Tauren Poole doesn't root for Tennessee's passing plays to break down, but he's more than willing to help pick up the pieces when they do.
Poole's roll as a pass-catcher out of UT's backfield hasn't been a constant fixture, but he showed last Saturday against Memphis just how important a good set of hands can be for a running back.
Fresh off a 19-yard pass to Gerald Jones to start a first-quarter drive, freshman quarterback Tyler Bray had his next play break down all around him. Defensive linemen were in his face and his receivers downfield didn't have enough time to find open space.
That's when Bray, the big-armed freshman, found Poole on a short pass that didn't go more than 3 yards through the air. Poole took it 41 yards down to the Memphis 10-yard line.
Three plays later, Bray found Poole again through the air on another short pass for a touchdown, his first receiving score of his career.
"When everything breaks down and the quarterback has a running back, I always tell them that I will be open for them," Poole said. "It's just another addition to the offense."
Poole has 15 catches for 146 yards this season. He'd have no problem picking up a few more Saturday (TV: WVLT, Noon) against Ole Miss.
It's what he did so well in high school, he said.
"I played out in the slot some in high school running quick routes," Poole said. "Hopefully the same thing can happen here. It's just going to take time as we open the offense up more."
Though the plays look like a mess whenever Poole finds the ball in his hands, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said it takes discipline both from the quarterback and running back to save a broken situation.
"Anytime that takes place that helps," Chaney said. "That rewards the running back for doing the right thing, which we've not been able to do up until now and it was fun to see that happen."
Stocker Hurting: Tight end Luke Stocker is not only dealing with the after-effects of a concussion he suffered against Memphis, but he also has been taking antibiotics for a staph infection in his left arm.
Coach Derek Dooley said he still expects the senior tight end to play Saturday.
"We were more worried about that than the concussion, but we put a bunch of antibiotics in him and it worked," Dooley said. "It swelled up after the game, kind of got puffy on him."
Stocker, who wore a red, non-contact jersey at Wednesday's practice, is the second Vol known to have a staph infection this season, though Dooley said "we've had a few staph infections" during a September interview. The one suffered by walk-on defensive tackle Minor Bowens earlier in the year prompted Dooley to hold an impromptu seminar on "shower discipline."
Secondary Matters: Dooley was less optimistic Wednesday about the status of cornerback Marsalis Teague, who has missed the past two games with turf toe.
"It's just hard to get 100 percent on a toe without just getting on the shelf for a while," Dooley said. "He's going to have to play through it and hope we're not setting him back much."
Fulton Doubtful: Dooley saw some improvement from offensive guard Zach Fulton over the past two days of practice, but not enough, reconfirming his feelings that UT will be playing with its sixth different offensive line rotation of the season.
"He's getting better," Dooley said. "But he's still doubtful, I don't expect him to play."
No Hughes Is Bad News: Montori Hughes' hot start is now officially an afterthought.
The sophomore defensive tackle, after recording seven tackles - 2.5 for a loss - and a number of quarterback hurries in the first two games, has all but vanished from the stat sheet. He's also lost his starting job to 265-pound Malik Jackson, who has emerged as one of UT's most reliable defensive players over the past month.
Hughes has nine tackles over the past seven games, some of which he barely saw the field because of a nagging ankle injury.
"We probably all put too high of expectation on him coming in here just because of how he looks," Dooley said. "He's just a long way to go to being a good football player and playing with the right kind of technique and discipline to where he can be a factor in the game."
Hughes had an up-and-down fall camp, which led to a number of his teammates expressing disappointment about him wasting his vast potential. He responded with two games where he was nearly unblockable, but has since regressed back to a point where his coaches and fellow linemen wonder when or if he'll ever return to his dominating form.
"Right now, he's just not doing it consistently," Dooley said. "He's not where he's supposed to be a lot of times."