UT coach Derek Dooley talks about Matt Milton
Injuries in the spring wouldn't allow it.
Another big one in the summer again blocked a move.
It appears fall and the third time trying to get Austin Johnson back to middle linebacker could be the charm.
The senior isn't opposed to moving positions, and he's prepared to handle multiple roles for the Tennessee defense if need be. But the desire all along for the Vols has been to use Johnson as an anchor and veteran presence in the center of the action, and a couple freshmen have perhaps provided just what they needed to finally give him a permanent home there.
"We've felt that way from the beginning," UT coach Derek Dooley said after practice Tuesday morning. "We think he has better production at (middle linebacker), but we also feel like he's got the best command of the defense for the calls. He's a senior, got leadership, and that's what you want out of your middle linebackers.
"Hopefully these two freshmen will continue to perform the way they've been performing, and if they do we can keep Austin in the middle."
The newcomers have generated plenty of excitement throughout the first couple weeks of camp, but no matter how much Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson have been talked about, it was their mere appearance with the first-team defense in scrimmages last week that spoke volumes about their potential.
If they're both capable of living up to the hype on the outside once the season starts, that should allow UT to keep Austin Johnson in the middle of them — though part of the responsibility for bringing the young guys along will fall on the shoulders of the old man in between.
"The (middle) linebacker has to direct the whole defense, and if someone isn't lined up right, then it's his responsibility to get them lined up right," Austin Johnson said. "The freshmen, they know what they're doing and I don't have to correct them much, but being in the middle definitely helps us.
"I know I'm a senior and I have two young guys next to me right now, so I feel like I need to be in the middle to kind of command the whole defense and be a leader of our defense."
Inside or out, the Vols have been counting on Austin Johnson to provide a steady hand at linebacker and build on the productive season he had off the bench a year ago in posting 44 tackles with 3.5 takedowns for a loss, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
But whether or not he'd be doing that in the middle has been in doubt since spring practice, when offseason shoulder surgery for Herman Lathers left a hole at weak-side linebacker.
Another injury for Lathers on the first day of summer workouts forced UT to scrap its projected rotation again, with John Propst sliding up to replace Austin Johnson as he moved outside opposite Daryl Vereen.
The influx of some new bodies has changed things once more for the linebackers, but this time it's given the Vols at least one thing they were hoping for months ago.
"The coaches had said stuff to me about making sure I knew the position this summer, so I had always known it was possible and I had to know it anyway because we cross-train different positions," Austin Johnson said. "When Herman went down, I knew that it was just another opportunity where I might have to go play over there if we needed it, and it's just another way to create more depth.
"But I'm definitely the most comfortable here now. That's kind of where I want to be, I want to be in the middle."
The Vols want him at that spot, too. Now it looks like they might have found a way to keep him there.