Vols senior linebacker Austin Johnson won't sit out

Vols senior linebacker Austin Johnson won't sit out

August 2nd, 2011 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Staff Photo by Staff Photo by Dan Henry / Chattanooga Times Free Press - UT's Jacques Smith (55) and Austin johnson (40) scramble to gain possession of a loose ball during the first half of play in Knoxville, Tenn., early Saturday afternoon.

KNOXVILLE -- What happened was a surprise to everyone in the University of Tennessee football program.

Austin Johnson, the Volunteers' senior linebacker with the excellent academic record and a reputation among his teammates as a leader, made negative headlines last weekend when he was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

Johnson's run-in with the law won't lead to any missed practice time or a game suspension, however.

"I think we were all shocked and disappointed when we saw it," UT coach Derek Dooley said Monday at a news conference preceding the start of the Vols' preseason camp today. "He's never really given any indication that he would do something like that, and he probably had one of the best summers from a commitment standpoint and from a leadership standpoint.

"We're handling that issue internally. There's several things that we're going to do with Austin, and I'm comfortable with where we are on that. But he'll be out there the first day and he's eligible to play. We hope that we don't have any more headlines like that again."

UT's media guide listed the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Johnson as the Vols' starting weakside linebacker, and the former fullback might be the surest thing in a linebacker corps lacking in size and experience. He was the Vols' fourth-leading tackler at linebacker last year as a reserve behind graduated seniors Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson and the injured Herman Lathers (fractured ankle, out indefinitely).

"We're disappointed any time a player makes a bad choice that puts a negative light on our program," Dooley said. "It's a great reminder to all of us that ... you're only one bad decision away from hurting your reputation. I can tell you this: There's nobody that hurts more about what happened than Austin."

Williams to transfer

Toney Williams' UT career got off to a surprising start when the Chattanooga native and Atlanta-area high school star running back showed his potential during spring practice in 2009, but his career as a Vol is over.

The redshirt sophomore will transfer, becoming the 10th member of former UT coach Lane Kiffin's 2009 recruiting class to leave the program. The 6-foot, 220-pound Williams tore his ACL after a solid spring following his early enrollment and struggled to stay completely healthy since. Williams had just five carries last season.

"I don't want to rush my decision," Williams told Knoxville's WNML Radio. "It's an important decision. I just felt like it was time for me and the program to go in different directions. I think [UT's] program is going in the right direction. Vol fans have a good thing to look forward to."

Williams told the radio station he plans to visit Ball State in the near future.

"We wish him the best," Dooley said.

Smith, Martin return

Defensive ends Jacques Smith and Ben Martin are both ready to begin preseason camp after coming off injuries. Smith, a sophomore from Ooltewah, had two foot surgeries since spring practice ended on both of his feet -- one to repair a broken bone, the other to correct a minor stress fracture.

Martin, though, is coming off two Achilles' tendon injuries. The senior has played very little under Dooley after a knee injury keeping him out of 2010 spring practice, the first Achilles' injury ending his 2010 season after just two practices and the second Achilles' injury during winter workouts.

"We can't forget that he hasn't played a down since I've been the coach here," Dooley said. "We're going to ease him into this stuff. We don't want to go out there full go on the first day and something goes bad.

"We've got to manage [Smith] a little bit."

Shoulder surgeries

Three freshmen -- defensive backs Tino Thomas and Geraldo Orta and offensive tackle Antonio Richardson -- have had shoulder surgeries since the end of their senior seasons in high school. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Richardson had his procedure done in the spring, but he's still day-to-day.

"He's not 100 percent; he's doing great," Dooley said. "He can still bench-press probably more than 98 percent of the team. We've got to ease him in. He'll be out of contact early on."

Broken collarbone

Freshman Devrin Young suffered a fracture in his right collarbone, UT announced Monday night.

The tailback and return specialist from Knoxville will be out for an undetermined amount of time. His status for the Sept. 3 opener against Montana will be determined through follow-up evaluations.

Number crunching

The Vols begin camp with 79 scholarship players, with one more spot open. UT oversigned by one player in its 2011 class, so either Thomas or Orta will get the 80th and final scholarship. The other will likely grayshirt, meaning he will be prohibited from participating in any team activities while paying for school and taking fewer hours during the fall semester.

"We have about a week to figure that out," Dooley said. "They're still here, they're still in summer school, we're still rehabbing them and we'll decide where we go on that last spot."

Senior defensive back C.J. Fleming is not on the 104-player roster to begin camp, but Dooley said he's still on the team and will join the Vols when fall-semester classes start.

Structure change

Dooley decided shortly after spring practice to move the Vols' practices to the morning, so when the fall semester begins on Aug. 17, the players will start practices at 9 a.m. and attend classes in the afternoon. It's a move that the meticulous Dooley thoroughly researched, and class schedules for players, training staff and managers required adjustment.

"I don't make those kinds of decisions on a whim," Dooley said. "I've spent about three years wanting to do this. Finally, I have felt comfortable enough to where I think it's going to help our football team, and help us academically."

Auburn and Oregon, last season's national championship game participants, both practice in the morning. During the season, the Vols will practice on Sundays and take Mondays off before morning practices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Similar to last year's camp, UT's first three practices this week will be split-squad, Dooley added, with the "upperclassmen two-deep" practicing in the afternoon and the newcomers "plus about 30 more" practicing in the evening.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.