KNOXVILLE-Jacques Smith's splendid spring came to a crashing end Wednesday.
The Tennessee defensive end from Ooltewah High School suffered an undisclosed foot injury Wednesday that will keep him out possibly until June. He definitely won't play in the Orange and White Game on Saturday.
"He's hurt, but we won't know until the doctors get a full look at him and the extent of it," UT coach Derek Dooley said after Thursday's practice in Neyland Stadium.
"Probably the worst-case scenario - we do expect him to be full-go by June, which is the summer program. But I don't know. We get that initial deal from [Jason] McVeigh, who's the trainer, but I always want to reserve what we say until we get the official word from the doc."
After thriving in a pass-rushing specialist role off the bench as a freshman last season, Smith had entrenched himself as a starter and one of the more promising players on the Volunteers' defense with his performance and growth this spring.
"He's having a really good spring. We expect him to be a very good player for us," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said earlier in the practices. "Jacques is still learning and he will continue to ... but he's a very disruptive guy and plays really physical.
"Sometimes he's like a bull in a china shop, man. He may not be right 100 percent of the time, but he's going to make something happen. He's going to hit somebody, he's explosive, he's got a lot of really, really, really good skills; and we're going to try and do some things to help put him in a position where he can use them and let him play fast."
Smith's injury is another blow to UT's thin group of defensive ends. Ben Martin was well on his way to returning from an Achilles' tendon injury suffered in preseason camp last August when he hurt his other Achilles' this offseason.
The Vols have done a lot of shifting around on the defensive line this spring. UT moved tackle Marlon Walls outside, slid end Corey Miller inside, switched Steven Fowlkes and Rae Sykes back to end from tackle and cross-trained a number of players in efforts to give them the ability to play both end and tackle.
Smith had been working with the first-team line of Malik Jackson and converted offensive lineman Daniel Hood at tackle and Willie Bohannon at end.
"Jacques, he had a wonderful spring," said Fowlkes, who worked some with the first four on the defensive line Thursday. "I think he's the best defensive lineman we have so far this spring, so seeing him go down was a hard pill for us to swallow, but we're going to be all right. He's going to get better and he's going to be ready for September."
By then the Vols will have freshmen Curt Maggitt and Jordan Williams on campus to provide some more depth. Williams, out of Gainesville (Fla.) High School, watched Thursday's practice along with Knoxville athlete Devrin Young, who's been to most of the Vols' spring workouts.
Though Smith's injury might have happened at the best possible time as far as long-term effects, it's a stunt to the growth he's made through the offseason and spring practice.
"You train year-round, so any time a guy gets hurt it's a setback," Dooley said. "It's better to do it now than August. It doesn't have a lot to do with [adding] weight as much as strength levels and training, the mental conditioning - there's so much into it. Nobody ever is there, and when you're not working out, training, you're getting behind because your competitors are."