KNOXVILLE -- Jordan Williams had seen Trevarris Saulsberry make tackles for loss before Saturday.
Tennessee's sophomore linebacker likely never had been more excited about the one his longtime friend and teammate made Saturday night.
The two former teammates at Gainesville High School in Florida continued their playing careers together when they signed with the Volunteers in 2011, and both got their first big opportunities at playing time in the loss to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night.
"I feel like I handled it well," Saulsberry, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman, said Monday morning about his second career appearance. "Of course I'm going to be nervous and excited, but I feel like I played my role. I just thank my teammates for helping me get there.
"I was already trying to get into the rotation, but when they said my opportunity was here, I had to take advantage. I was like, OK, it's time to buckle down. You've got to do everything right, go watch film, look at the players in front of you, learn from the coaches and take the process as it is."
The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder was in for 26 plays and made five tackles. He stuffed Crimson Tide tailback Eddie Lacy in the backfield to force a field goal in the second quarter.
"I was so proud when he got that tackle for a loss," said Williams, the sophomore linebacker. "I was on the sideline hollering and screaming for him."
The 6-5, 256-pounder, who played in nine games last season, replaced former Ooltewah High School standout Jacques Smith as Tennessee's first-team Jack linebacker and made two tackles.
The Vols always have liked Williams' natural physical skills, but learning the defense was holding him back.
"I just had to get in the playbook a lot to make sure I had everything [down]," he said. "I was definitely struggling early in the season. The biggest thing was just relax and watch film and make sure everything goes smoothly."
Coach Derek Dooley said Tennessee decided to give Williams and Saulsberry playing time for more size against Alabama's big offensive line and straight-ahead rushing attack and called the Gainesville duo "great additions" to the Vols' ailing defense.
"They've got good qualities, and that's why we signed them," Dooley said. "I think they're going to have a good future here. Probably should have put them in the lineup four weeks ago."
When asked if the youth movement could continue anywhere else on defense, Dooley immediately pointed out cornerback, a position exploited by Alabama freshman receiver Amari Cooper. The Vols long have wanted to integrate freshmen Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray into the mix.
"I keep telling them they've got to inspire a little confidence in practice," Dooley said. "If we're not performing out there, we've got to get some young guys in there who have got a chance."
Harping on Hunter
After another tough outing, Justin Hunter continues to search for answers. Tennessee's star receiver followed up a stretch in which he made just five catches in two games with a quiet outing against Alabama. His first-half drop on a deep ball was much louder than the four catches for 70 yards he made with the Vols trailing by three or more scores.
There's no doubt Tennessee needs its playmaker to get going.
"Justin's got to understand," Dooley said, "that playing receiver is not always clean and easy, that there's a little grit you have to do to get open -- you're going to have to get hit -- and good receivers are able to make those kinds of plays no matter what the circumstance. He's not there yet.
"We all want to talk about how he's this first-round pick and a No. 1 pick in the draft. He can be that, but he's never performed to that standard, in my opinion. He knows that, so he needs to focus on his development on what does he do well, what are some things that we've got to keep building on and how do we get there.
"He's got great character, it's important to him and he's got a lot special qualities for wideout, but being able to go produce out there week after week is what matters."
Zach Fulton left the Alabama game in the second quarter after a pile rolled up on his left ankle, and Dooley said the Vols' starting right guard is doubtful to play Saturday at 17th-ranked South Carolina. The 6-5, 324-pound junior was seen on crutches in a walking boot inside the football complex after Monday's practice.
Either Marcus Jackson or Alex Bullard, who replaced Fulton against the Tide but also plays as an oversized tight end, would start in his absence.
"We're kind of figuring that out right now," Dooley said.
Dooley said top tailback Rajion Neal, who missed the Alabama game with his own ankle injury suffered against Mississippi State, up to "probable" for the Gamecocks, but he is "not close" to 100 percent.
Dooley explained his reasoning for deciding to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from Alabama's 3-yard line with just 3:57 remaining and backup quarterback Justin Worley in the game.
"It's either 44-10, 44-13 or 44-17," he said. "[Kicker Michael] Palardy's doing good ... let's get something positive out of it. I don't know, I can't say that's the right move or the wrong one.
"I can say it's insignificant either way."
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 ...