Lessons learned over a tough season
Curt Maggitt signs with Tennessee
In a figurative sense, Tennessee's coaches have tried to decrease the number of responsibilities on Curt Maggitt's plate as the season has progressed.
In a literal sense, with Maggitt down 10 pounds from where he started the year, those same coaches would love to see him load up his plate at every opportunity.
Through most of his high school career, Maggitt played below 200 pounds. And that was almost always on the defensive line.
When fall camp opened in August, Maggitt, after an offseason of intense weight-lifting and eating, had ballooned up to 235 pounds. At the time, as he came on strong and instantly emerged as one of UT's most talented defenders, there was talk of him playing at both outside linebacker, the position he was recruited to play, and defensive end for pass rush situations.
Now, Maggitt is 225 pounds and playing exclusively at linebacker.
"It's easier for other guys to keep weight on than it is Curt. That's his body type," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "He's got to be disciplined as an eater throughout the season and he'll learn how to do it as he matures.
"He's tried but it hasn't worked out all the time."
Up and down, back and forth, Maggitt's freshman season has certainly had its share of instability. The results, though, have been constant.
Maggitt, after picking up SEC freshman of the week honors against Vanderbilt for his 2.5 tackles for a loss, trails just fellow UT linebacker A.J. Johnson for the SEC freshman lead in tackles (49) and is also second among SEC freshmen with 5.5 tackles for loss. He'll have one more opportunity in his first regular season with the Vols (5-6, 1-6 SEC) to tack on to those figures Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.) at Kentucky (4-7, 1-6).
"We're using Curt where he can help us most and he's doing a heck of a job at linebacker," defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. "In nickel situations, he's the guy on the field that runs around and looks like a dadgum cat out there chasing people. I think we've got him in the best position to help us play good defense."
Originally, that position was at two different places, as Maggitt garnered loads of praise from Thompson during the preseason for his ability to rush the passer. Thompson called him a "special guy coming off the edge" and it prompted a plan that entailed Maggitt splitting time at linebacker in base packages and defensive end on nickel passing downs.
After a few games, with Daryl Vereen struggling at the position Maggitt was vacating to play on the defensive line, that plan was scrapped.
"We have three linebackers who are playing really well and we can't afford to overload them or wear them down physically," coach Derek Dooley said. "We don't have enough depth to be able to do that. We'd like to.
"I think it would help us. But all of a sudden you put him there and everything else starts suffering. You're robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Though Maggitt has continued to play at a high level, the grind of his first college season has taken its toll. He missed the South Carolina game with a strained calf and has seen 10 of the pounds he added to his frame during the offseason drop off his body.
Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon said Maggitt came back from the calf injury with fresh legs, and it's shown. He isn't concerned with Maggitt's weight loss, either, because he's seen it happen to players plenty of times.
"You kind of get tired and you're not lifting as much," Sirmon said. "You're going to lose some muscle mass just from that. As many calories as you're burning, it's natural to lose some weight."
Sirmon hasn't set an ideal weight for Maggitt, and he doesn't plan to. Not only has Maggitt been hitting opponents with the force of a much bigger player, but he doesn't see the need to add an extra item to the busy linebacker's to-do list.
Maggitt already has enough on his plate.
"I don't want a guy who has to artificially get that weight up because I don't think he's going to be able to handle it during the season and I don't think it's going to be a good weight," Sirmon said. "I think he needs to continue to develop and mature.
"When he develops into a man, I think he's going to have that natural weight, he'll thicken up and he'll be fine."