Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess // Buy this photo
Dontavis Sapp saw plenty of action in last Friday's win against North Carolina State, and his performance may have earned him an encore.
The reserve linebacker could be in position to make the first start of his Tennessee career against Georgia State on Saturday (TV: Pay-per-view, 4 p.m.). Tennessee senior starting linebacker Herman Lathers was in a sling Friday night, suffering a shoulder injury in the opener after enduring an injury-riddled August.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Lathers' shoulder was "dinged" and he wouldn't know how serious the injury was until later this week. On his weekly TV show, Dooley said the injury to Lathers comes at a position — inside linebacker — where the Vols can least afford it.
"We've got a real good starting group, but we're really thin, so we've got to stay healthy," he said.
Dooley and players will talk to reporters today at Tennessee's regular media day. Even if Lathers' injury is not serious, coaches could decide to rest him against an overmatched Georgia State team to ensure he will be ready for the Sept. 15 showdown against Florida.
If Sapp starts — either out of necessity or choice — he has already had an encouraging audition.
He was only credited with one tackle against N.C. State, but it was a big one. Sapp buried a Wolfpack ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage on a screen pass.
"I remember him making that play on the screen," said cornerback Prentiss Wagger. "You know, Sapp is a real consistent guy. All through training camp, he's been consistent. He's been playing numerous roles for us. And I think
today he came out there and stepped up real big."
A native of Valdosta, Ga., Sapp was largely a special teams player in 2010 and a reserve in 2011, when he made 20 tackles, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. He got plenty of action in August as Lathers nursed other injuries.
At 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, he's one of the smaller linebackers on the squad, but said attention to detail can overcome size mismatches.
"Technique is key," he said. "If you use the right technique, you can overcome a lot of things. That's what I try to do. You know, I'm faster than a lot of linebackers, so I try to use that to my advantage."
Sapp said the defense felt confident under new coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"We know what we have to do, we know why we have to do it, and we know how we do it," Sapp said. "I think we opened a lot of people's eyes."
Settling In: On his weekly film review show, Dooley said he felt the Vols "settled in" and had an "awesome second half" after some bumpy moments in the first half.
"They were going no huddle, but even though we worked on it all (August), it's hard to simulate," Dooley said.
He said NC State put the Vols "on their heels" in the first half. He also said there was poor "body language" and the players looked fatigued late in the third quarter when the Wolfpack drove to cut the lead to 32-21.
Official Statement: Dooley said he wasn't surprised that replay officials didn't award the Vols a touchdown just before halftime when Tyler Bray fumbled as he tried to push into the end zone.
"We've just got to be able to score there," Dooley said. "I didn't expect them to overturn it when it's close like that. It's our job to get it in and we didn't do it. But I was proud that our team didn't let it affect them. We're always preaching that some plays aren't going to go your way, and it's how you respond that matters."
Team Investment: An extra day off should help with recovery, but otherwise this will be a "normal workweek," Dooley said.
"It's critical that players understand why we played so well," he said. "We played well because we had so much investment in that game. We have to learn that if we have the same investment every week, we'll keep having success."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.