Warming up to tackle

KNOXVILLE - Malik Jackson hoped for more playing time after transferring from Southern California to Tennessee.

He didn't hope for that time to come at defensive tackle, though.

"I didn't even want to think about it," the California native said Monday morning.

He's warmed up to the idea now.

"Oh, yeah, definitely," he said. "When you play good somewhere, it doesn't seem so bad. I like it a lot now, actually."

Jackson, a former end who weights just 265 pounds, has become the Volunteers' "most consistent" defensive lineman at any spot, coach Derek Dooley said.

"Malik's the most consistent defensive lineman we have, and the most productive," Dooley said. "And he couldn't get on the field at USC, as an aside. He's doing great.

"He's about 30 pounds lighter than what he should be in this league at that position, but he's in there fighting. So I'm glad he's here."

Jackson's 25 tackles this season are the most from a tackle by far - banged-up sophomore Montori Hughes has 14 - and he's close to senior defensive ends Chris Walker (30) and Gerald Williams (27) for the overall lineman lead. He lead the Vols' linemen with six tackles, two stops for loss and a sack in Saturday's 38-24 loss to No. 18 South Carolina. His six tackles led UT linemen in the previous week's loss to sixth-ranked Alabama, too, and he added a tackle for loss, a quarterback hurry and a pass break-up against the Crimson Tide.

Not bad for a pass-rush specialist at Southern Cal who registered 18 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season as a backup. He never finished a game with more than three tackles as a Trojan.

"As I play [tackle], I like it a lot," Jackson said. "It's a lot of opportunity to make a lot of plays."

He didn't see it that way at first.

When coaches initially approached Jackson about the move inside, he recalled his clear, concise answer: "No."

Jackson said playing inside was like playing "in a phone booth," and he wanted no part of it.

"But they came to me again and were like, 'We need you at tackle. We need to get all our best guys on the field,'" Jackson said. "I was like, 'OK.' As I started playing it, I started liking it. I didn't like it at first, but I've gotten used to it.

"At end I wasn't really doing that much, but at tackle I'm doing a lot more. I'm contributing a lot more, as far as tackles go."

UT defensive line coach Chuck Smith, a former pass-rushing star with the Vols and the Atlanta Falcons who spent the past few years training dozens of NFL players, has convinced Jackson he's talented enough to play tackle at the next level.

He'll have to get bigger, though. NFL defensive tackles rarely weigh less than 290 pounds, and some are much, much larger.

"I'm kind of steady where I am, but I need to gain weight," Jackson said. "That's one of my biggest focuses this year in the offseason, to get big and look like a defensive tackle - 280, 285. That'd be pretty good for me.

"More muscle, less fat. That'd be great."

Jackson enrolled at UT hoping to start at end, collect nearly double-digit sack totals for a team with double-digit wins and declare early for the draft. Those plans have changed, but he's not too disappointed. Blossoming into a 280-pound hybrid lineman like former Vol Turk McBride wouldn't be a bad end result.

"I've showed my versatility; I can play more than one position," he said. "I hope it'll help me. Honestly, I don't know. But I hope so.

"I'm open to anything ... except nose. I don't think I'd be good at nose. But defensive end or tackle, those are two I think I could play very well."

It's 'Darrell' Dooley

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden has been in town this week. He's spoken at the Knoxville Quarterback Club and to the UT football and men's basketball teams.

Dooley laughed several times while recalling stories from Bowden's speech to the Vols.

"Probably half of them didn't even know who Bobby Bowden was," Dooley said. "It's amazing what some of these guys don't know. So I had to give them a little bio, and then when I was telling them he won 942 games - which is about what is seemed - they starting going, 'Really?' And then he ended by saying 'Darrell, keep up the good work,' which I thought was a nice touch. And the players, that was probably their favorite part of the whole experience, when he called me Darrell. But it's OK. My dad still calls me Daniel. That's my brother.

"We're all young around here, and we're going to be like that, too."


Dooley said Tuesday's practice finished well after starting with the "mullygrubs."

"We came out with the Tuesday mullygrubs, which is, 'I'm tired, my arm hurts, I have a headache, school was hard,'" Dooley said. "It's the standard Tuesday 'feel sorry for me' late in the season, so I wanted to go ahead and put an end to it in the beginning instead of waiting to start screaming during practice.

"It was good. They picked it up. We had to get a little fiery early in practice, and fortunately they responded."

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@timesfreepress.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesrucker or Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.