KNOXVILLE - Five defensive tackles made one tackle apiece in Tennessee's scrimmage Tuesday, which could be a sign of a rotation to come.
The Volunteers' top tailback trio of Tauren Poole, Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane combined for just 59 yards on 14 carries.
Coach Derek Dooley praised the defensive line after Thursday morning's practice.
"The O-line, they were a little off on their targets, on their steps, and the D-line outworked them the last second of the play," Dooley said. "I was real pleased with the defense when I looked at the tape. They were in the right areas, there weren't a lot of missed assignments, they didn't give up any giant plays, and they were playing hard."
Without much experience and with a handful of unproven players, the Vols are rotating in a number of guys up front on defense. With star Malik Jackson sidelined for a couple of weeks with a minor knee sprain, an opportunity has opened for Corey Miller, who moved full-time from end to tackle in the spring.
"Me and Malik were talking about that during practice, and what we were talking about was when he does come back and he needs a rest I want to be the guy that comes in and makes it feel like we don't miss a beat," Miller said. "Get the job done just like he would do it. He's like my coach; I look up to him."
Daniel Hood, a converted offensive lineman and spring-practice surprise, has staked a claim to a rotation spot and a potential starting role with his play, and junior college transfer Maurice Couch is working his way into playing shape.
Joseph Ayres, who played at McCallie School, has added 20 pounds to 280, and though he admitted he was still looking for his role, the sophomore showed his serviceability in 12 games last season.
"We're going to need a lot of tackles," Dooley said. "We don't have a dominant presence at tackle, and we all know that. That's our concern, so we're going to need them all. They're going to have to be a little team in there to help us."
Dooley said the offense bounced back nicely Thursday after a disappointing showing Tuesday and reiterated that the biggest source of disappointment was the offensive operation led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray.
"I call it like I see it, guys, and I'm going to do that all the time," the coach said. "We talked to Tyler a lot about we were just too slow. We put a lot on him on alerts and kills and checks. We've got to tighten it down as a coach and do a better job of coaching so Tyler can get in there and groove it a little bit."
With a handful of freshmen gunning for depth-chart spots held by older players, the potential for poor team chemistry is increased. Dooley said he hasn't seen that yet, and he's also discussed exactly that with his older players.
"It's our job as coaches to bring in the best talent we can bring in to promote competition," he told them. "When you have competition ... you get better individually because you got somebody pushing you and our team gets better. Even if you get beat out, our team gets better.
"Our seniors have been great. Their attitude has just been great. That's the way it should be on a team."
Oft-injured linebacker Greg King joined Jackson and Dontavis Sapp (fractured finger) on the sideline at practice Thursday morning, but King did participate in limited drills in the evening, with a black sleeve on his leg. Freshman offensive tackle Antonio Richardson (shoulder surgery) also is still limited.