KNOXVILLE - Tennessee wide receiver Johnathon Johnson hasn't spent much time on the field this season, but that may change.
Johnson appeared in the Volunteers' five-receiver sets at Missouri last week and backs up Pig Howard in the slot.
"We really earn our trust [from the coaches] in practice," Johnson said Tuesday evening after Tennessee's practice. "Out there in the game they work us into the game plan. I'm just out there every day trying to get better."
Johnson had four catches for 62 yards during the last two games. He caught a pass of more than 20 yards against two of the nation's stingiest defenses in Alabama (24) and Missouri (25). The two-game total is substantial when compared to his single catch for 6 yards during the three games prior.
Johnson registered his season high in receiving yards (57) in the Vols' 52-20 win over Western Kentucky.
"If we don't win on Saturday, then it doesn't mean anything to me," he said. "I obviously didn't do enough to help the team win, so I just have to go out there and try hard to fix the little things that I need to fix."
The sophomore junior college transfer was seen as a "help now" player to first-year coach Butch Jones. Johnson had a somewhat unproductive season during his only year at Blinn College in his home state of Texas. He played in just four of the Buccaneers' eight games and finished with four catches for 69 yards.
At 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds, Johnson got more action as a tailback during his career at Friendswood High School. He ran for more than 4,000 yards and for 34 touchdowns and added 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns in receptions.
Vols kicker Michael Palardy suffered the effects of a random back spasm on the Thursday before the Vols traveled to Missouri.
"To be honest with you, I have no idea," Palardy said when asked what caused the spasm. "On Thursday I just had a real bad back spasm. I couldn't sit, lay down or stand up without having pain, so I came in here and the training staff did an awesome job at getting me ready.
"I went to the chiropractor and they helped, and I got a massage as well to try and work out that muscle. It just kind of locked up on me. I don't have any idea what happened."
Palardy said playing against Missouri was going to be a game-time decision.
"I was in here the entire day on Thursday, and the entire day on Friday, and even before the game on Saturday getting treatment and trying to put some heat on it," he said. "I was trying to stretch out that muscle. I didn't really know what I was going to be able to do. I didn't think I was going to be able to play on Thursday.
"I just got as much treatment as possible so I could be ready for Saturday."
He kicked a 51-yard field goal for the Vols' only points, and he punted seven times for 299 yards with a long of 51.
"I'm fine," Palardy said. "I have no pain in my back, and I'm just ready to move on. I didn't really have any pain in the game, and once I got my adrenaline going and the muscles moving and the blood flowing and everything else, I was fine."
The Vols returned to Knoxville from their 31-3 loss to the Tigers disappointed. The game turned into an ugly mesh of mistakes and poor play for the Vols. They allowed Missouri 502 total yards of offense, the second-highest total since their first road game against Oregon (687) earlier this season.
Miscommunication in the Vols' secondary crippled their efforts and allowed quarterback Maty Mauk to hit wide-open receivers for two of Mizzou's four touchdowns.
"It was [hard to watch the film]," safety Brian Randolph said, "especially seeing that we were right there with them during the second quarter then we started to kill ourselves. We know it wasn't anything they did. It was us."
Quarterback Nathan Peterman, who underwent surgery on his right (throwing) thumb after a disastrous start at Florida in September, returned to practice and was throwing passes with his thumb taped.
Freshman Riley Ferguson took the second-team reps during the walk-through period before practice.
Contact Sam Gilbreath at firstname.lastname@example.org.