Tennessee Vols try Justin King in fullback-tight end role (with video)

Tennessee Vols try Justin King in fullback-tight end role (with video)

August 7th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- After an offseason roster subtraction, coach Derek Dooley is worried about the depth behind his top two tight ends.

Thus Tennessee has its first position switch of August training camp.

Freshman Justin King was in a white offensive jersey Monday afternoon after practicing the first three days at outside linebacker. The Dunwoody, Ga., resident is working at a fullback-tight end hybrid position.

UT lost Cameron Clear to dismissal this offseason after the sophomore tight end was arrested and charged with felony theft.

"We're short on bodies," Dooley said. "We'll see how he does. If he does a pretty good job, we'll keep him there. We're not moving him just to get through practice. We're moving him because we think he can help us.

"We signed him as kind of an athlete. We've got a lot of bodies over there at Sam [linebacker], and we've got short bodies on this position, which is a good counterpoint on offense."

The Volunteers continue to experiment with the 6-foot-2, 225-pound King running the option out of a Wildcat formation. King played that position at Dunwoody High School and ran for more than 800 yards as a senior. Both Rivals.com and 247Sports classified him as an athlete.

Dooley didn't hesitate to dub the situation behind Mychal Rivera and Brendan Downs a concern. Clear's exit hurt, as has Justin Meredith's nagging hamstring injury, which has plagued the 6-foot-5, 223-pound freshman since he enrolled in January.

Fifth-year senior Ben Bartholomew, who started seven games at fullback last season, also has worked in that fullback-tight end role.

"It's fun," Bartholomew said. "I'm excited to be able to play both and have that versatility. I can definitely, I think, help us as an offense, so if we want to do a two-tight-end set, I don't have to come off the field.

"I've been playing tight end a lot throughout my years. It's difficult for some of the guys, and I'm trying to help coach some of the younger guys so that we can all be on the same page. There is a lot of similar traits there."

Downs goes up

Clear surpassed Downs as UT's second tight end as last season wore on, but the 6-foot-5, 255-pound sophomore from Bristol is the clear-cut No. 2 now. He caught three passes for 34 yards as a freshman, snagged four balls for 51 yards in April's spring game and added 15 pounds since his arrival.

"Just going on the field, getting the nerves out, getting used to what it's like in a college game -- that definitely helped a lot going into this year," he said.

Downs looked like a natural pass-catching tight end on a 21-yard reception against Cincinnati last season, but he's improved his physical dimension in trying to become a more complete player.

"Coming to work every day, nothing changed," Downs said of the impact of Clear's departure. "I'm still going to come and get better myself, but obviously there's going to be a little more pressure to step up now. My attitude every day hasn't changed."

Big D on D

Sophomore Vincent Dallas flipped to the secondary from receiver after spring practice during the offseason, though the Vols are looking at him at both safety and cornerback.

"I think it was something he wanted to do," Dooley said. "Probably had a better opportunity to get in the mix compared to where he was at wideout. I think it was a good mutual decision to see how he can do over there."

UT's secondary is suddenly crowded with new people. Freshmen Deion Bonner and Daniel Gray are fighting for playing time at cornerback behind four experienced players. Redshirt freshman Geraldo Orta, grayshirted freshman Tino Thomas and freshman LaDarrell McNeil are working at safety.

Extra points

Freshman tailback Davante Bourque sat out Monday's practice with what Dooley called a "stinger." ... Six players worked as kickoff returners during Monday's open period: tailbacks Devrin Young, Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, cornerback Eric Gordon and newcomers Cordarrelle Patterson and Quenshaun Watson. ... Dooley said defensive linemen Darrington Sentimore and Maurice Couch have shown "real encouraging signs" in conditioning, weight and activity through four practices.

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