ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. -- Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley says the Volunteers have contingency plans in case one of their starting inside linebackers goes down.
Former fullback Channing Fugate is trying to become one of those alternatives.
The junior, a six-game starter at fullback the past two seasons, believes he's settled in at linebacker after an offseason switch, and his six-tackle, one-sack performance in Saturday's scrimmage perhaps showed some signs of progress.
"I'm a lot more settled in than in the spring," Fugate said Monday morning after Tennessee finished the first of two practices at Milligan College. "I was just getting used to it, and now I've been studying the playbook, been out here practicing and I'm just a lot more used to it.
"It felt pretty good to go out there and make some plays. There's a lot of things to work on."
After losing his starting position on offense to Ben Bartholomew last season, Fugate felt he could benefit from moving to defense. He's back up to 235 pounds after dropping nearly 30 to prepare himself for his move. It's all new for Fugate, who played safety at Breathitt County High School in Kentucky when he wasn't rushing for more than 5,000 yards in three seasons.
"In high school, I always kind of wanted to be a linebacker," he said, "but they moved me to safety as one of the fastest guys on the team. Now that's not the case. I'm inside, and I like it."
Fugate still has work to do to make the Vols like him more as a backup at what might be the thinnest position on the team. Redshirt freshman Christian Harris to continues rehab his torn ACL on the side during practices, but freshman Kenny Bynum is likely headed for a redshirt after having his torn meniscus repaired over the weekend. Most of the other options are too small to hold up inside.
With better options at outside linebacker in Willie Bohannon and Jordan Williams, Tennessee would likely slide Curt Maggitt inside of anything happened to Herman Lathers or A.J. Johnson, but Dooley declined to say that Monday.
"Channing's doing good, but we're really short there," the coach said. "We need to get Christian Harris back, so it's a concern. We've got a lot of contingency plans, but right now, it's Herman and A.J. We do that at every position."
During the open period of Monday's morning workout, Maurice Couch and Darrington Sentimore were at defensive end with 6-foot-6, 377-pound junior-college transfer Daniel McCullers at nose tackle for the first-team defense.
Couch has earned praise for what he's done in training camp, so his move to end suggests McCullers is making strides in transitioning to this level. Daniel Hood went back from end to nose tackle with the second-team defense.
"Again, organizational chart," Dooley said. "This is the week where we keep moving guys around for a lot of reasons, either evaluation purposes or contingency plans. We'll see how [Couch] does there.
"I think he's got a body type that has a lot of flexibility. He's not a tall guy, so he doesn't have the range, but he's got a lot of good quick-twitch and power. It allows him to play a lot of positions."
Tennessee didn't practice Sunday following Saturday's scrimmage in which the Vols' ground game performed "very efficiently," Dooley said. The coach again noted the administrative mistakes and penalties as primary corrections and explained that his younger players needed to "elevate their play." After meetings, the team walked through to correct those mistakes on Sunday.
Then the Vols had some fun on their first off day of training camp.
"The coaches have been doing a good job of letting us relax at night during the meetings," right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "We've been doing talent shows; last night we had karaoke and the night before we played 'Name That Vol,' like some trivia and stuff."
In what must have been a heated battle, the Vols' defensive line defeated their offensive counterparts with a stirring rendition of Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back." James said the team was allowed to sleep in until 10 a.m. The food also has been a hit for the Vols.
"We keep saying we want to hire [the chefs] over at Tennessee," James said.
Dooley said the Vols gave star receiver Justin Hunter took a 'maintenance day' as sort of a precaution. After working mostly on the side in the morning, the junior practiced fully during the evening. Like linebacker Herman Lathers, Tennessee is managing one of its offensive stars carefully. ... Tight end Mychal Rivera (knee sprain) and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (shoulder sprain) wore red non-contact jerseys during both practices, and linebacker Curt Maggitt and safety LaDarrell McNeil wore red Monday night. ... Cornerback Prentiss Waggner, who was not on the stat sheet in Saturday's scrimmage, hobbled around both practices with a sleeve on his left leg, and Dooley said he's battling a staph infection. ... Dooley said there's "nothing new" on freshman tailback Davante Bourque, who's not with the team and at home in Louisiana for personal reasons.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
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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