The search for players on Tennessee’s defensive unit expanded Monday as the Vols went double-time, practicing in the morning and evening.
Injuries — though none has been designated as serious yet — are creating more opportunities where opportunities already existed.
“As much as we don’t want anyone to be injured and miss practice, it opens up the door for somebody else,’’ head coach Lane Kiffin said Monday evening.
To the already unavailable list of linebacker Rico McCoy and corners Art Evans and Brent Vinson, add defensive end Chris Walker, middle linebacker Herman Lathers and safety Stephaun Raines.
All were held out for various reasons.
Defensive tackle Wes Brown had a strong morning session and was held out in the evening.
The defense, however, reloaded with new bodies and rallied in response to a disappointing showing in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Yeah, our guys were fighting today,’’ said defensive line coach Ed Orgeron. “I loved it.’’
Despite the fatigue, the first day of dual sessions ended with a bang, not a whimper.
With music blasting from the speakers at Haslem Field, the offense and defense squared off in a goal-line confrontation.
The defense got better of it early, then the offense punched in consecutive scores from David Oku and Bryce Brown to end the long day’s work.
“The defense really came out and did a great job today,’’ Kiffin said. “The last couple of plays the offense got great push and two pups scored on back-to-back runs. It was good to see them get in that setting.’’
Orgeron pointed to the spirited finish as a testament to the team’s want-to.
“Give Lane the credit,’’ Orgeron said. “These guys have been working literally since we got here and to end up like that when they’re gassed, you’ve got to give him the credit.
“These guys are gonna play for him. I just love it.’’
Two notable examples of guys rising to the occasion were defensive ends Gerald Williams and Steven Fowlkes, who worked with the No. 1 defense.
In an 11-on-11 drill Monday evening, Williams broke into the backfield, flattened Brown and separated him from the football.
On the next snap, safety Eric Berry put a slobber-knocker hit on Brandon Warren after a short pass reception.
Fowlkes got a hard stop on Tauren Poole in the goal-line drill.
Orgeron also praised defensive tackle Andre Mathis for showing up.
“We’re creating some depth, which we need,’’ Orgeron said.
“Part of Coach Kiffin’s deal is to give everybody a shot and that’s what we’re doing.’’
That’s true nowhere more so than at linebacker.
With McCoy, the only SEC-tested veteran, sidelined this week linebackers coach Lance Thompson is glad the Vols don’t play a real game this weekend.
“We’re probably the only team in the league that hasn’t had a linebacker (other than McCoy) play in an SEC game with any substance,’’ Thompson said. “It’s like going into a prize fight against (Mike) Tyson in his prime.
“We’re trying to find the right guys and right now it’s way up in the air. We’re trying to find the best three. We’d like to have six but we’ve got to find three by Sept. 5.
Nick Reveiz, LaMarcus Thompson and Savion Frazier worked with the No. 1 unit Monday evening, with freshmen Greg King and Jerod Askew getting serious action in the rotation.
“There’s a lot of question marks,’’ Thompson said. “That’s why we push ’em.
“I told ’em I’m not here to be their friend. I’m just trying to get ’em to play ball.’’
At the end of the Vols’ longest day, Kiffin was generally pleased that the defense had answered the challenge thrown down by the offense in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“If you’re a good team, which we hope we will eventually be,’’ he said, “it’s going to go back and forth.
“If one side wins all the time, you’ve got a problem.’’