By Matt Dixon
KNOXVILLE - Aaron Douglas was expected to be a mainstay in Tennessee's offensive line the next couple of years after starting the last 10 games of the 2009 season at right tackle.
But the Freshman All-American from Maryville, son of two former UT athletes, left the Volunteers program in March.
Douglas played at Arizona Western College this season and signed with Alabama on Thursday.
"I'm proud of Aaron, I really am," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said after the Vols' morning practice Friday. "I think what he did was what he needed to do. He went out there - and anybody that knows anything about junior colleges, it is very different from a big-time program - and I thought it was good for him to get away the way he did, and he probably matured a lot as a man and he made a decision.
"We wish him the best and I think that's what Aaron needed, and he's on his way now."
Dooley said he had no regrets on handling Douglas' departure, even now that the player has signed with one of the Vols' SEC rivals.
"First of all, I wanted to release him," Dooley said. "I didn't want to deny a release, which is what we normally do. But I thought he needed to get away and I thought it was good for our team that he wasn't close by, so I thought everybody benefited - that we just get away from the deal for a little bit. And I think it worked out well for our team and it worked out well for Aaron, so everybody should be happy."
Dooley said helping a student-athlete off the field is imperative.
"We obviously wish he was at Tennessee," Dooley said. "But what's more than anything is, it looks like he's got himself back on track, which is the most important thing."
Meanwhile, with sophomore free safety Janzen Jackson away from the team dealing with "personal and family issues," other defensive backs are getting increased opportunities in practice.
"We're repping a lot of guys back there," Dooley said. "[Dontavis] Sapp's getting some reps; Tyler Wolf's getting some reps; [Rod] Wilks is getting some reps."
Dooley also said sophomore Prentiss Waggner, a second-team Associated Press All-SEC selection, would continue to rotate between cornerback and safety with Jackson out. Waggner had moved from strong safety to cornerback the last five games of the year.
Dooley mentioned a "noticeable difference" without Jackson but said it provides "a good opportunity" for others to improve. He still anticipates Jackson will play against North Carolina in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 but doesn't expect him to rejoin the team until it meets in Nashville on Dec. 26.
Heels not focus yet
Coaches usually are concerned with how a team responds mentally to a long break, but the Vols responded well through two days of practice after an almost three-week layoff.
Dooley said the team had a "good, physical practice" with "a lot of good energy" Friday morning.
The Vols held another practice Friday night, which was closed to the media.
"The spirits have been good," Dooley said. "That's the thing you always worry about is getting them to come out and have the right frame of mind in practice. And it's always tough when you are looking at we've got all these practices before we play. But that is why I try to keep things in a real short-term.
"I don't want them thinking about North Carolina and all that prep, and I think by doing it that way, it has kept them pretty focused in."
UT will practice this afternoon and take Sunday off before focusing on the Tar Heels next week.
"We'll come in Monday and start on [the] scouting report and do a game-week prep on North Carolina," Dooley said.
Contact Matt Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6273.