Staff Photo by Dan Henry Tackle Aaron Douglas (78) made his first start this past Saturday against Ohio.
KNOXVILLE -- Even big guys get nervous, especially when facing situations similar to Aaron Douglas's last Saturday.
Douglas, a 6-foot-6, 280-pound redshirt freshman, made his first University of Tennessee start at right tackle, a position he'd played only since spring practice.
The former Maryville High School star tight end also had a family tradition to uphold as the son of former UT and NFL lineman David Douglas and former Lady Volunteers basketball player Karla Horton Douglas.
"Oh, yeah, there was definitely a nervousness and an anxiousness," Aaron Douglas said Tuesday afternoon. "But I was ready for it, and I had a lot of fun."
He played every offensive snap in the Vols' 34-23 win over Ohio.
"I thought he played extremely well," coach Lane Kiffin said. "But he did not have very tough physical matchups, as far as going against dominant players, like he will do the rest of the way, especially over the course of the SEC season.
"He's going to have his hands full, but like we say, you can only control what you can control, and he did a very good job."
Kiffin has said several times that Douglas is UT's "future" at offensive tackle. Several major college programs have turned big high school wide receivers and tight ends into tackles, a natural response to the trend of long, lean, fast players at defensive end.
"When you think about it, it's pretty simple," Kiffin said. "Skill guys use their hands all the time, just like linemen. If you can recruit a big skill guy who has some strength and room to grow, you can usually develop him into a good tackle. Guys have done it for years. We did it with guys at (Southern Cal).
"I think Aaron can develop into a great tackle if he continues to practice hard and train hard. And I think he's the kind of guy that will do that, so I think he'll have a bright future for us."
Douglas nearly started the season opener against Western Kentucky, but junior Jarrod Shaw narrowly defeated him for the top position late in preseason camp. Douglas played a few snaps in the first few games, though, and when junior guard Vlad Richard went down with Achilles' tendon and knee injuries, Shaw went to Richard's spot and Douglas was inserted into the lineup.
Richard is questionable to return this week, according to Kiffin, but Douglas might remain a starter. The coach said he helped the ground game finally have some consistent success going to the right side.
"It was an improvement in the run game from what we've had in the past, which we've said before," Kiffin said. "Shaw's a better pass player, and (Douglas) is a better run player, but he needs to continue to develop his pass protection."
Tight ends typically spend most of their time run-blocking and route-running.
"That sound about accurate," Douglas said. "When I was over at Maryville, they'd line up behind me and we'd run-block, so I got a bunch of repetitions doing that. But yeah, the pass pro(tection) is just something I've definitely had to adapt to, and had to keep improving on.
"Just having your hands in the right place, that's the main thing for me. That's something I thought I did well at toward the end of last game, and I'm just going to try to improve on that this week."
Auburn, this Saturday's opponent, traditionally has solid defensive ends, and 6-foot-3 bookends Antonio Coleman and Michael Goggans haven't continued that this season.
Coleman has been especially disruptive. The senior has 2.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, an interception, four quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery in the Tigers' first four games.
"They're tough. They're really tough," Douglas said of the Tigers. "They bring it. I haven't watched a lot of film yet, but I'm pretty sure they play mostly a base defense and just try to beat you with the pass rush."
UT likely will throw several wrinkles at Auburn to try to slow the pass rush, but there almost surely will be at least a few occasions when Douglas will be put on an island and asked to keep an end away from quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
How Douglas fares in those situations could be a major factor.
"There's still a few little things I can clean up a little bit that come with experience," he said. "But I'm going to just work my tail off this week and try to get everything cleaned up, because Auburn is tough up front and they're going to be coming after us.
"I've got to be mentally prepared."