KNOXVILLE - Curt Maggitt wore a different number on his practice jersey each week during the latter half of Tennessee's 2013 football season.
This afternoon he'll back in his familiar No. 56, and Volunteers coach Butch Jones will be glad to see him in it.
After a redshirt year prompted by a slower-than-hoped recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered late in the 2012 season, Maggitt will be back at linebacker for Tennessee, which opens spring practice today at 4:20 p.m.
"It means a lot," Jones said Thursday at his pre-spring meeting with the media. "He's our leader. He's the one who has everyone's respect. When Curt Maggitt talks, everybody listens. He's the one getting up in front of the room. He's the one that's coming to me all the time [for] that constant communication.
"I told our football team this, is you are responsible for creating your own identity. Your identity is being born on the field, off the field. You're building your reputation in the classroom, academically speaking, in the meeting rooms, on the football field, your consistency in performance. Curt is one of those individuals who has really built his identity."
It's been an injury-plagued career for the 6-foot-3, 239-pound Maggitt, who signed with the Vols as a four-star prospect out of a powerhouse Dwyer High School program in South Florida in 2011. His missed a game due to a calf injury as a freshman and battled turf toe and a shoulder stinger in 2012 before suffering the season-ending injury against Missouri.
A Freshman All-SEC selection in 2011, Maggitt has flashed his playmaking ability as both a linebacker and as a defensive end, and after a year either working on the side with a trainer or on the scout team, he's back on the field.
"You'll see him all over the field," Jones said. "You'll see him rushing the passer. You'll see him dropping in coverage. You'll see him playing the linebacker spots. We're going to ask a lot of him, both mentally and physically."
Though no coach is ever satisfied with his team's depth, Jones is more comfortable with the available options at some positions than others, and one of those areas he called "extremely concerning" was the offensive line, where the Vols are replacing all five starters
"We're still down a recruiting class," Jones said, referencing 2012, when Tennessee signed zero offensive linemen.
The Vols signed three linemen in 2013 and added three -- all January enrollees -- in this cycle, and newcomers Dontavius Blair and Coleman Thomas very well could open spring as the first-team tackles.
Jones said he likes to have 15 linemen on scholarship, but the Vols have only 10 right now.
"That's not where we need to be," he added.
Jones said safety Brian Randolph, defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry, tight ends Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel and receivers Drae Bowles and Ryan Jenkins will miss spring practice with injuries.
Randolph underwent surgery on a shoulder that bothered him and forced him to wear a large brace throughout last season. Saulsberry missed eight games with a knee injury that required surgery and also underwent shoulder surgery this offseason.
Downs has been slowed since dislocating his kneecap in August 2012, and Branisel tore his ACL in practice last November. The absence of Tennessee's top two tight ends from last season means freshmen Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf will get all the looks they can handle.
Bowles played primarily on special teams last season and did so with a shoulder injury that also required a thick brace, and Jenkins redshirted with knee issues that have some in the program concerned about his future.
Though receiver and tight end also were possible homes for Neiko Creamer, the 6-3, 223-pound freshman will begin his career at linebacker.
Chris Spognardi, previously Tennessee's assistant to the head coach, has slid into the director of football operations role vacated earlier this offseason by Brad Pendergrass, the 1998 Tennessee graduate who resigned in February after four years in the role. Spognardi, known as "Spags" around the program, has been Jones's right-hand man for the past three years.
Former Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan has been added to the staff as an offensive graduate assistant. Cody Kempt held the role last year, but he was hired as receivers coach in February by Montana State, where he played quarterback. Sheridan worked under Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky in 2011 and 2012 and at South Florida last year.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com