For Derek Dooley, it was cut and dry. No need to slide into a gray area that doesn't exist.
Without left tackle Dallas Thomas, who missed the fourth quarter Saturday against Cincinnati with a mildly sprained knee, Tennessee was "not as good" as it was the previous three quarters — or the previous 14 games in which Thomas has started, for that matter.
"When we lose anybody, it starts stressing us," Dooley said. "Especially up front."
The Vols (2-0) were stressed Saturday without Thomas, who is expected to play Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.) at No. 16 Florida (2-0), but an injury like his could have certainly come at a worse time.
UT led Cincinnati comfortably throughout a fourth quarter that featured guard Alex Bullard one spot to the left at Thomas' tackle spot and true freshman Marcus Jackson manning Bullard's place at left guard.
Bullard, who filled in for the mononucleosis-afflicted Ju'Wuan James at right tackle during spring practice, hadn't played a meaningful snap at tackle since high school. Jackson, who enrolled at UT in January and entered fall as a co-first team member at left guard, was one of the odd men out when Bullard finally settled at a position.
The situation clearly exhibited the pecking order beyond the starting five. Despite being a part of the starting rotation, Bullard, in theory, is the "sixth man," versatile enough to fill in at any position. Jackson, meanwhile, is literally the first man off the bench, setting up at left guard while Bullard fills in for someone else, or if Bullard, himself, is hurt.
"Going to left tackle on Saturday wasn't something that I expected to do, but it's something that I've prepared my mind for," Bullard said. "The coaching staff has made it clear that I'm going to have to play three different positions if someone gets hurt."
Jackson, at 6-foot-3 and 326 pounds, has good "size and power" and has the proper "position specifics" for left guard, Dooley said. His relative experience, as compared with highly touted true freshman Antonio Richardson, who enrolled during the summer and missed three weeks of contact with a shoulder injury, also gave him the advantage to play right away.
"When he got in, we really didn't miss a beat. He was ready to go," Bullard said. "I made the adjustment from going to guard to tackle, and I communicated with him. I was in his left ear and James (Stone) was in his right ear. We just made sure we were all on the same page.
"Marcus is a great player, and he's going to be a great player. When he goes in the right direction, he can hammer some people."
Bumps And Bruises: Injury-wise, the Vols have "nothing serious, nothing major" heading into Saturday's game at Florida, Dooley said.
Defensive end Ben Martin, who exited the Cincinnati game early, is "day to day" with a sprained ankle, Dooley said. Knoxville native Devrin Young, a freshman running back, will have the collarbone he broke in August X-rayed this week.
"We'll see," Dooley said. "He's getting close, though. If not this game, then next game."
Bart To Start: It appears fullback Ben Bartholomew's first career start against Cincinnati won't be his last.
According to a depth chart released by the program Monday, Bartholomew was listed as UT's starting fullback in front of Channing Fugate. Dooley reaffirmed that he was the Vols' starter until further notice.
"Ben played, he did a good job," Dooley said. "I was pleased with him. It doesn't mean Channing's on the shelf. We're still going to play Channing. Channing's still a good player, but it's good to have competition. It's a healthy thing for the team."
Players Of The Week: Instead of singling out one player from a unit that produced 531 yards against the Bearcats, Dooley honored the entire offense when doling out his player of the week awards.
That brought a smile to the face of an offensive lineman like James, who doesn't receive near the attention that's heaped on quarterback Tyler Bray or wide receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers.
"We are the quiet guys. We just do the work," James said. "Coach Dooley looked out for us this week.
"He said it couldn't have happened without everybody. Tyler and them do a great job. We are just here to protect him so that he can make those plays."
Defensive tackle Malik Jackson received defensive player of the week honors for being "pretty disruptive up front" and kicker Michael Palardy, who successfully recovered his own onside kick, garnered special teams honors.
Pants Party: Asked if he would don bright orange pants for a third consecutive Saturday, Dooley hinted it would be a game-time decision.
"That's the last thing I'm worried about," Dooley said. "I can assure you the orange slacks aren't the reason we're winning."