Strange vs. Dearstone: News Sentinel pride on the line as Vols take to the field for Spring game
Jacques Smith had one of the best springs of any Tennessee defensive player, but he won't be on the field for Saturday's Orange and White game.
The sophomore defensive end injured his foot near the end of Wednesday's practice. Coach Derek Dooley was sparse on details surrounding Smith's injury after Thursday's practice, but said the worst-case scenario would have Smith out of commission only through June.
"I always want to reserve what we say until we get the official word from the doc," Dooley said.
The only positive spin Dooley could put on the injury was that it happened now rather than close to the start of the 2011 season. But even then, Smith will be on the shelf while the Vols undergo extensive offseason work with strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery.
"You train year-round, so any time a guy gets hurt it's a setback," Dooley said. "It doesn't have a lot to do with weight as much as strength levels and training, the mental conditioning, there's so much into it.
"When you're not working out and training, you're getting behind because your competitors are (getting ahead)."
With Smith, who was locked in as a first-teamer, the Vols were already thin on defensive ends. Without him, players such as Stephen Fowlkes and Martaze Jackson could see extensive repetitions in Saturday's scrimmage.
Fowlkes played in a handful of games last season as an undersized defensive tackle. Jackson is a redshirt freshman who played at linebacker in high school.
"I think that they've got me ready," Fowlkes said. "I feel like I'm ready mentally more than anything, let alone physically. Mentally, I think I had a great improvement this spring."
Smith flashed major potential throughout his freshman season, seeing action in all 13 games and finishing with 24 tackles, five of which went for a loss, and two sacks. With a number of the 2010 defense's leaders gone and graduated, Smith had quickly emerged as one of the unit's most vocal leaders.
"I think he's the best defensive lineman we have so far this spring, so seeing him go down was a hard pill for us to swallow, but we're going to be all right," Fowlkes said. "He's going to get better and he's going to ready for September when we play Montana."
Split 'Em Up: Wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, the top wide receiver for the White, was a man on an island after Thursday's practice.
Surrounded by Justin Hunter and quarterback Tyler Bray, both of whom will represent the Orange on Saturday, Rogers could barely get a word out while Hunter and Bray taunted him about how he allegedly asked for a trade.
Rogers denied the claims.
"I definitely think I'm on the better team even though they've got more receivers than we do," Rogers said. "But we also got Zach Rogers who is a 4.3 (seconds) speed kind of guy. So I've got no issues."
Asked what the White team's strengths were, Rogers was interrupted by Hunter, who yelled "there are no strengths."
Tailback Tauren Poole served as the Orange's captain while defensive tackle Malik Jackson was the top captain for the White. After the seniors were equally divided, everyone, including coaches, trainers and administrative personnel, was fair game.
There was one catch. Each player was assigned a matchup partner, so when Player A was selected, Player B went to the other team.
Poole, who was assigned Bray because backup quarterback Matt Simms was placed on the White team, said he made left tackle Dallas Thomas his first pick. Jackson followed with right guard Zach Fulton.
"We got some pretty good guys," Poole said. "I think they may favor us on the defense but on offense we got the go-getters. We got a lot of guys that can make plays."
Practice Report: The Vols wore jerseys, shorts and helmets during a 90-minute practice at Neyland Stadium that focused on the minute details, such as how to enter the field from the locker room.
"They were good today," Dooley said. "They're doing good. I've seen a lot of progress in this team from an intangible standpoint in the last two weeks. I'm pleased with how spring ended."