published Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Tennessee Vols keeping Curt Maggitt fresher

Tennessee freshman defensive lineman Curt Maggitt (56) tries to takedown Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in this file photo.
Tennessee freshman defensive lineman Curt Maggitt (56) tries to takedown Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in this file photo.
Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- There's been less and less double duty for Curt Maggitt.

When one need is more dire than another, that's what has to happen for the Tennessee freshman.

Maggitt spent most of the season's first half playing outside linebacker and switching to defensive end in pass-rush situations, but he's been used more exclusively at linebacker in recent games since the calf injury that knocked him out of the South Carolina game.

"It's just because it's too much," UT coach Derek Dooley said Monday. "We're so thin, we have three linebackers who are playing really well and we can't afford to overload them or wear them down physically. Curt went through the period in the middle of the season where he had to have a week off because he's just beat up.

"We don't have enough depth to be able to do that. We'd like to, and I think it would help us. All of a sudden you put him [at end] and everything starts suffering. You're robbing Peter to pay Paul."

The 225-pound Maggitt was chosen Southeastern Conference freshman of the week for his performance against Vanderbilt, when he made seven tackles and 2.5 for loss. He had six tackles, one for a loss, and a forced fumble against Arkansas the previous week. The Florida native has been playing more special teams recently as well.

"Filling my role at linebacker is important," Maggitt said. "In high school, playing a lot of defensive end, I didn't get a chance to play in space as much. This season, I think I've improved that a lot.

"I think the game's slowing down for me more than when I first got here. I'm understanding it more, understanding what's to come and how to watch film and stuff better. I'm [becoming] able to recognize my responsibility more and see things before they happen."

Maggitt's raw pass-rushing ability made him an attractive player for the Volunteers and a handful of other big-time programs, and though chasing down quarterbacks for sacks are his preference, he's flourished at linebacker alongside senior Austin Johnson and freshman A.J. Johnson. He admitted learning two spots in his first season has been a challenge, but now the Vols are easing his load.

"He's a football player, man," Dooley said. "I'd put him at running back [and he'd reply], 'I'm good, Coach.'"

Bray watch

Quarterback Tyler Bray played "exactly" like Dooley thought he would in the sophomore's first game back after he missed five games with a broken thumb. Bray passed to Da'Rick Rogers for two touchdowns and threw two interceptions, both made by Vanderbilt linebacker Archibald Barnes, leading to 14 Commodores points.

"He made some throws that are special. He moves in the pocket and he can find open guys," Dooley said. "He made some real bad mistakes from a thinking standpoint, either not hitting the guy as quick as he needs to or not seeing what his protection problems were and knowing when to throw. Then he had some accuracy issues."

Dooley called the interception throws "horrible" and reiterated the rust factor he repeatedly predicted last week. The Vols' hope is Bray continues to progress toward his thumb being at 100 percent, though that's uncertain.

"We're going to find out," Dooley said. "My expectation is it will keep getting better and better every day. He made big progress from Tuesday to Saturday [last week]."

Safety valve

Safeties Brian Randolph and Prentiss Waggner could be limited in practice this week. Randolph suffered a mild concussion during the first half Saturday, and Dooley said that though he's expecting the freshman to play in the Kentucky game, he'd be "shocked" if he practiced today. Waggner's shoulder sprain has been ongoing all season.

With those two out of the Vanderbilt game, UT played Rod Wilks and Byron Moore at safety. Moore has been splitting time with Eric Gordon at nickel back, and Wilks is more of a physical run-stopper.

"Rod does some good things," Dooley said. "He's a great leader and he likes to get down in the box and mix it up, but there are some times where it gets tough on him."

The Vols lost Janzen Jackson to a dismissal in late August, and Brent Brewer tore knee ligaments against South Carolina. They were the projected starting safeties entering the season.

On the corner

Cornerback Marsalis Teague started ahead of freshman Justin Coleman against Vanderbilt, and Monday's two-deep chart reflected Teague's hold on the starting spot opposite Izauea Lanier. Dooley said neither player is "making any statement" to deserve a starting spot.

"Justin makes a lot more mistakes and has given up some huge plays that scare you," the coach said. "He goes and breaks up a pass, and then you give up a 50-yarder. [With Teague] you give up a 10-yarder, give up a 15-yarder, give up a 12-yarder. We're feast or famine on one, or we bleed on the other one."

Status updates

Willie Bohannon has started the last three games at defensive end ahead of Ooltewah native Jacques Smith, which Dooley attributed to the junior's consistency and discipline. ... Dooley said he still doesn't think Bray will be able to take a snap from under center with his thumb, so the Vols will continue to use the pistol formation, which tailback Tauren Poole said he prefers because it allows him to get the ball deeper in the backfield and see the line of scrimmage better. ... Dooley said the clip on defensive tackle Maurice Couch that negated a big Vanderbilt gain on a pass was an "ugly" play. ... The coach refused to go into specifics on the SEC's statement about the two mistakes made by the officials on Gordon's game-ending interception return for a touchdown.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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