him the second time, there was little doubt that Bolden had bested resident strongman McClendon in the mano-a-mano drill.
"That was pretty good," said Bolden, a senior defensive tackle. "The first time, I hadn't done it since last year, and I did it with Vlad and felt like I needed a second go-around. Went against Jacques and made it happen."
Defensive tackle Dan Williams said the showdown was just what should be expected from a pair of the team's strongest players.
"You're going to see fireworks fly anytime you see those two guys," Williams said. "They're two big, strong guys and always fun to watch.
"Demonte is the strongest d-tackle, and Jacques the strongest offensive guard. It's fun to watch."
Sophomore defensive end Ben Martin has been alongside Bolden enough to know he's tough to handle when motivated to perform.
"Demonte's a great player," said Martin, who felt he played faster and more instinctively in the full-contact work. "Whenever he wants to bring it, he's going to bring it. I feel sorry for the person lined up across from him."
WARREN WAITING, WATCHING
Brandon Warren participated in the first half of practice before leaving for a class. Though it was a full-gear day, Warren worked only in shorts, shoulder pads and helmet before leaving before the midway point of the session. During early passing drills, Warren dropped a ball that he felt he should have caught. To drive home that point, he dropped to the turf and ripped off 10 push-ups.
Freshman Rod Wilks joined brother Marsalous Johnson in the secondary on Wednesday as the coaches want to look at him at safety. For not knowing much of what was going on scheme wise, Wilks was solid for day one, Fulmer said.
"Rod has shown that he is a very good athlete," the coach said. "He is about 220 pounds. It was going to be difficult for him to get in the top six in the receiver corps so we have moved him to safety to take a look. He did a good job from what I saw today."
Ball security must improve
Fulmer labeled Wednesday's first full contact scrimmage work as a good start, but acknowledged there was plenty to do starting with the offense taking care of the football.
"It took us a while to really get started with the pads popping but I think it will be great film study for us," Fulmer said. "We got about 58 scrimmage plays today. It was a good start for us. We have a million things to take care of. First thing is the ball. We had a couple of balls on the ground and an interception (Nick Stephens). That's how you learn. There were some really positive things on both sides."
Linebacker Rico McCoy has never been shy about his opinion on things and he is never shy about pointing out who shows up on his defense. Wednesday after the first day of contact, McCoy said youth was served.
"I was impressed with the younger guys out there," McCoy said. "Gerald Williams came out and got right in the swing of things. The defensive ends did really well today. Steven Fowlkes and Willie Bohannon made some plays today. I was impressed with them. Rod Wilks switched to safety today and he looked like he had been player there all of his life. I was impressed watching the younger guys."
Running backs show
Fulmer indicated that after four days of 3-plus hour practices his football team is not as fast as it will be come Sept. 1 at UCLA, but he did indicate that his running backs showed speed Wednesday afternoon.
"There were times we looked good. Arian Foster did a really good job on several occasions and Montario (Hardesty) hit it hard two or three times as did Tauren Poole," he said. "They look fast. I can't wait to get up and see the film."
Walker shows, Martin needs more
Defensive end Chris Walker got his first scrimmage work in nine months Wednesday afternoon and the Memphis native made a couple of plays, including one where he ranged 20-30 yards to make a stop.
"The tackle just blocked down and there was nobody there," Walker said. "So I just saw Ja'Kouri running, and I was like, 'I gotta make this play' because there wasn't anybody on the other side. So I just had to make the play real fast.
"I'm a big guy to an extent, but I've still got a little speed on me. Just a little bit of both. Mainly a motor, I've got to keep my motor up and just play hard. Because you'll make more plays playing hard than anything else. If you play hard, a lot of things will come for you."
Fulmer liked what he saw from Walker but is looking for more from Walker's close friend Ben Martin.
"Chris made a play down the field about 20 yards today and I like seeing that. I didn't see enough out of Ben to comment to be honest with you. That is a two-way street. He needs to do a little better and maybe someone is stepping up at offensive tackle."
Offensive lineman Cody Pope didn't practice on Wednesday as doctors continue to evaluate why he got sick before Tuesday's practice. Tight end Jeff Cottam did not practice because of his ailing leg injury.
Defensive tackle Donald Langley was not in full gear as he finishes up the NCAA mandated acclimation period because he missed the first couple days of camp to be with his ill mom.
Linebacker Savion Frazier is being evaluated after suffering an ankle sprain early in Wednesday's scrimmage.
Defensive tackle Chase Nelson is in a large knee wrap and is on crutches. Fulmer said he would have details of the injury on Thursday but don't look for a quick return from Nelson.
"I will get a full report tomorrow," Fulmer said. "I should know everything tomorrow. It looks like he is going to be out for a while."
As a fifth-year senior, defensive end Robert Ayers has been though his share of Tennessee drills. Ayers helped set the tone today when he and Ramon Foster got the drill started with a spirited clash between a pair of battle-scarred veterans.
Ayers was noticeable on the edges of the drill though as well, exhorting his defensive teammates to be aggressive and carry the fight to the offense.
From his vantage point, Ayers said he saw several younger members of the team take up the challenge and take a step today during the first contact work of camp.
"Victor Thomas and Jarrod Shaw took the challenge and stepped up today. I thought Donald Langley did a good job of trying to step up. Those young guys showed that they want to compete out here," Ayers said of some of the teammates he noticed.
All in all and like the majority of his teammates we spoke with, Ayers was mostly just glad to be playing real football aging.
"That's why we all came here, to play football, so it's always a big day when we put first put the pads on. You don't really know what anyone's got until you get in full gear. We came out today I think and did a good job of being aggressive. Everybody just wants to compete," he said.
On the one hand today's work was exciting simply because it was that first day of full-contact. From the player's point of view, though, it was simply the first of many. And most will be feeling a variety of aches and pains long before UCLA week arrives.
With the irony, of course, being that those aches and pains will be caused from countless collisions with teammates.
Junior receiver Austin Rogers is going through his fourth fall camp. He's enough of a football player to get excited about the first day of real practice, but enough of a veteran to know just how much of a grind the next month can be.
"You can tell it's going to be different before practice starts. There's a little more hype and we all know that the defense is excited about getting to hit us a little bit. It's real football now, it's not tag or just 'thud' anymore. It's definitely a different feeling on this day.
"We have to hit on each other to get ready for the season and that gets old after awhile but we don't want to hurt anybody. Nobody wants to give any cheap shots out there. By the end of the camp it can wear on you. You don't want to hurt anybody on the other side but you sure don't want to take one yourself either. There's real competition though and it's tough because there aren't any tricks. We know each other pretty well, and both sides of the ball want to get the best of the other side."
Thursday marks the final day of the second summer session. Several Vols have had class conflicts during the first few days of fall camp.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton was encouraged by the play on both sides of the ball in Wednesday's drills and 58-play scrimmage.
"First day out there in full pads, flying around," Crompton said. "It took us the first few plays for everybody to get back in the swing of it. I'd say once we got the first three or four plays under our belts, we were flying around both sides of the ball and making good plays. Tackling well, running the ball well and made a few plays in the passing game.
"Overall, I thought it was OK. We can get better, but it's the first day."
Crompton feels if his offense finds consistent success against the Vols' defense, it bodes well for the future.
"We know we've got great guys on both sides of the ball," said the Waynesville, N.C., native. "Secondary, linebackers, D-line played their butts off today. Everybody on the offense, we did a pretty good job making plays here and there. It's tough not being able to cut (block) and things like that, but if we can do it against our defense, we know we can do it against anybody else because we know this is the best defense we're going to play in our opinion."
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