KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt is putting his hand on the ground more this season.
The Volunteers hope it means the standout sophomore has his hand in more plays this season.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Maggitt slides from outside linebacker to defensive end in Tennessee's Star and Money packages, when five or six defensive backs are on the field, and he spent much of the season opener against North Carolina State last week chasing the quarterback from that spot.
"I enjoy rushing the passer," Maggitt said after practice Monday morning, "and they give me a lot of opportunities to do that. Last year I was an off-the-ball linebacker, and this year I'm doing both. I enjoy it a lot."
The Vols use Maggitt and Jacques Smith, another outside linebacker, as edge rushers in sub packages. Corey Miller and Steven Fowlkes are other specialists in those formations, and Darrington Sentimore and Maurice Couch, ends in Tennessee's base group, become interior rushers. The Vols hit N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon nearly a dozen times and had a hand in his four-interception performance.
Maggitt's double duty isn't new, but he couldn't do it as much as a freshman last season because the Vols' need for him at linebacker was too great. Coach Derek Dooley said it's mentally challenging, but physically the dual roles suit Maggitt. He showed his ability to get the quarterback when he chased down Glennon and forced a fumble that ended in a safety for Tennessee.
"I think it gives him a chance to be more of an impact player," Dooley said. "We saw it: Him on the edge, just like that safety he made, there's not many guys out there that would have made that play. He whipped the guy, leveraged the quarterback, swallowed him up and knocked the ball out.
"We're hoping that puts him in a position where he can impact the game."
As Dooley predicted early last month, Tennessee's backfield remains unsettled. The Vols listed Rajion Neal, Devrin Young and Marlin Lane as co-starters in their depth chart Monday for Saturday's home game with Georgia State. Lane, who entered third in the pecking order, led the Vols with 75 yards on nine carries. starter Neal got most of the work (22 carries for 53 yards) and Young (two for minus-2) was the odd man out.
"Looking back on it, we probably gave it to Rajion a little too much too early [and] realized it at halftime," Dooley said. "That's on us as coaches, probably forcing it too much instead of just letting them play. We'll do a better job with that."
How exactly that will shake out is uncertain. Lane's hard-running performance certainly garnered him more carries, while Neal must stop bouncing runs outside like he did in the opener. Despite some good runs, Dooley said Neal's bad ones stood out because they "were really not good."
"At times I had the tough yards when I threw it up in there, and at times I got greedy and bounced some of them," Neal said. "A lot of people don't understand what N.C. State's defense did as far as spiking and spilling a lot of things to the outside, making it look like I bounced a lot. It was a lot of set calls that we had to put it on the perimeter.
"I only had a couple that I may have strayed away from what I was supposed to do."
Practice this week and the flow of the game will dictate who gets carries.
"The most important thing is who's producing on game days," Dooley said. "Of course the hard thing is you say, 'Well I need a bunch of touches to produce.' Get in there, take advantage of your opportunity and you'll keep getting the ball."
Linebacker Herman Lathers is probable for Saturday, Dooley said. His shoulder injury isn't severe, and the Vols won't hold Lathers out simply because Georgia State's visiting.
"If he can go, he's going to go," Dooley said. "If he doesn't practice this week, then it's pointless to play him. We'll just take it day to day. The only way you get better is to play, and he was dinged up in camp, didn't practice all the practices and it reflected in the game."
With Lathers out, A.J. Johnson takes over most of the communication duties from the inside linebacker spot. Dooley said he's shown "a lot of progress" with that responsibility. Dontavis Sapp "did a good job" at Lathers' inside linebacker spot, Dooley said.
• Right guard Zach Fulton, who graded out the highest on Tennessee's offensive line, was named the Southeastern Conference's offensive lineman of the week.
• Dooley thought the Vols tackled "very well" and noted "significant improvement" in that area.
• Tennessee struggled in short-yardage situations, failing to convert two third-and-1 plays, including Tyler Bray's fumble on a quarterback sneak on the goal line, and another fourth-and-1. "It was not a surprise, it was a very big concern of mine heading into this football game, and we're going to keep ironing it out," Dooley said. "We've got to get good at that."
• The Vols scored one touchdown and kicked two field goals on four red-zone possessions, and Dooley lamented Bray's fumble and two missed throws to Justin Hunter in one-on-one coverage. "If you would have bet me money [with] two plays, two shots one-on-one with Hunter in the slot, I would have guessed we would have hit one of them," he said. "We've just got to execute better."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...