KNOXVILLE -- Gone are the days where Tennessee had to rely on many of its defenders to play a ridiculous number of snaps in a single game.
At least that's the hope of defensive coordinator John Jancek.
Less than three weeks before the season opener, who will start on defense for the Volunteers is, for the most part, set, but Jancek is hoping to see which players will be able to supplement those starters and provide quality depth.
"Who's going to be able to give us 25 or 30 snaps a game?" he said after Monday night's practice. "As you guys know, last year we played too many snaps. Our inside linebackers had a thousand, 1,200 snaps. You can't do that in today's game with the tempo and all that.
"I'm really focused, not necessarily on who the starters are going to be, but who are the quality backups and guys that can rotate in so they can all help and pull some weight."
Kirkland makes a move
There is one spot on Tennessee's defense where the starter has yet to be determined.
The Vols exit training camp with an ongoing competition at middle linebacker, though Jancek said the race is now down to three players.
The youngest of the trio -- freshman Darrin Kirkland Jr. -- stood out during Monday's practice.
"Right now it's still a three-man competition between Colton Jumper, Darrin Kirkland and Kenny Bynum," Jancek said. "I'll tell you what, Darrin Kirkland did some things tonight you just can't coach. We'll get in there and watch the film and see where we're at.
"They've all been getting reps and getting the looks that they need. We know that we're going to have to settle in when we get back on Thursday. We can't share three guys with reps. We'll know a little bit more after we watch the film tonight, because we did a lot of football out there, and Darrin really jumped out."
Jancek said Kirkland showed impressive instincts in getting off blocks and making plays.
Dating back to spring practice, the Vols have been up and down at times with their passing games, and injuries and missing players at wide receiver and tight end and along the offensive haven't helped.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord remains pleased, however, at the progress of that aspect of Tennessee's offense. He said quarterback Joshua Dobbs's accuracy in practice has been "really good." Though some receivers have missed practice, others have stepped up and produced.
"We just talked about that today, in fact," DeBord said. "The running game should always be ahead of the passing game. But our passing game is continuing to get better and better as we go through this.
"A little bit of that, too, is where we got into that part of training camp where we had some tired legs. I thought Coach (Butch) Jones did a great job of giving them a little rest when they needed it, and it's continued to allow us to improve our passing game, because the guys are getting their legs back.
"I think that's been a big part of it, too."
Johnson adapting to tight end
Sophomore Jakob Johnson is fitting in well in his new positional home on offense.
The former linebacker switched to tight end early in training camp, and it appears he's pushing to be the No. 3 tight end behind Ethan Wolf and Alex Ellis.
"I think sometimes it's hard for a defensive player to come over and play offense, and he's made a really good transition," DeBord said. "First of all, he's tough. Second of all, he's got really good feet, which help him block, help him run routes and things like that.
He's a lot farther ahead than what I thought he would be just after a few days of coming over here. We like what we see."
Three more freshmen have seen their black helmet stripes removed in what's become a rite of passage for the Vols. Every first-year player wears the stripe until they show enough that their teammates decide they should come off. The removals is usually done in front of the entire team.
Running back Alvin Kamara, a junior college transfer, and freshman defensive end Kyle Phillips were the first two to have their stripes removed.
Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle had his taken off after Sunday's practice, and quarterback Quinten Dormady and receiver Jauan Jennings got theirs removed after Monday night's practice.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.