KNOXVILLE -- Freshman free safety Janzen Jackson wasn't the only starter returning to Tennessee's defense Tuesday.
Junior strongside linebacker LaMarcus Thompson, who was carted off the field at Ole Miss on Nov. 14 with his second neck and shoulder stinger of the season, practiced with UT's top unit at Haslam Field.
"I feel good," Thompson said. "I went back out there today to get a little contact and to see if everything was working fine, and it felt pretty good, but we're just going day by day."
"There's not much pain at all. I should be ready to go by Saturday, definitely."
Thompson, whose solid play has been one of UT's most pleasant surprises this season, said he was "really sore" last week. He missed Saturday's win over Vanderbilt but said he never feared his career was in jeopardy, despite the scary scene at Ole Miss -- his second in a short period of time.
"It was just a couple of fluke hits," Thompson said. "I don't know it's really anything that can really damage my career, or anything like that. It was just, 'Heal it up and get back out there and ready to go.'
"It's definitely a lot better today than it was last week, because of all the treatment. Those great guys in the training room really get us healthy. They got me back well."
Thompson wore a butterfly shoulder pad extension Tuesday and said he'll keep it on "for a while."
"I used to love my butterfly collar back in high school," Thompson added. "But (Jerod) Mayo and them used to make fun of it all the time when I got here, and that's why I took it off."
"Cowboy collar sounds a lot tougher than butterfly collar, though. I'll give you that."
Junior defensive end Chris Walker said Thompson's return was a big boost for the Vols, especially since backup Greg King is out for the season with a chipped elbow.
"His experience and his presence out there, his knowledge with everything we're doing ... it's huge," Walker said. "He's just more comfortable with the system than Greg was, just because he's been here longer. It's great for us to have him back."
Junior All-America safety Eric Berry said the returns of Jackson and Thompson would immediately pay off for the Vols at Kentucky.
"We can put some more things in on defense, because of their experience," Berry said. "It's also just good to play with people you're familiar with again. I'm not saying the people that have come in haven't done a good job, because they've done a great job. But at the same time, when the old guys are back in there, we can really start flying around again."
Coach Lane Kiffin, a Minnesota native, said he wasn't personally pleased with Saturday's mid-30s forecast in Lexington. He grew up in cold climates but spent the past several years in California.
Kiffin said it shouldn't bother his team, though.
"I'll be really cold -- I get cold when it's 50 degrees here -- but I don't think it's going to bother our players at all," Kiffin said. "A number of our players, as you look at it, are not from Florida or from California. We've got a bunch of guys that are from colder areas. And it's not going to be freezing cold, it's not going to be rain, and it's not going to be snow. As far as play-calling, it's not going to affect anything.
"I don't know what the temperature was, but the second half of the South Carolina game here was about that cold, and we played really well. I don't think it's a big deal."
Secondary coach Willie Mack Garza said versatile junior defensive back Dennis Rogan will play mostly cornerback now that Jackson is back, but he added that Rogan could still play safety in certain packages.
Kiffin was even more abstract.
"I can't really get into that," Kiffin said. "There's some stuff within our game plan of where we're going to move some people around."
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