KNOXVILLE — Redshirt freshman guard JerQuari Schofield’s expected return to the field Saturday against Alabama, at least in some capacity, would give Tennessee football coaches a rare opportunity to tinker with the offensive line.
Head coach Derek Dooley said something he’s “going to probably play around a little bit” is moving versatile Jarrod Shaw — the unit’s only senior — to center in some situations.
Junior Cody Pope’s surprisingly long absence with a stinger has left the Vols shorthanded at center. They’ve got sophomore Darin Gooch, a sophomore who played in junior college last season, and that’s about it. They’ve toyed with true freshman James Stone and redshirt freshman tackle Daniel Hood at the position, but neither try left coaches comfortable.
“I’m not saying in front of Gooch, but we’re going to look at Shaw there,” Dooley said before Monday’s practice. “I think the reality of Cody being back — I mean, how much more can you wait? We’ll play with that.
For now, Dooley said the Vols will simply rotate Schofield and Stone at left guard “before we figure out where to go there.”
“I think that’s really all it will affect for now,” the coach added. “If they’re both full steam and playing well, then we’ve got to decide where we go from there. There are not a lot of parts there.”
Dooley hopes sophomore left tackle Dallas Thomas will be “100 percent” for Saturday, which would greatly help the front five.
“If he’s not, that’s a concern, because he wasn’t 100 percent [at Georgia] and he struggled,” Dooley said.
Shaw said he’d be “fine” at center despite taking very few reps at the complex position.
“Basically, the main difference is being that vocal leader guy,” Shaw said. “Obviously, that’s not my personality, but if the coaches need me to do it, I’ll do it. You have to make all the front calls, all the blocking calls and all that stuff.
“Physically, it’s not that much different than guard.”
Shaw said his shotgun snaps have been “getting better.”
“It’s pretty good,” he added. “Ask Matt [Simms, the quarterback].”
Shaw then turned around and shouted across the field, “Hey, Matt, how’s my snaps?”
“All right,” Simms shouted back. “It’s like a 7.”
Sophomore Montori Hughes didn’t practice Monday, and Dooley is operating under the assumption that the Vols’ top defensive tackle will miss Saturday’s game against Alabama. Hughes left the Georgia game with an ankle injury after getting chop blocked.
“Right now, I’m considering him out. We’ll find out more in the next two days,” Dooley said.
Dooley said before Monday’s practice that he would study senior kicker Daniel Lincoln’s performance before deciding whether to play him Saturday.
“If he’s got any problems today, the likelihood of him kicking is not very good,” the coach said.
Sophomore safety Prentiss Waggner said a neck injury has caused several stingers and forced him to practice in a no-contact jersey the past few weeks.
“We’re going to have to hold him out of contact this week, so that’s not good. You’re about to play two of the best backs in the country, and we’ve got to tackle,” Dooley said.
Dooley said sophomore weakside linebacker Greg King, who played a lot and occasionally started as a true freshman, recently had a scope to clean out his knee and would “probably” miss the rest of the season.
“I think Greg’s got a great future here, but he just hasn’t been full-go since I’ve gotten here,” Dooley said.