KNOXVILLE - Having spent two seasons at Alabama, Tennessee's Darrington Sentimore knows the daily lifestyle of Crimson Tide's machine of a football program better than most.
The Volunteers' defensive lineman never has been shy about speaking his thoughts, and after praising the defensive schemes and day-to-day intensity of the Alabama program, the junior college transfer didn't mince words in giving his opinion of Tide coach Nick Saban.
"I'm not the type that likes Saban," Sentimore said after admitting he regretted going to Alabama out of Louisiana's Destrahan High School in 2009. "I like him, but I wouldn't rather be under him. I just wouldn't rather be under him.
"Like some players, he'll see you in the hallway, and he'll just walk right past you like he don't see you. I don't like no stuff like that. I'm not going to lie: I want this game more than any other because I want to beat Saban."
The words are sure to find their way to a bulletin board somewhere in the football facilities in Tuscaloosa. After redshirting his first season, Sentimore played in 11 games for Alabama in 2010 and left that program before the 2011 preseason after an indefinite suspension that summer.
He signed with Tennessee in December after a semester at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
"He's an emotional guy and a passionate guy," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "I'm sure he says things and does things that he looks back on and wishes he wouldn't, and that's part of maturing and we've had a lot discussions with him. Darrington's made a lot of mistakes that he acknowledges. That's just part of his growth.
"He's made a lot of progress from a maturity standpoint in the last year. He really has, and he's got a lot to keep building on. I'm really proud of how he's integrated in. I think he's learned a lot of lessons from his time at Alabama, and I think Darrington will be the first to tell you he made a lot of mistakes that he wishes he didn't make and probably could have success there like he's having here had he made a lot better personal choices."
Dooley didn't consult Saban when he recruited Sentimore, who registered his third sack as a Vol against Mississippi State, out of junior college. He knew the 6-foot-2, 288-pounder from his time as coach at Louisiana Tech.
"We didn't think he was going to qualify, and we thought we could get him," Dooley said. "I was very aware of his background, his family situation, his risk, all that. There were no surprises."
Saban was asked about Sentimore during his weekly news conference Monday.
"He was a good player when he was here," he said. "We're happy that he's doing a good job and having success. I hope he's doing what he needs to do off the field and in school.
"His problems here were not relative to being a football player, so it had nothing to do with pass rush or sacks or any of that."
Sentimore said facing former teammates will be a new experience.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I don't know how it's going to be because I've never played against them. But I'm hoping that I'm going to kick their behinds."
More Alabama ties
Sentimore is just one of a number of Tennessee people with Alabama ties. Dave Hart took the athletic director position in Knoxville after three years at Alabama and hired Jon Gilbert and Mike Wade from Alabama to his nine-member executive staff.
Dooley hired defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley from Saban's staff this offseason, and former Tide defensive lineman Nick Gentry now is on the Vols' football support staff.
Receiver Zach Rogers though the worst when quarterback Tyler Bray went down awkwardly and lay on the field briefly against Mississippi State.
"I was very nervous," he said. "I saw him go down, I saw the twisted knee and ankle and I thought, 'Oh, no, something bad may have happened.' He bounced back up -- he's a warrior -- and he continued to fight."
After an MRI Sunday revealed just a bone bruise, Bray took a day off from practice Monday but returned Tuesday, again sporting a bulky knee brace. The junior was upbeat, glad to be back and ready to face the Tide's top-ranked defense.
"I've been waiting two years now," he said. "[My knee] feels great. I wanted to practice yesterday, but they kept me out. I felt fine, and I was ready to go.
"They just wanted to give me a little more rest."
Bray missed badly on a slant pattern two plays after his scary moment, at which point Dooley said negative energy began entering his mind. Yet Bray finished the game and led two scoring drives.
"This guy has got toughness that a lot of quarterbacks don't have," Dooley said. "You saw it his first year when he got hit 682 times and just kept getting up and throwing it. You saw it last year when he stayed in a play after he broke his thumb. You saw him come back late in the season when he really wasn't ready.
"Anybody that ever questions that kid's toughness is out of their mind. They're not watching him compete."
Said Rogers: "Tyler's very resilient. He's a very tough guy, and he showed that. He showed his heart, and he wanted to fight for 60 minutes."
Starting tailback and leading rusher Rajion Neal (ankle) only did rehab work on the side of Tuesday's practice and remains questionable for Saturday. ... Tailback Marlin Lane (quadriceps) and cornerback Justin Coleman (head) both practiced fully Tuesday. ... Freshman receiver Jason Croom and defensive back Tino Thomas are having in-season shoulder surgery so they can return in time for spring practice, Dooley said. Croom, who is moving to tight end, had his last week, and his left arm is in a sling. Dooley said both are eligible for medical redshirts. ... A week removed from hip surgery, Dooley said again Tuesday it's "probable" he'll coach from the booth against Alabama.