KNOXVILLE - Darrington Sentimore knows the defense and its coordinator.
He knows the Southeastern Conference and what's required to play in it.
Yet the Tennessee defensive lineman might be making more adjustments than any of his teammates this spring after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
"I wasn't eating right; I wasn't lifting right; I wasn't disciplined over there," the former Alabama player said this week. "Now that I came here, they teach me a lot better. I didn't have the coaching that I have over here now.
"I've been progressing pretty good. It's been kind of hard getting in shape [at] 300 pounds. When I was 265, I could fly around and do all that, but it's going well over here."
The transition for the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Louisiana native isn't new for the Volunteers. It's similar to what Maurice Couch went through last year, when it took him until midseason to begin flourishing in the middle of UT's defensive line. Daniel McCullers can expect a similar learning curve when the 6-foot-6, 380-pound nose tackle arrives from Georgia Military College this summer.
"They usually don't come in in tip-top shape," Vols coach Derek Dooley said before joking that highly touted junior college receiver signee Cordarrelle Patterson didn't fit that description.
"I think a lot of it is when it's that last semester, too, after football if they're staying around. The juco coaches really aren't there to push them because they're worried about their next year's team. It's kind of like the guys' last semester in high school, and you've got to have a lot of self-motivation to stay in shape."
At least in Sentimore's case, he's doing his transition in April instead of August. He played one season at the junior college. A four-star prospect according to 247Sports.com, Sentimore made 39 tackles, five for loss and seven sacks before signing with UT in December and enrolling in January.
"He's been good," Dooley said. "He's still working on consistency like most of the guys on defense. Stamina's going to be an issue with him, like most defensive linemen ... when they go a lot of snaps, getting tired. He's got knowledge of the system, which I think has helped him."
During Sentimore's two seasons at Alabama, Sal Sunseri, the Vols' new defensive coordinator, coached the Crimson Tide's outside linebackers. After signing with Alabama out of Destrahan High School, Sentimore redshirted during the Tide's run to the 2009 national title. As a redshirt freshman, he had nine tackles and forced a fumble in 11 appearances.
Last June, though, Sentimore was suspended indefinitely for what was termed a violation of team rules and policy. He could have been part of Alabama's rotation last fall but left the program in August. He had a scholarship offer from Texas A&M and had the option of returning to Alabama.
"I think he's become a little more disciplined than he was," Sunseri said. "I want him to become a lot more disciplined. He's doing a better job of it in knowing his assignments. He's heard the system before, and he's doing a good job."
Sunseri wasn't hired at UT until January after Sentimore began classes, so the addition of one of his former coaches was a nice surprise.
"We're going to win a championship over here with him as our defensive coordinator," Sentimore said. "I was very excited because I had liked Coach Sal. He taught me a lot of things when I was over there."
That includes the Vols' new 3-4 defense. UT is mixing and matching its personnel along the defensive line, though Sentimore will play end. The Vols likely will need him to start and make an immediate impact, though defensive line coach John Palermo suggested it's a work in progress.
"What he can be remains to be seen, and I think it remains to be seen from the standpoint of consistency," Palermo said. "I think he's done a lot of very good things. What Darrington's got to work on is his consistency, discipline and those type things to get better."
Having played in the SEC and Sunseri's system are two built-in advantages to doing just that.
"I think that helps me a lot," Sentimore said. "They've got me running with the [starters]. It helps me a lot know what to do out there. I can help the other guys. I can help them help themselves.
"I just want to win. I competed when I was over there [at Alabama]. I'm going to compete over here. I'm going to compete every day I get on the field, and I'm going to compete even harder when we play Alabama."