KNOXVILLE -- Malik Jackson was his typical self in his Friday visit with reporters.
It's been two weeks, however, since the University of Tennessee defensive tackle was his typical self on the field.
Jackson sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when his foot landed on offensive lineman Dallas Thomas and two other players fell into his leg, but apparently it takes more than three players to take out the senior standout.
"It could have been a lot worse. I'm just happy it wasn't an ACL or something," Jackson said Friday.
The loss of their best defensive lineman for a significant amount of time would have been a devastating blow to the Volunteers. Jackson, who transferred to UT from Southern Cal last summer, has had a prior issue with his patella tendon, but he called the sprain his first major injury.
Given the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Jackson's value to UT's front four, the Vols wanted to take it slow with his recovery. Defensive line coach Lance Thompson and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox have been monitoring his rehab closely with Jason McVeigh, UT's director of sports medicine.
Jackson has been able to do more individually on the side as this week has passed, but he's still not fully participating with the team and he won't scrimmage today.
"I feel 100 percent," he said, "but Coach Thompson wants me to take it slow. Whatever Jason says we have to do is what we have to do. The coaches have been real cool about that, and we've been listening to Jason these last couple of weeks and doing whatever he says."
Though the Vols know what they have with their first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, coach Derek Dooley said earlier this week that Jackson needs some work before the Sept. 3 season opener against Montana.
"It's not like he was a 12-game dominant player," Dooley said. "He was playing at a real high level this spring, got a good spring practice under his belt and he got good work for the first few days [of camp]. But he definitely needs some good work going into the first game. He needs to hit, he needs to tackle and he hasn't done that."
"Everybody needs work, and I just don't want to go out there just off what I did two weeks ago," he said. "I'm just looking to get some work. I've been conditioning a lot so hopefully that helps with that part, but I need to get back in the swing of football."
The positive from Jackson's injury has been increased practice opportunities for backups Corey Miller, Maurice Couch and Joseph Ayres. Jackson has taken on a mentor role with Miller in particular as the sophomore follows along the same end-to-undersized-tackle path Jackson took a year ago.
The injury has given Jackson a different perspective as well.
"I actually get to see how people mess up and the schemes and how they work and see everybody's position, including the secondary and the linebackers," Jackson said. "It's been pretty cool to see how everything works. I can actually see in my head now when I'm out there, 'OK, I have help behind me and I don't have to do everything.'
"I've been getting mental reps, and they've been helping me a lot."