KNOXVILLE - Herman Lathers put on a different-colored No. 34 jersey for the first time in five months on Tuesday morning.
It had to have felt good for the Tennessee linebacker.
Lathers was limited in practice this morning, but it's his first true practice since the redshirt junior fractured his ankle gruesomely in a collision with a teammate during a June workout.
"Herman got some good scout team work today," UT coach Derek Dooley said after practice. "I wouldn't say he's full blow ready to go but it was good to see him get his pads on and take a couple of hits. We're just kind of monitoring day by day. He's not close to 100 percent. We don't want to get too excited."
Lathers had been progressing with some light jogging and even some sprinting on the sides of practice the last couple of weeks, but he did some cutting today on a heavily wrapped left ankle that required surgery and 11 screws. Only two of those screws were removed from the ankle.
"Yeah, it is good to see Herm back out there," said defensive lineman Malik Jackson. "I told him he needs to stop collecting checks on the sidelines and go do some work. I'm glad he's back out here working.
"I was kind of heartbroken when I heard about it because he's such a good guy. He's a great guy, in good spirits and team leader, so it's good to have him back."
Bringing Lathers back to practice is simply another step in the process, Dooley said. The coach is "not counting on anything."
FRESHMAN OF THE DAY
Return specialist Devrin Young, who could have more of a role on UT's struggling offense moving forward, met with the media after Tuesday's practice for the first time. The Knoxville native has single-handedly brought a spark to a Vols' return game that was awful last season.
Dooley has noted Young's fearlessness as the skill that makes him a good returner.
"I'm just out here playing," said the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Young. "The fearless conversation comes in the conversation because I'm smaller, but everybody that's out here has to be fearless. It really just boils down to playing ball."
'BONES' ON CRUTCHES
Injured receiver Justin Hunter spoke with the media for the first time since tearing his ACL against Florida in September.
"It's real hard, just sitting on the sidelines and watching," he said. "Sometimes I don't even want to go to the games because I know if I can't help them, it's not way my to do it. I just try to lift them up as best I can and help them out."
Both Hunter and injured quarterback Tyler Bray have remained around the team and incorporated into meetings while they are out. Hunter said he expects to begin rehab in the next month or two. The sophomore is expected back in time for spring practice.
Freshman linebacker Curt Maggitt was back at practice fully Tuesday. He missed the loss to South Carolina with a calf injury.
More coverage in Wednesday's Times Free Press. Follow Vols beat writer Patrick Brown on Twitter for more continuous updates.