When he was a high school star in Gordo, Ala., a tiny city outside Tuscaloosa, Izauea Lanier played a little bit of everything.
Sometimes, on defense, the Tennessee junior-college transfer would line up at a place typically reserved for a cornerback, but he wasn't exactly playing the position.
"It was a little different," Lanier said. "They just put me on the best receiver.
"I was going off my ability."
A year away from football and a year playing safety at East Mississippi Community College didn't prepare Lanier any more for the position by the time he arrived at UT this spring.
Lanier's progress, though, has been steady, and an impressive performance at Florida was enough for UT's coaches to put him in the starting lineup against Buffalo on Saturday (TV: CSS, 12:30 p.m.).
"He's playing better," coach Derek Dooley said after Monday's practice. "It's everything, he's got good size and speed at the position, he's a tough guy, makes tackles in space.
"I think as time is going, he's getting a little more confident with the defense, he's playing a little faster and he played pretty good against Florida. We hope he can progress."
Lanier replaces freshman Justin Coleman, who didn't start at Florida and was noticeably struggling, as the Vols' top option at the left cornerback position opposite junior Marsalis Teague.
"You have to do that," Teague said of the coaches' willingness to shake up the depth chart. "That's a big thing that helps keep that competitiveness going with us."
Lanier, who has five tackles through three games, admitted "it was kind of a shock" to make as much headway as he has in such a short amount of time. He credited wide receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter, who went at him every day since the beginning of fall practice, for preparing him to play against SEC competition.
"The receivers at Florida, they were OK, but they weren't as physical as (Rogers)," Lanier said. "I was real comfortable going against them."
Of course, as a former safety, Lanier has no problem being physical. As secondary coach Terry Joseph said last week, "there aren't many 190-pound cornerbacks" like Lanier in college football.
Lanier came to UT weighing 190 pounds, but he wasn't in the kind of shape required to line up against some of the fastest athletes in the country. He was promptly told to lose eight to 10 pounds of bad weight before he regained it in the form of muscle.
"They really weren't too focused on my strength," Lanier said. "It was more of me being able to play every down."
His chance to play more and learn more about his position starts Saturday.
"I'm not too overwhelmed about it because I still have a job to do," Lanier said. "I'm just going to stick to what I've been doing."
Back in Action: The pre-practice music was back at UT's practice Monday and so were a number of players who missed time last week with nagging injuries.
Linebacker Herman Lathers, who has yet to play this season but was jogging for the first time since breaking his ankle, and wide receiver Naz Oliver, who is out for the season, were limited Monday. The Vols appeared rested and refreshed after the bye weekend.
"They came back ready to go," Dooley said. "Obviously looking at some new things, some new players out there in new roles, and hopefully we can show a little improvement this week."
Linebacker Curt Maggitt and defensive ends Ben Martin and Marlon Walls, all of whom missed some parts of practice last week, were back in full capacity with their respective units during the open portion of Monday's practice.
The offensive line, which missed left tackle Dallas Thomas, left guard Alex Bullard and right guard Zach Fulton for most of last week, was also back at full strength.
"I feel like we've made some progression in (the running game)," center James Stone said. "We've really pounded away at it during the bye week and even into today's practice. We had a lot of runs scripted and really focusing on getting the run game going."
No Comment: Dooley hasn't been shy to voice his opinion about conference expansion, but he said Monday, one day after Texas A&M officially became the SEC's 13th team, that he's done worrying about it.
On multiple occasions, Dooley, citing his SEC roots, has said the seemingly rapid pace of conference expansion concerned him. Dooley used his platform Saturday as a guest analyst on CBS Sports to air his grievances, but he wasn't ready to revisit them after Monday's practice.
"Nobody really cares what I say, and I don't really have a position to make an impact," Dooley said. "All I can do is be like a fan when it comes to expansion, and we've got to figure it out.
"Right now I'm worried about Buffalo That's what all the smart guys are doing, solving all those problems."