Tennessee Stat Book
The last time Austin Johnson played linebacker in a real game was his senior year at Hickory (N.C.) High School.
If the Tennessee junior had any rust, he didn't show it Saturday night.
"It felt good to be back out there at linebacker again," Johnson said after he had five tackles, an interception and a safety in the Vols' 50-0 season-opening win over UT Martin at Neyland Stadium.
"Before the game I was really going over my playbook just trying to get all the stuff down I needed to get down. But once I got out there, it all just kind of came to me and I was just able to play fast."
"Austin really did a good job," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "He was active."
After playing two seasons at fullback, Johnson was moved to linebacker for spring practice. He's worked his way into a role as Nick Reveiz's backup at middle linebacker.
"It's a culmination of all his hard work and what he's done," Reveiz said.
"Austin really has been outworking everyone, and just getting in there trying to learn, a guy who was asked to flip-flop positions after he had such a successful year at fullback. I'm happy for him."
Johnson tackled UTM tailback Jason McNair for a 5-yard loss in the second quarter, narrowly missing a safety and giving himself a boost.
"It made me feel good," said the 6-foot-2, 231-pounder. "It made me feel like this is where I belong."
He redeemed himself in the third quarter, tackling D.J. McNeil in the end zone.
"I thought the first one was a safety so I was upset I didn't get it," Johnson said. "I was like, 'If I have another chance, I'm definitely going to get it this time.' "
Johnson, best remembered for a long touchdown catch-and-run against South Carolina last season, intercepted UTM quarterback Derek Carr earlier in the third, setting up Matt Simms' 42-yard bomb to Denarius Moore.
"I just read the quarterback's eyes," Johnson said.
"Scoring a touchdown is a pretty big deal, so that felt really good. But being on defense and creating a turnover, you can't do much better than that."
"I definitely wasn't surprised at all," said linebacker LaMarcus Thompson.
"Austin, he's a great player. He was a good find, to bring him over from offense. He's definitely been showing up in practice."
Tailback Love: David Oku had joked a couple of times during fall camp that fellow tailback Tauren Poole was going to take all the touchdowns.
But it was Oku scoring the season's first touchdown on a 44-yarder on a draw play midway through the first.
"I didn't give (Poole) any grief at all," Oku said. "I told him it was for him having to go through what he's been through."
After Poole was seldom used by former coach Lane Kiffin last season, he finally found the end zone for the first time in his career from 24 yards out.
"You could tell, he was like a kid in a candy store," Oku said.
"It just shows how hard I worked," Poole said. "I'm not a big guy on talking about myself, it was a great block by the O-line and on the perimeter.
"I kind of just sat back and realized that it all came the way it should have, and it was all about being patient."
Youth Galore: Twelve true freshmen saw their first action.
Status Update: Senior receiver Gerald Jones went to the locker room in the third quarter with a hand injury.
Jones hurt himself following an awkward landing after making a 37-yard catch.
Starting right guard Jarrod Shaw also hobbled to the locker room late in the game after hurting his ankle.
"Gerald Jones I'm a little concerned about," Dooley said. "We can't afford any injuries, but it's part of football."
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.