Dave Hooker audio
If there's one thing that Tennessee center Josh McNeil hates more than defensive linemen, it's crutches.
"People really don't realize what a luxury walking is - until you're on crutches for a long time," the junior said Tuesday. "Getting to class, getting to everything is an extra pain."
Setting the alarm clock early to allow enough time to trudge across class is bad enough. Missing all of spring practice because of surgically repaired knee is worse.
"My knee feels good," said McNeil, who ditched the crutches Sunday and is focusing on treatment and rehabilitation. "I'm out there watching my brothers practice everyday. I want to be out there with them. Mentally, it's tough on me."
So tough that the fun-loving McNeil was visibly downtrodden following practice. With only five practices remaining this spring, the separation anxiety McNeil is feeling is close to an end.
He'll return to practice in time for summer workouts. Still, the end in sight doesn't make things any easier.
McNeil isn't just missing any spring. He's missing one of the most important spring practices in recent memory, as the Vols install a new offense.
"I'm learning everything in meetings, going through my playbook and things like that," he said. "But the biggest thing is I'm just used to being the center. That's just what I've always done.
"I feel like it's my responsibility to get up there and make the front calls and make sure everybody is on the same page. I miss that right now. It's just kind of depressing, watching them out there practicing, working their butts off and me not being able to do that."
Practice Report: UT coach Phillip Fulmer backed off his declaration that his offense received a "royal-butt kicking" in last Saturday's scrimmage.
"It's never as bad as it seems and it's never as good as it seems," Fulmer said after reviewing the video.
Still, it couldn't have been too good, as the Vols gave up five sacks, couldn't run the ball consistently and gave up seven turnovers. Four of the turnovers were interceptions, three from projected starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
Fulmer said Crompton forced a couple of passes but a couple of others that resulted in picks were caused by receivers slipping on a slick, worn down turf in Neyland Stadium.
Despite a day that Crompton would just as soon forget, Fulmer didn't seem to think that any full-fledged quarterback competition was in the works.
"Jonathan had good command of the scrimmage, the clock and huddle … The other two quarterbacks are just learning," Fulmer said of sophomore Nick Stephens and redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman. "They're a work in progress right now."
Fulmer complimented the recent play of defensive tackles Victor Thomas and Chase Nelson, sort of.
"They could - possibly - play in the Southeastern Conference," he said.
Injury Report: Freshman tailback Tauren Poole is expected to have knee surgery following spring practice to replace a partially torn meniscus, Fulmer said. Poole has been in and out of practice for weeks since the injury was first discovered.
"He's fighting through it pretty good right now," Fulmer said.
The recovery time for such a surgery is typically only three to four weeks.
Defensive end Wes Brown sat out practice. The junior is recovering from a concussion he suffered in Saturday's scrimmage.
Daryl The D-Back: Redshirt freshman Daryl Vereen has been moved from tailback to safety.
"He looked very good out there," Fulmer said. "It's an experiment. We'll see. He's too good an athlete to be standing over there."
Vereen was third or fourth team on offense. On Tuesday, he was working with the second team defense.
"I think he has a nature as tough guy," Fulmer said. "It looks like he picked it up pretty quick. He's a smart guy."
Special Stan: UT inserted its kickoff return package, led up by running backs coach Stan Drayton.
"Stan's very intense, very thorough," Fulmer said.
Fulmer cited Drayton's experience in the NFL and college football as experience that should serve the Vols well. Drayton was an assistant special teams coach for the Green Bay Packers from 2001-2003 before returning to college, most recently coaching at Florida.
Truly Defensive End: Defensive end Robert Ayers has declined several media requests for interviews. The senior is not expected to talk to reporters for the remainder of spring practice.