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Tennessee football: Instant reactions from Vols’ 2023 Orange and White game

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Spring practice has come to an end for Tennessee football in 2023. The White team beat the Orange team 17-14 Saturday. The Vols won’t practice again until fall camp. While the spring game showed some things, it was limited. Here are five takeaways from the final scrimmage of Josh Heupel’s third spring camp at UT.

Tight ends and new running backs were the offensive weapons

Cameron Seldon had 10 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown while catching three passes for 43 yards. DeSean Bishop added to that with 24 carries for 88 yards. Now, Dylan Sampson, Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright are the main backs, but it always seemed like Heupel wanted one more. Did he find that in these two? We don’t know. Seldon fumbling didn’t help.

As for the passing game, the tight ends balled out. Dayton Sneed and Hunter Salmon caught the first two touchdowns. Ethan Davis had three catches for 53 yards and a score. McCallan Castles had two catches for nine yards. Davis generated a lot of buzz in spring camp and showed it Saturday. However, he also suffered an injury, which could be concerning.

Quarterbacks showed very little

Gaston Moore was the best quarterback in the game. Does anybody think he’s going to be the starter in the fall? Obviously he won’t. Moore was 8-of-12 for 94 yards and two touchdown passes, the first two of the game and one a beautiful fade pass near the goal line.

Joe Milton III was solid as usual in the intermediate passing game and had a great 39-yard pass to Kaleb Webb. Still, the touch on the deep ball is still an issue. He finished 9-of-13 for 79 yards and a score. Nico Iamalaeva’s pocket awareness was a great sign given his age. However, he looked raw on some of his passes, finishing 8-of-16 for 112 yards.

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None of the main Tennessee football wide receivers played

While running backs and tight ends showed out, receivers were limited. This was a huge reason the quarterbacks couldn’t show much. Webb and Chas Nimrod were the main wide receivers for the Vols. Again, does anybody think those two are going to be in the rotation over Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton, Squirrel White and Dont’e Thornton? Of course they won’t.

None of those guys racked up any stats, though. There was one interception, and Moore threw it because his receiver didn’t fight for the ball. Nimrod also dropped a pass. Simply put, don’t read anything into what you saw from the wide receivers in this game. Nimord had three catches for 15 yards, and Webb had three catches for 50 yards and a score.

Pass coverage looked better for Tennessee football

It’s hard to know exactly what the secondary will look like this year. The Vols had three newcomers in BYU Cougars transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally and freshmen Jordan Matthews and Rickey Gibson, all of whom could take one of the starting roles at cornerback. Warren Burrell is also healthy again.

What’s clear is Tennessee football needs to be much better this year. None of these guys showed much, although Jeudy-Lally had a pass deflection. Doneiko Slaughter, Kamal Hadden and Christian Charles all had one as well. Former receiver Cameron Miller may have shown something with his interception, but that was more just him being in the right place at the right time.

Players emerged on the Tennessee football defensive line

The first drive of the second half was one to remember for Arizona State Sun Devils transfer defensive tackle Omarr Norman-Lott. He blew up multiple plays and assisted on a sack. Omari Thomas is the star defensive tackle for Tennessee football, but they need another player, and Norman-Lott may be the guy.

Joshua Josephs and James Pearce entered this game with expectations of emerging at edge rusher too. Josephs did indeed finish with a tackle for a loss. With LaTrell Bumphus and Byron Young gone, Tennessee football needs to find new faces up front. Norman-Lott and Josephs could fill those voids going forward.

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