KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley still wants to see the film, but Tennessee's second-year football coach feels he's a little closer to some answers to some key personnel questions.
Freshmen linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt continue to play well on the outside with senior Austin Johnson anchoring the defense at middle linebacker, and Alex Bullard needed just a couple of days and one scrimmage to make his mark at left guard.
"We spend those first seven, eight practices [getting] the people in the right spots so we can go," Dooley said after the Vols' second scrimmage of preseason camp on Saturday night.
"You have to play them to figure them out. Once you see that isn't right, you can't be afraid to move them around. What's hard is you want to evaluate them before they really get comfortable at the position."
Maggitt and A.J. Johnson have been the surprises of camp, demonstrating a nice blend of size, speed and physicality. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Maggitt had six tackles, four for loss and two sacks, including a key one late, in Saturday's scrimmage, and Johnson added five tackles.
Austin Johnson was projected as a starter at an outside spot, but Herman Lathers' fractured ankle and Johnson's experience dictated a move back to the middle.
"He's been a good, solid Mike for us," Dooley said. "I think that's where he can help us the most. I think he's comfortable there, he's got a nice command and leadership on the defense. I hope we're settled in at those three spots."
Bullard, who transferred to UT from Notre Dame in January as a walk-on, took over at left guard ahead of freshman early enrollee Marcus Jackson and redshirt sophomore JerQuari Schofield after Tuesday's scrimmage.
"I feel like we might have steadied in there, too," Dooley said. I hope we have because I don't want to start moving more. He hasn't been there a lot [and] there were a couple of breakdowns."
First, though, Dooley still needs a look at the film.
Tauren Poole's ankle had been bothering him and Rajion Neal tweaked his knee, so to play it safe Dooley rested the tailback duo on Saturday. Neither injury is "anything to panic over," Dooley said, but it gave freshmen Marlin Lane and Tom Smith more opportunities.
Smith carried 10 times for 80 yards, and Lane had 42 yards on nine carries. Lane's ability has created much more of a buzz during the summer and into camp, and Smith was a productive high-school back in Florida's largest classification.
"Marlin's a little more elusive kind of guy," Dooley said. "Tom is a little more of a hammer-knocker. He came from a Wing-T offense. They teach you in the Wing-T to run straight. You don't even look up, you just run. We've got to teach him that you run and if there's a defender there, you're allowed to do a little [move] and get on the edge."
UT's defense took the bend-but-don't-break approach in Saturday's scrimmage, holding the offense to five field goals. Sophomore Michael Palardy made all three of his attempts, including a 52-yarder, after missing two of three on Tuesday.
"I was never down on Mike," Dooley said. "He stroked them today. Now it's consistency. The talent's there."
Everything to prove
Janzen Jackson and Brent Brewer, who had a team-high seven tackles Saturday, are entrenched at safety. Steady Marsalis Teague and freshman early enrollee Justin Coleman are making a move at corner with Izauea Lanier still in the mix. Prentiss Waggner and Byron Moore continue to play both spots, giving the Vols some versatility.
"You need a lot of guys that can do some multiple things," Dooley said. "[I] don't feel like we're close to being where we need to be from a performance standpoint. We've got to prove everything in the secondary. We don't tackle very well."
This and that
Linebacker Daryl Vereen (pectoral), wide receiver Antonio Jones (undisclosed), offensive tackle Antonio Richardson (shoulder), defensive lineman Malik Jackson (knee) and linebacker Dontavis Sapp (finger) were held out of Saturday's scrimmage.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...