Specialists face tough tests; Splash plays, injuries

Among the things Butch Jones singled out as particularly valuable for the growth of his second Tennessee football team from its scrimmage Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium was the situational work, in full, live, 11-on-11 drills, that his special teams units received --- particularly veteran punter Matt Darr and freshman specialist Aaron Medley.
Jones earlier this week praised both players, with Darr's renewed dedication and consistency highlighted while Medley was praised for hitting "all five" pressure field goals, per Jones, in a practice setting. Jones expected both players to learn from the scrimmage work, even as Medley missed a couple of field goals including a long one of approximately 50 yards.
"Learning experiences, especially for Medley," Jones told "A lot of game-ending situations and just overall consistency in his performance. So a lot of teaching moments, the same thing with Matt Darr.
"Everyone just looks at, 'Can he kick a spiral?' But there's so much more that goes into it. Operation time. Kick-placement. So much that goes into that position, that it's more than just kicking the football."
According to a few players following Tennessee's Saturday night scrimmage in Neyland Stadium both Pig Howard and Devrin Young were pointed out as players that created a few big plays. Von Pearson also had some shining moments.
But head coach Butch Jones said there weren't enough splash plays from the offense in the Vols' first major intrasquad battle of pre-season camp.
"Not as many as we would like," Jones said. "On one side you're excited about it because the defense didn't give them up, but we need more big plays."
With so many young playmakers at running back, receiver and tight end, Jones said their ability to make big plays in games and scrimmages doesn't start when they walk in Neyland Stadium, instead it starts with their everyday habits in practice.
"What our young players are finding is that you are creating habits. You're creating habits with your practice habits and those go to the game field," Jones said. "Even though they are highly recruited individuals, what you did in high school doesn't make any difference at this level. It's all about how you practice. You play the way you practice. And we have some individuals right now that are figuring it out. It stems from practice and you come to the game field for a scrimmage or a game you rely on your habits that you form in practice."
Tennessee's retooled offensive line has been candid in how much they want to show everyone they can perform. Saturday night, the line got off to a good start as the Vols' first- and second-team offensive units had several extended drives. Jones said it was the result of the offensive front's play as well as key work on possession downs.
"It was a combination," Jones said. "There were some third-down plays on offense which we have to get off the field on defense. There were some big runs. I think Jalen Hurd continues to get better and better.
"So we did some good things. We have really stressed the importance of negative yard football plays. You can't have them on offense. But again on defense you have to generate them. We had some great teaching moments. One-minute drill and we give up a sack on the first play. That's catastrophic. You can't allow those things to happen and expect to win football games. So again every play, every snap is a teaching moment."
Of course there's been plenty of anticipation surrounding the nine newcomers in the defensive backfield. Saturday night, the veteran of the newcomers, Emmanuel Moseley, continued to impress.
"Emmanuel Moseley is playing really well out at corner right now," senior quarterback Justin Worley said. "He's a tough guy to throw on, I can tell you, which is exciting. It's good to see the competition he brings out to our wide receivers. I'm not knocking anyone else. He's just a guy that's caught my eye so far.
"He's physical even though he's a little undersized in terms of weight. He's physical; he will get in your face and jaw with you a little bit. He has gotten in a couple of our receivers heads a couple of days. He plays with a chip on his shoulder thats exciting to see."
As for the rest of the newcomers, the injury bug has prevented some of them from showing much.
"We've really been set back," Jones said. "Todd Kelly did not scrimmage, and that was a setback for him because they're putting their identity on video. Cortez McDowell did not scrimmage tonight. Again, next week for those two individuals in particular, they're really going to have to step up and have a great week of practice.
"Brian Randolph continues to perform well. It's great to have him back there. Devaun Swafford did some good things. But again, it's too early to comment. I'll have to watch the video then know more after I watch it."
Joining Kelly and McDowell on the injured list is Rashaan Gaulden, who has been out most of the week with a nagging high-ankle sprain. But Kelly specifically had really surged this week and appeared primed to put more of his "resume on film" as the former Webb state champion and Mr. Football winner surges in the depth chart at safety.