At cornerback, there isn't a Tennessee player with more career starts, games played or years lived than Art Evans.
The fifth-year senior just isn't using any of those reasons as license to take on a leadership role with the Vols' young, but deep pool of defensive backs.
"I'm trying to start myself first before I try to take control and lead everybody else," Evans said. "Mainly I want to lead by example before I be more vocal."
With Prentiss Waggner locked in at one of the starting spots and an ongoing two-man battle between Marsalis Teague and freshman Justin Coleman for the other, starting might be a bit of a reach for Evans.
But he'll be needed, coach Derek Dooley said Monday.
"He's had a great attitude, and he's worked hard," Dooley said. "We put him on the shelf, and he jumped back off. That's a tribute to him."
Evans had his junior year come to an abrupt halt with four games remaining in the regular season. Evans had fallen behind in his car payments and he wasn't able to get back in Dooley's good graces until February.
It hasn't been easy getting back to where he was in 2009, when he started 12 of 13 games and was considered to be one of the team's more reliable defensive backs. Even before the suspension, Evans was struggling, as his disappointing 2010 campaign was exacerbated against Alabama when Julio Jones caught the bulk of his 12 receptions for 221 yards with Evans as his primary defender.
"Coach (Terry) Joseph was messing with me saying it's like riding a bicycle," Evans said. "I really think (that's true) to a certain extent, but at the same time you have to get the rust off and come out here and humble yourself and work hard."
Though the Vols should have plenty of experience among the starters in their secondary, there won't be much in the second and third groups. Because UT plans to use plenty of nickel and dime formations while also increasing the complexity of its defensive packages, players like Evans will have to contribute.
Maybe then, Evans will find his voice.
"I always like just having a senior-level of maturity more so than experience and what happened in the games," Dooley said. "When guys are struggling or they get a little ornery and that kind of thing, it's nice to have a little veteran leadership around. We don't have a lot of it."
Back in Action: Malik Jackson's steady recovery from a sprained MCL in his right knee just might be over, as the senior defensive tackle "was 100 percent and ripping and roaring" at Monday's practice, Dooley said.
"It was good to see him in the backfield," Dooley said.
Also back was oft-injured linebacker Greg King. The junior had been shelved with swelling in his right knee, the same one he had arthroscopic surgery for during the summer.
"It's frustrating, but you've got to deal with it," King said.
Freshman running back Tom Smith's workload increased in his recovery from a knee injury, but he still wore a red, non-contact jersey.
Wide receivers Zach Rogers (triceps) and Matt Milton (abdominal muscle) did not practice.
Little Too Late?: Former UT standout Leonard Little provided the Vols with some motivational words before practice.
The message focused on how to become a great player, but it didn't seem to sink in right away.
"It's a message we need because we're not there yet," Dooley said. "Little sluggish today."
Regardless of the effort in the first workout since Saturday's final scrimmage of camp, the messenger was a welcome guest for the Vols.
Little has been around the program at least twice since Dooley took over, and there will be a third since the former All-America pick has off-the-field stories that could also have a potentially positive impact despite some unsavory details.
Dooley provided some fodder for CBSsports.com for calling a player who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was twice arrested for driving while intoxicated as representing "everything Tennessee is all about."
That comment was meant as a reflection of what Little accomplished on the field, but Dooley later told the News Sentinel that his response to those incidents also makes him a valuable example for the Vol for Life program.
"I think he's a great representative, not because of what he did but because of how he handled it," Dooley said. "That's what life is all about to me.
"That's what matters most is how you come out of those things. To me, those guys are better examples for our kids than anybody else you could ever imagine."
Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327.