Tennessee Stat Book
Competition isn’t just reserved for spring practice and preseason camp. Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin sees it as a season-long affair.
The first-year UT coach opened his weekly press conference on Tuesday by announcing that six positions were up for grabs for Saturday’s game against Memphis (TV: ESPNU, 7 p.m.).
“We’ve opened up a couple of starting spots for some competition to make sure guys understand we need to continue to improve and get ready for a tough game,” Kiffin said. “There will be a lot of competition this week for guys to earn playing time and to make sure that guys are practicing extremely hard and physical.”
One position, nickel cornerback, is up for competition because Marsalous Johnson had to undergo surgery on his thumb this week after being hurt last Saturday against South Carolina. Kiffin said the senior will be out indefinetely.
Brent Vinson seems to be the early favorite to win the job.
“It’s time to give him a shot,” Kiffin said of the embattled junior. “He played well on special teams this week.”
Vinson hasn’t played extensively at cornerback since Kiffin said he was targeted against Ohio on Sept. 26.
Kiffin said playing time at left guard, fullback, backup defensive tackle and third-down left defensive end would be earned, not reserved.
Seniors Cory Sullins and Vladimir Richard have split snaps throughout the season. Richard’s playing time has been limited by a sore Achilles tendon and, more recently, a sore knee.
“We’re going to let both guys play in the game,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to give them equal reps in practice this week. I didn’t think either of them played very well in the (South Carolina) game.”
The battle at middle linebacker will likely come down to Herman Lathers and Nigel Mitchell-Thornton as the Vols try to replace the second middle linebacker to go down with a torn knee ligament this season. Coaches said Savion Frazier replaced Nick Reviez admirably but both are done for the season.
“They’re both freshman,” Kiffin said. “They both have a bunch of talent. Herman is extremely fast. Nigel is very physical.”
Kiffin said he expects UT’s middle linebacker, whoever that might be, to continue to handle UT’s defensive play calls. UT’s outside linebackers, senior Rico McCoy and junior LaMarcus Thompson, have more experience but Kiffin said they have to play outside the tackle box at times, making it difficult for them to direct the defense.
Kiffin vowed he’d settle the position battles with a physical week of practice in which the first team offense would go against the first team defense.
Lane Lamenting: Kiffin still seemed displeased about the Vols' 31-13 win over South Carolina last Saturday.
"I had to keep reminding myself that that was a big win," he said, adding that it was UT's biggest win over a Steve Spurrier coached team in 19 years. "...I didn't think we played very well. I didn't think that game should have been very close at all."
Kiffin criticized his own play calling. He said he was too conservative because of concerns about ball security on a rainy night.
"We expect to win by 19, 20 points when we're at home and a top 25 team comes in," Kiffin said.
Memphis Men: The Tigers will bring two tall receivers into Neyland Stadium. Carlos Singleton is 6-foot-9. Duke Calhoun is 6-4. Kiffin said UT's recent history of playing tall receivers should help the Vols this week.
"Feels like everybody's got them but us," Kiffin said of tall receivers.
For Kicks: Kiffin said he's not sure if punter Chad Cunningham will handle placekicking duties Saturday. Kiffin said regular placekicker Daniel Lincoln (quad) couldn't kick on Tuesday.