Ja'Wuan James prepares for Buffalo's Khalil Mack
Tennessee Stat Book
Say his name to a Tennessee football player and you won't get much of a response, but mention Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack's number — 46 — and the compliments come in droves.
The Vols aren't exactly on a first- or last-name basis with Mack, but they're well aware of how dangerous he's been on a Buffalo defense that hasn't been all that bad this season.
"He's a hard worker," offensive tackle Ju'Wuan James said. "Everybody here compares him to Jacques Smith. Coach (Derek) Dooley said he's a guy that's on the wrong team.
"He's a really good guy. He's really good and he plays hard and he's the motor of their team."
Through four games, two of which came against Big East foes Pittsburgh and Connecticut, Mack has racked up 31 tackles, nine of which were for a loss, three sacks, nine quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and an interception. Mack, who has been tabbed as a candidate for All-American and Butkus Award consideration by Buffalo's media relations staff, is just a sophomore.
"We're all at Division I schools and are on scholarship," James said. "Everyone has talent out here."
The Bulls (1-3, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) have just one win, a 35-7 romp over Stony Brook of the Football Championship Series, but they've kept the margin respectable in every game. It's a credit to a defense that won't provide UT with inferior competition, Dooley said.
"It starts with a very physical defense," Dooley said. "They've just been outstanding against the run, and one of the reasons is they have an elite (defender), No. 46, and he's as good as anybody we play.
"The production he's had in (four) games, he's a train-wreck on offense. We've got to make sure he doesn't disrupt the game."
For a UT offense that will be making its official debut Saturday (TV: CSS, 12:30 p.m.) without star receiver Justin Hunter, who is out for the season with a torn ACL, there's no room to take even a team like the perpetually woeful Bulls lightly. The Vols (2-1, 0-1 SEC) will be not only trying to work the kinks out in their passing game, but also will be looking to improve a rushing attack that ranks last in the SEC and is near the bottom nationally.
Asked what concerned him most with Buffalo's defense, quarterback Tyler Bray didn't have any names. Just a number.
"They've got No. 46," Bray said. "We've got to try to block him. He disrupts things, so if we block him we should be fine."
Fill-in Fodder: Since the midway point of last season, James has lined up next to right guard Zach Fulton pretty much every day.
That changed at last week's practices, as Fulton rested a nagging foot injury. Redshirt sophomore JerQuari Schofield was the first man off the bench behind Fulton, who has been back at full strength and with the first-team linemen this week.
Freshmen Marcus Jackson and Antonio Richardson also received a large number of snaps with the first-team last week because of similar, nagging injuries hampering left tackle Dallas Thomas and left guard Alex Bullard.
Even though the chemistry might not have been in sync at all times, James liked what he saw.
"They did a good job of stepping up," James said. "JerQuari's been here a while, Marcus too in the spring. But, they did a good job when Zach and Dallas went down and just keeping the tempo up and competing."
Happy Camper: Dooley said the Vols had a "good, spirited practice" with "a lot of energy" Tuesday.
It was certainly nothing like last Tuesday's, when Dooley could be heard screaming at his players from outside the gates of Haslam Field and then refused to talk to reporters.
"Now we got sort of two Thursdays to kind of polish up the game plan," Dooley said. "I hope we will come out fresh and ready to go Saturday."
The Vols remain largely injury-free, as linebacker Herman Lathers (ankle) and wide receiver Naz Oliver (wrist) were the only two players working on the side during the open portion of practice. Linebacker Raiques Crump appeared to be limited, but was still with his group during individual drills.