KNOXVILLE — Corey Vereen knows his role in Tennessee's defense is expanding this season.
The sophomore defensive end also knows increased production will be part of the expectations that come with being an every-down player.
The Volunteers had the lowest sack total in the SEC in each of the last two seasons, and as he showed in certain moments as a freshman in 2013, Vereen has the ability to help Tennessee's nonexistent pass rush.
As a likely starter, though, Vereen will have to expand his game beyond just being a situational player.
"Pretty much [I have to] just stay aware of my surroundings, stay strong in the hole and when the time comes to get up field, get up field," he said after the Vols opened preseason practice on Friday night.
"This year I just want to stay consistent on every day. Every single down I'm out there, it needs to the same performance, the same attitude, the same energy -- everything."
After returning quickly from a knee injury he suffered in August, Vereen played in nine games last season. He earned a spot on Tennessee's "smurfs" package, an all-defensive end front four the Vols used on passing downs. His lone sack was of Georgia's Aaron Murray in the second half of Tennessee's overtime loss to the Bulldogs.
Vereen also made a key play on a fourth-down pass late against South Alabama that helped Tennessee escape with a win and combined for seven tackles against Missouri and Auburn.
Now he's trying to build on the taste of the game he got last season.
"Coach Strip [defensive line coach Steve Stripling] has us working on a lot of moves every day," Vereen said. "Claws, swipes, sweeps -- a lot of variations to keep us on our toes. It's to give us a lot of tools in our toolboxes that we can use on the field."
Tennessee's all-new offensive line has pointed to external doubts about their ability as a point of motivation this offseason, and Vereen said the Vols' new-look defensive line is thinking the same way.
"Coach [Butch] Jones tells us every day they picked us last and that's how they feel," he said, "but we're gonna come back strong and we're gonna work every day.
"We're not gonna listen to that, and basically we're gonna play Tennessee football at the end of the day."
Saturday practice observations
• Former walk-on Jacob Gilliam, a fifth-year senior, continues to work with the first-team offense at left tackle ahead of touted junior college transfer Dontavius Blair. Jones said after Friday's practice, however, that Blair "looks completely" different than he did in the spring and "translated" his strong offseason onto the field in the practice opener.
• Justin Worley was the quarterback with the first-team offense during the Vols' walk-through period early in practice. At the skill positions were three newcomers -- freshman tight end Ethan Wolf, freshman receiver Josh Malone and JuCo transfer receiver Von Pearson -- along with tailback Marlin Lane and receiver Marquez North. The first-team offense looked much like it did during the spring.
• Jones singled out redshirt freshman offensive tackle Brett Kendrick as the first "energy vampire" of the season after the team's stretching period. No, it's not a label you want.
• Both Lane and Pearson were very vocal during drills. Lane told the running backs to move "on the hop" during one pass-blocking drill, while Pearson encouraged seemingly every other receiver after their rep during another period.
• Jones reminded freshman tailback Jalen Hurd, a former five-star recruit, that Alabama's two tailbacks both started out playing special teams -- that's true, too -- when they were freshmen during a punt coverage drill.
• After he was unhappy with his quarterbacks' accuracy on Friday night, Jones reminded the signal-callers to improve in the area as Tennessee transitioned into its routes-on-air period. The Vols track balls on the ground during a practice, and Jones said there were 62 on Friday night. The intended range is 18-20.
• Cody Blanc did not practice after injuring his lower leg on Friday night, while sophomore offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman and freshman cornerback Rashaan Gaulden worked on the side of Saturday's practice.
More from Saturday's practice online and in Sunday's Times Free Press.
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 ...