KNOXVILLE — After missing last spring practice, Tennessee defensive end Corey Miller is using this one to make up for lost time.
The rising senior appears to be making the most of it, too.
As the Volunteers continue their search for a pass rusher off the edge, Miller is solidifying his spot in Tennessee's defensive line rotation and pushing to start.
"Corey is actually rotating with the ones -- he and Jacques [Smith] and Marlon Walls," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said after Thursday morning's practice. "I think he's earned that right. I think he's going to give us some good football. He's cross-training, meaning he's playing both end positions.
"He's intelligent enough to do that, so I think his stock is going up."
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Miller was absent during spring practice a year ago while he focused on his academics, but the South Carolina resident played in every game, started twice and finished his junior season with 18 tackles, five for loss and one sacks.
In last Saturday's scrimmage, Miller, who like safety Byron Moore is one of the most active Vols on Twitter, was credited with one of the three sacks.
"I really want to take this spring to perfect all aspects of my game, and also leadership-wise I want to be able to help the guys beside me as well," he said after Tuesday's practice. "I feel like that that's my main focus. It's a big opportunity to me.
"This spring I feel like I have a chance to take advantage of the missed opportunity from last year, and hopefully it'll snowball into the fall."
Stripling said Miller, who was a 'tweener -- too small to play defensive line and too big to play linebacker -- in Tennessee's 3-4 defense in 2012, is capable of playing both of the Vols' defensive end positions. The strongside end is usually bigger and must take on more double teams. The weakside end, called the Leo in coordinator John Jancek's defense, is the lighter of the two and plays a little bit more in space.
"He's one of the guys, like this morning, you come in at 6:50 and everybody's dragging, and he's the guy with the smile on his face and he's the guy that's got a little juice," Stripling said.
Now Tennessee's coaches hope Miller can help the Vols solve their pass-rush problem.
"Our four-down pass rush has to get better," Jancek said. "We don't have a tremendous edge presence right now. When we blitz, I think we're doing some good things, but you can't do that all the time."
Tailback Marlin Lane was not at practice Thursday morning. The rising junior missed a couple of days after spring break last week for what head coach Butch Jones called a family health issue.
After performing well in Saturday's scrimmage, Tennessee's defense was unable to maintain that energy level into Tuesday's practice, and the Vols' defensive coaches were animated during Thursday's session.
"I wasn't happy the last practice," Jancek said. "This one I thought we got lined up quicker, faced the tempos and handled some things. We've really kind of held off on install and just tried to play football and get them to play with the effort that it takes to swarm to the ball."
During one period, all 11 players had to chase the ball nearly the entire length of the 50-yard field. Jones barked over the microphone that the defense had to earn the nickname, "Orange Swarm," and again singled out big defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, quipping over the mic: "Somebody help McCullers! Put him on your back if you've got to carry him!" Secondary coach Willie Martinez specifically challenged junior college cornerback Riyahd Jones to fix bad habits.
Jancek attributed the defense's inability to maintain its consistency to a leadership void.
"I challenged the guys, the older players in our room, that that's on them," he said. "They've got to make sure we have a consistent level of play every time we take the field, and that's a sign of an immature team. We need more leadership so that doesn't happen."
Linebacker Curt Maggitt isn't practicing this spring as he recovers from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his right knee against Missouri in November, but he's been joining the Vols during their stretching period and leading some of the workouts the injured players do on the side of practice.
"When he got the surgery, he was about 220 pounds when I first got here, and he was looking really thin," linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said. "I looked at him today, and he said he's about 241, and he looks a lot thicker. He looks like an SEC linebacker now.
"Kids respect him. He has a lot of knowledge, and he's one of the more smart guys in the room. I really enjoy Curt, and I can't wait to see him come out there."
Maggitt is expected to be ready when preseason camp begins in August.
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 ...