Defense 'stepped up' during scrimmage

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As film studies and weight lifting sessions came to an end Friday, Curt Maggitt gathered his defensive teammates for a meeting.

Enough was enough.

"Yesterday we decided as a defense — as a unit — we were going to pick it up," Maggitt told InsideTennessee. "We wanted to recommit ourselves. We wanted to play with more energy."

It certainly showed Saturday.

After being challenged by coach Butch Jones to play more physically for the last two weeks, the defense answered the call during Tennessee's third scrimmage of spring camp.

"I can honestly say the past few practices weren't good as a defense. We were fatigued," Maggitt said. "Today, we came out with effort and it showed."

The defense held the offense in check throughout the afternoon, forcing three and outs, long field goal attempts and tallying two turnovers.

Defensive end Jordan Williams credits the improved effort to that Friday meeting, saying the talk made younger players realize they needed to be playing with a increased "sense of urgency."

"We only have like… 30 practices left before the season. That's not a lot. We have to take each day seriously and get better," Williams told IT. "We just have to get it together and get the energy flowing."

Playing in front of hundreds of students and Tennessee faculty members in Neyland Stadium, defensive end Corey Vereen believes the improvement Friday was because the unit finally decided to let loose.

"Before, man, we were playing like afraid. I mean, we were just going through the motions," Vereen said. "Today…we're trying to attack. We're not just trying to make plays, we're trying to get after it."

Maggitt agrees with Both Vereen and Williams, but also added another theory as to why the defensive unit played so much better than it had in the other two scrimmages.

A.J. Johnson was back.

Johnson, the team's leading tackler, was held out of last Saturday's scrimmage for rest purposes and saw limited snaps in the mock game before that.

"It's a big difference. He brings that spark," Maggitt said. "Just to know he's behind me, it's a good feeling."

Added Vereen: "It's awesome to have (Johnson) out there. You know you're with a professional when he's out there. He knows what he's doing. He's relaxed. He's cool. He's calm. The calls come in quicker."

Throughout the practice, the defensive line forced Tennessee's four quarterbacks to leave the pocket and make throws while on the run.

Vereen recorded at least two sacks and several quarterback hurries on top of that.

But it wasn't just the defensive line that stood out.

Aside from a few pass interference calls, the Vols' secondary was solid as well.

Freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and safety Lemond Johnson broke up several would-be touchdown throws.

"It just felt like everyone had an edge," Vereen said. "Everyone had a little pep."

While all agree it was by far the best defensive showing of the spring, Maggitt said the key now becomes to keep improving and avoid being satisfied as the dog days of spring camp approach.

"We just have to keep building," Maggitt said. "We hit that wall, but we're pushing through it."

Too many problems

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Freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson threw an interception and running back Jalen Hurd fumbled, but in Jones' eyes Tennessee's offense committed much more than two turnovers Saturday.

Vols wideouts dropped several passed during the scrimmage. Jones said in his up-tempo offensive system, a dropped pass is just as bad as a turnover.

"They're at talented, but they're still exceptionally young," Jones said of his receivers. "They have to learn to attack the ball in the air."

Jones, however, isn't worried about those mistakes being fixed. He called wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni "the best in the country."

Jones shows 'swagger'

Tennessee's third scrimmage of spring was dubbed "Student and Faculty Appreciation Day," which drew hundreds of spectators to Neyland Stadium.

But the real highlight of the afternoon came as practice neared its end.

Jones came over his microphone and invited students onto the field to huddle around the team's field goal and punting drills.

Jones then gathered both players and students in a circle, addressed the group and then started dancing with the crowd as DJ "Stearl the Pearl" provided the tunes.

"You don't see a lot of coaches doing that stuff," Maggitt said. "He got swag. He the man. Coach Jones is the man."

With a smile, freshman quarterback Ferguson said he'd give Jones' dance moves a "B-plus."

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