UT head coach Derek Dooley talks about Curt Maggitt, NCAA investigation and scouting
There are times before a play when Curt Maggitt's age is clear.
The freshman isn't the only Tennessee defender occasionally lining up in the wrong spot, and those kinds of errors aren't exactly a surprise for somebody who has gone from high school to starting in the SEC in less than a year.
"It's been a lot different, learning a lot and just coming out here every day to work," Maggitt said Tuesday during his first media appearance since joining the program. "It's a lot different than high school."
After the snap, it can get much more difficult to notice any change between the two levels for Maggitt.
Age, experience, even his position all seem to be hard to decipher as the hybrid defensive end/linebacker blurs the lines once a play starts. And Maggitt is certainly just as capable of bringing a down to an end with a fast, aggressive style that is working out fine regardless of how old he is as the Vols prepare for a non-conference meeting with Buffalo at home on Saturday (TV: CSS, 12:30 p.m.).
"(Physically) it's been about what I expected," Maggitt said. "With my position coach (Peter Sirmon), all we talk about is pre-snap alignment and tackling, and we go over that every day. That's the key thing for us. In high school I played defensive end, and coming to play linebacker in the SEC and starting, that's been a big difference for me.
"I'm just trying to make the best of it."
Maggitt hasn't wasted any time doing that for the Vols (2-1, 0-1 SEC), quickly proving himself as somebody the coaches couldn't keep off the field during training camp and winning a starting job before he'd even appeared in a game with the program.
Now he's got three under his belt as he gears up for the Bulls (1-3, 0-1 MAC), and Maggitt is starting to flash the potential that had UT so excited going into the season. Perhaps more telling about his upside, so far he's done it despite sometimes making it harder on himself to produce some of his 12 tackles — including one assist on a takedown for a loss at Florida and another sack he shared in a win over Cincinnati.
"The one thing he does, he plays with incredible energy, he plays with incredible toughness, effort, spirit and he's a big guy," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "So, when you add it all up, you can get by with making mistakes. That's what I've said all along.
"Good defenses make mistakes all the time, mental errors all the time. But when you've got 11 guys who can run and can hit and they're all flying to the football, it makes up for it. That's what he does."
Maggitt has some young company there with fellow freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson, and they're sharing some similarities both before the snap and after.
Both announced their presence and a possible peek into the future heading into the open date with impressive outings against No. 12 Florida. Maggitt picked up half of his season total in tackles and added a quarterback hurry, and Johnson shined with seven takedowns, a forced fumble and a recovery that kept UT competitive down the stretch.
Along with all those positives, there also were a few mental lapses along the way that offered a reminder they were freshmen. But there are times it's getting increasingly harder to figure that out once they get in motion.
"Some guys ... they just play," Dooley said. "They don't care that they make mistakes and they play fast. I think Curt's an example of that.
"They've got a lot of work to do because they make a ton of mistakes that create big plays for us on the other side, and that's what hurts you. When you're playing young guys, that's what happens. But they don't lack aggressiveness and running to the ball and hitting, and that's why I love them. The mistakes that they make are mistakes that are schematic adjustments and right away we're in trouble."
If the Vols are able to clean up that first part, so far there hasn't been much to complain for Maggitt about once a play actually starts.