HOOVER, Ala. — The simple math was no problem.
Subtract a starter, and Derek Dooley obviously knew he was down to only one returning first-teamer in his defensive front seven from a year ago.
Solving the equation for when the Tennessee coach might get the injured one back in the rotation is a bit more tricky, and Dooley still doesn't have an answer on when linebacker Herman Lathers could be on the field again.
"That was a real blow when we lost Herman," Dooley said. "We were returning two out of our front seven, then Herman gets hurt the first day of workouts, now we're returning one out of front seven.
"I don't know when he's going to be back. I can tell you this, it's not going to be anytime soon. We're just going to have to monitor it week to week, but it was a blow to us.
"It's important we get Herman back as soon as we can."
The initial diagnosis on the ankle Lathers broke in June didn't include an exact timetable either, though it was expected to keep him out of action at least through fall camp and the start of the season.
How much longer it will keep UT's top returning tackler on the sideline remains uncertain, which will make things a little more difficult at a position that was low on depth even if the junior entered the season healthy.
Only departed senior Nick Reveiz topped the 75 tackles Lathers posted a year ago, and though Lathers was also missing during spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason, he was being counted on heavily to help carry the load defensively this season.
Without him, the Vols will likely have to shuffle Austin Johnson back to an outside position opposite Daryl Vereen and count on John Propst to build on his solid early work as a freshman in limited action a year ago — as well as get some positive contributions frowm a handful of newcomers when camp opens in August.
"Defense is a little bit like offense was a year ago," Dooley said. "We're only returning one player in our front seven, and in this league, as you all know, if you don't have a good front seven, a productive front seven, you're going to have a tough time week in and week out.
"We're going to have to figure out who is going to emerge and be our players that are going to make a difference for us."
Couch On The Shelf: Defensive tackle Malik Jackson indicated that five-star junior college transfer Maurice Couch was hampered by an injury.
Jackson did not specify what kind of injury was holding Couch out, but said it wasn't preventing him from lifting weights and conditioning.
On his Twitter account, Couch wrote Wednesday that a "full week off will help this leg of mine heal up for sure."
Position Switch: While highlighting a number of the freshmen who have stood out to him thus far, offensive tackle Dallas Thomas said Curt Maggitt was playing at linebacker.
Maggitt played at outside linebacker in high school, but was listed as a defensive end by UT on National Signing Day.
Maggitt would join fellow freshmen A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris as fresh bodies in a linebacking corps that's been decimated by injuries and lacks experience.
In Contact: Dooley said he's been in constant contact with Joan Cronan since she assumed the role of interim vice chancellor of athletics.
"I thought it was very important to try to define for her three or four things where she could help us before we hired a new athletics director. She has responded beautifully," Dooley said. "I've been very appreciative of Joan's openness with me. I have a lot of confidence in her abilities to lead until we find a new athletics director."
Dooley said he hasn't been involved in the athletic director search because it's "going to be my boss."
"I've appreciated (chancellor Jimmy Cheek's) communication with me at every step, which he has," Dooley said. "I've appreciated his asking questions on what I thought was important. I know that he's going to make a great decision for Tennessee."