Vols have stability, but personnel issues remain

There was stability unseen at Tennessee for years, but a roster of more than 100 players couldn't escape the summer without a handful of developments heading into the start of fall practice.

Highlighted by the transfer of sparsely used running back Toney Williams, coach Derek Dooley had a lengthy list of internal moving parts to address at his Monday news conference.

Williams, who battled multiple injuries and carried the ball just five times in his two years with the Vols, plans to transfer, but hasn't done so yet. Dooley said he wasn't sure where Williams was headed.

"We wish him the best," Dooley said.

Freshmen defensive backs Tino Thomas and Geraldo Orta won't be with the team when the Vols have their first practice this afternoon. Both players, who are currently enrolled in summer classes, had offseason shoulder surgeries. One of the players could be ready to join the team within a week, but Dooley did not specify who had a better chance.

If all of the Vols who are currently enrolled in classes qualify to play in 2011, one of the signees will be forced to grayshirt. Freshman offensive tackle Antonio Richardson is also recovering from shoulder surgery and will not see contact through the first few days of practice.

"He's not 100 percent," Dooley said. "He can still bench press probably more than 98 percent of the team. We got to ease him in."

Cornerback C.J. Fleming will not join the team until fall semester classes begin Aug. 17. A senior, Fleming has seen the field in six games over the past two seasons.

Defensive end Ben Martin, who is recovering from his second Achilles' tendon surgery, is ready to practice, but will be viewed as a work in progress. Martin last played in 2009, when he had 3.5 sacks and saw action in all 13 games.

"We can't forget that he hasn't played a down since I've been the coach here, so we're going to ease him into this stuff," Dooley said. "We don't want to go out there full go on the first day and something goes bad."

Defensive end Jacques Smith, who underwent two foot surgeries since spring practice, "seems to be full go," Dooley said. Linebacker Herman Lathers, meanwhile, is a "couple months away" as he continues to recover from a broken ankle.

The Vols will trot out 104 players for today's practices, a total that is one shy of the NCAA maximum for pre-season practices before the fall semester. Roster sizes expand to an unlimited amount after the start of fall classes.

Seventy-nine of the 104 are currently on scholarship, a total that is six shy of the NCAA maximum.

"I mentioned (before) that it would take three full recruiting years to get up to 85. That's OK," Dooley said. "We're way ahead of where we were a year ago."

An Internal Matter: Austin Johnson is facing some punishment for his offseason arrest.

But it won't keep the linebacker off the field when UT opens practice today, and the expected starter won't miss any game action, either.

After expressing surprise and disappointment in the public intoxication and disorderly conduct charges the senior leader picked up July 24, Dooley indicated that Johnson would face disciplinary action from within the program. But the issue is being handled "internally," and it doesn't appear to include any sort of suspension.

"We were all disappointed when we read the news, and we're disappointed any time a player makes a bad choice that puts a negative light on our program," Dooley said. "There are several things that we're going to do with Austin, and I'm comfortable with where we are on that.

"He'll be out there for the first day and he's eligible to play. We hope that we don't have any more headlines like that again."

The Vols were able to avoid any bad publicity for virtually the entire summer before the streak was broken a little more than a week before camp opens on Dooley's second season, and the fact it was Johnson clearly caught the program by surprise.

Johnson is consistently identified as a leader for a team without much of a veteran presence, and he's also critical to UT's efforts to rebuild an inexperienced defense this fall.

"I think we were all shocked and disappointed when we saw it, because he's never really given any indication that he would do something like that," Dooley said. "I think it's a great reminder to all of us that you can never take that for granted and you're only one bad decision away from hurting your reputation."

Split Squad: The Vols' young players won't be thrown fully into the fire at today's practice. That will have to wait until Friday.

Over the next three days, UT's freshmen, along with various walk-ons, will practice separately from the veteran players. The veterans will report to Haslam Field at 2:15 p.m., while the newcomers will start at 7:45 p.m.

"It builds them up and lets them get a feel for what's going on," senior running back Tauren Poole said. "I'm pretty sure it's kind of tough going right in from freshmen straight into with the veterans. The vets, we'll be able to play fast, so the game won't slow down with the freshmen in there."

Austin Ward contributed to this report.

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