KNOXVILLE -- Increasing injuries haven't helped an already thin University of Tennessee football roster, but coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday that he doesn't plan to soften the Volunteers' physical practices.
"I don't think we can afford to," Kiffin said. "I think you do that, and then all of a sudden I'm sitting in this same seat Saturday night at 11 o'clock going, 'We were out-physicaled, and we were outhit at the line of scrimmage, and we weren't ready to play.'
"I think you have to take risks, and you have to stay with your philosophy, which is that we need to practice hard in order to play well."
The Vols (2-2) host Auburn (4-0) in Saturday night's game at Neyland Stadium.
Most teams occur injuries before and during seasons, but few deal with double-digit offseason defections. The Vols did after their head-coaching change.
"Whatever happens, we're going put put 11 guys out there on offense, defense and special teams every Saturday," senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy said. "And we are Tennessee, so all 11 guys out there on each side of the ball are expected to go out there and perform."
The Vols lost junior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz for the season Saturday with a torn right ACL, and senior guard Vladimir Richard (Achilles' tendon, knee) and junior defensive end Chris Walker (back) remain questionable for the Auburn game. Senior wide receiver Quintin Hancock (jaw) is doubtful.
"No excuses -- ever," Kiffin said. "We'll take the best guys we've got every week and put them in the best position to make plays and help us win games."
Junior strongside linebacker LaMarcus Thompson, one of those injured players, returned to practice early this week and said his sore back should be OK for Saturday.
Thompson dressed for the Ohio game and said he could have played if needed.
"It felt good to be back out there with my teammates, because you feel like you're not helping the team by being on the sideline," said Thompson, who recorded 15 tackles in the first three games. "But getting back in there, feeling good and gelling with your teammates, it's a great feeling.
"I think I'm pretty close to 100 percent. Moving around out there yesterday, it felt pretty good twisting and turning and changing directions, so I feel like by the time Auburn comes, I'll be 100 percent."
Kiffin said promising redshirt freshman middle linebacker Herman Lathers' health issues have been "very frustrating," especially since the Reveiz injury.
Lathers, who has missed several practices since preseason camp, had more concussion-like symptoms after fiercely hitting an Ohio player on a second-half kickoff.
"Herman's missed so much time with us, and so many reps," Kiffin said. "At our linebacker position, so much coaching goes into it, and it's so hard to not be out there. He's missed things, and there's some things during the week where we're not sure if he's going to be able to play on game day. It's hard to get guys prepared (in that situation).
"Herman has unbelievable tools. He has tools that, when you see him in spring and can make a cut-up, he has first-round-draft-pick tools. But you've got to put it all together, and if you're banged up and you're not out there, that's almost impossible to do.
"But he's still just a freshman."
Still Berry effective
Kiffin said that he thought UT junior Eric Berry should still be a Heisman Trophy candidate, despite being a defensive back on a 2-2 team.
"I think he should be," Kiffin said. "I think with the defensive players, you've got to have a little luck in two things: One, the team needs to do well, because it brings more attention; and two, the ball needs to go your way. You're going to have to have some numbers as far as interceptions, not just tackles. Unfortunately, he's only had really one ball which he picked off, against Tim (Tebow) in the Florida game.
"You've got to have some luck on defense, as opposed on offense."
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