KNOXVILLE — A mid-practice stumble and fall has Tennessee adjusting on the fly on both offense and special teams.
Receiver Devrin Young, who doubles and triples as the Volunteers' punt and kickoff returner, broke his left hand during Tuesday's practice and will be sidelined for four to six weeks, coach Butch Jones confirmed on his radio call-in show on Wednesday night.
Tennessee began working its contingency plans during Wednesday's practice as preparation for Saturday's game with Western Kentucky continued.
"It's plug the next guy right now," receivers coach Zach Azzanni said following practice. "Pick up the rifle and move on. That's the way we've got to do it."
As Young, the 5-foot-8, 171-pound junior from Knoxville, was running a wheel route, he took a hit from a blocking pad held by a graduate assistant, stumbled as he turned upfield, braced his fall with his left arm and came up grabbing his hand with the pain evident on his face.
He set up a field goal in the third quarter of Tennessee's season-opening win against Austin Peay with a 58-yard kickoff return and caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in the first half and added punt returns of 10 and 11 yards.
In his absence, receivers Pig Howard, Jacob Carter, Paul Harris and Johnathan Johnson were working at punt returner on Wednesday, while receivers Marquez North and Vincent Dallas, tailback Rajion Neal and defensive backs Malik Foreman and JaRon Toney caught kickoffs.
The Vols will use a by-committee approach to fill his void on offense, Azzanni said. Many of Young's reps in the slot behind Howard will go to Johnson, the 5-foot-9, 176-pound transfer from Blinn College in Texas. The Vols stumbled across Johnson while recruiting Kameel Jackson, the Blinn receiver currently verbally committed to Tennessee.
Johnson caught two passes for 15 yards in the second half against Austin Peay.
"He had a really good second half," Azzanni said. "He played a lot in the second half. He's a very conscientious kid. He tried to play physical. Thank God we have him from a depth standpoint. He kind of fell in our lap. We needed him at that spot [because] we only had two guys.
"I think any time for a junior college player it takes a second to adjust. Just the speed of the game, the intensity level's not even in the same planet -- all those things combined together make it hard on a kid to go right away. He's done a pretty good job of it."
As the Vols began to stretch before Wednesday's practice, first-year coach Butch Jones halted proceedings and announced he'd cut "Daniel" McCullers and replaced him with "Dan" McCullers.
Tennessee's big defensive tackle regularly wears No. 98, but he was in an No. 63 orange jersey on Wednesday, as Jones warned he would do on Tuesday, as a motivational ploy.
"We're trying to challenge him to get him to play harder," defensive coordinator John Jancek said.
There's also a meaning in the number, one that's plastered over the walls of Tennessee's complex: each plays lasts about six seconds, and coaches want the players making three great efforts on one play.
"The effort for a D-lineman like Dan," defensive line coach Steve Stripling said, "would be addressing the blocks -- one effort -- getting off the block is an effort and making the tackle's an effort. Big Dan's big, and big people struggle the most doing that. He's been the point of emphasis of we're going to strain every play. It's going to be harder for him, but he's got to get it done."
Jones said redshirt freshman defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry showed some nice things in the opener, and the Vols are hoping the 6-foot-4, 291-pounder can add some depth in the interior of the defensive front.
"It's a level of consistency," Jancek said. "His volume has to increase. He's got to be able to play more plays at a higher level than he's been, and that's what he's working on. He knows exactly how we feel as coaches, so that's something that he's continuing to grow in each and every week.
"When he's playing hard, he's got some suddenness. He's a big-bodied guy. When he gets tired, that's when his play starts to drop off."
Linebacker Curt Maggitt again practiced on Wednesday, and Jancek said the Vols would "play it by ear" as to how much Maggitt would play on Saturday.
"Curt's got a great pulse on the team," the coordinator said. "The guys really like him. They respect him, so he's got tremendous leadership skills and that's invaluable."
Defensive end Jacques Smith, who was scheduled to have the pins removed from his broken thumb on Wednesday and possibly could play Saturday, was not at practice.
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 ...
related articles »
KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones's second Tennessee football team got a big boost Tuesday.
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt returned to practice Tuesday afternoon and appears likely to play in the Volunteers' home ...
KNOXVILLE — An offseason and preseason of praise for Tennessee's talented veteran offensive line goes out the window when the ...
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek isn't counting on Curt Maggitt to be available for the Volunteers' season opener ...