Tennessee defensive leaders who missed spring with injuries making an impact in camp

SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL
Tennessee defensive linemen Maurice Couch, left, and Daniel Hood during practice last Friday.

Photo by Saul Young

SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL Tennessee defensive linemen Maurice Couch, left, and Daniel Hood during practice last Friday.

Vols practice, Sunday, Aug. 4

Secondary coach Willie Martinez talks Saturday about the depth at safety.

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Coaches on UT's first preseason practice

Maurice Couch

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Maurice Couch

Curt Maggitt

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Curt Maggitt

Brian Randolph

Photo by Donald Page /Tennessee Athletics

Brian Randolph

Three veterans who could play pivotal roles in Tennessee’s defense are getting late on-field introductions to the Vols’ new coaching staff.

Defensive tackle Maurice Couch, who’s played in every game in the past two seasons, missed all of spring ball with a shoulder injury. Safety Brian Randolph tore his ACL in the third week of last season and missed a good chunk of the spring. Linebacker Curt Maggitt tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of the Vols’ four-overtime loss to Missouri. He watched from the sidelines this spring.

All three are back, all three will play significant snaps in Tennessee’s defense this year, and all three could be starters by the time camp is finished.

Coaches have gotten to know the players off the field, but they haven’t seen them take a real snap until this week. Coach Butch Jones said he hasn’t sold any of them short.

“We live in such a SportsCenter society, and you go home and all you see when you put the TV on is the highlights,” Jones said. “What you don’t see is the resiliency and the perseverance that individuals like Curt Maggitt have had to work themselves back into playing shape.”

All three players are leaders, Jones said, which has made it especially difficult for them to watch rather than play.

“The coaches really don’t know what I can do in a new system,” said Couch. “Being a senior and being out all spring, that helps motivate me.”

A second-team spot on the depth chart could also help motivate Couch and Maggitt, although it wasn’t intended as a slight. Both players will have every opportunity to crack the starting lineup now that they’re healthy, and both are expected to get plenty of snaps regardless of the depth chart.

While Randolph is one of the presumed starters at safety, Maggitt is one of four linebackers vying for three starting jobs (along with A.J. Johnson, Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer). Couch will split time at nose guard with Daniel Hood while backing up Daniel McCullers at the tackle spot.

“I learned very early on in being here that Curt is one of our leaders on this football team and it’s hard to be a leader when you’re not in the fray with your teammates,” Jones said. “It was hard on him staying back in the spring, but he still led. I’m excited to get him back on the field.”

Jones pronounced Randolph at “92 or 93 percent” before camp, although Randolph is a tad more optimistic.

“I think I’ve got my speed back and my quickness and agility. The last thing to come will be my jumping ability,” he said.

But like Maggitt and Couch, Randolph has already sent the right signals to Jones during the offseason.

“He has a very high level of consistency. All great players have it,” Jones said. “You know what you’re getting with Brian: very positive, hard worker who can take the classroom setting to the field.”

The returning Vols will get some of their first physical tests in a full-pads workout on Tuesday. By the season opener on Aug. 31, all three hope to have the injury-marred spring in the rearview mirror.

“I’ve had (an ACL) injury before,” said linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. “It just takes a while to get the mind right. It’s just confidence, and they’ll get more confident as the camp goes along.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 12

west_tn_volfan writes:

Seeing guys return from knee injuries always makes me nervous. Just have to trust the trainers, and coaches, to bring the guys along at the right pace. All three are difference makers. Hope they have a great comeback season.

SummittsCourt writes:

The O-Line and defense will have to carry the load until the offense can get the experience needed to compete. These guys are needed for sure. I hope they will stay healthy because if they do, they will make a big impact.

Go Vols!

usafvol writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

The O-Line and defense will have to carry the load until the offense can get the experience needed to compete. These guys are needed for sure. I hope they will stay healthy because if they do, they will make a big impact.

Go Vols!

I think that going back to the 4-3 defense will be huge for the defense. It should be a lot simpler to understand and allow our players to react rather than having to think too much like last year. We have some great athletes on D and they will show that they can play this year.

6972 writes:

Can't wait to see how much improvement the defense will make this year!

Pompey writes:

Unlike many programs who have hired a new coach's Tennessee's cupboard is not bare, so this will be an opportunity for fans to see how Butch and the boys can coach......!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Pompey:

Unlike many programs who have hired a new coach's Tennessee's cupboard is not bare, so this will be an opportunity for fans to see how Butch and the boys can coach......!

Well, the cupboard isn't exactly bare, but it is a bit thin in some essentials. I think the team will look better this year, but they have a monster schedule and little experience of winning against decent competition. I think we have a fine staff, and they should make a noticeable difference, but there is still work to be done to raise the talent level. They would seem to be working on that already!

govols082859#1369959 writes:

Just think if we had stayed with the 4-3 defense last year?
Surely we never melt down with FL, UGA woud be much closer, USC is a win along with Mizz and Vandy is 50/50.
That puts us 8-4 or 10-2 versus 5-7.
With all the returners on the O-Line and the defense back from injuries, I am excited to see funs days in Knoxville again soon!

jandjhome#228397 writes:

We are not going to win the East guys but I honestly think that everyone we play will know they have been in a football game. I know for a fact that some teams laughed at us last year

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

I saw a lot of slow play and bad angles being taken last yr. by the LB's. Hope the additional experience and the coaching brings much better results this time around. I think the sleeper in the defensive group could be Sapp. Hope they all come to play!!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to jandjhome#228397:

We are not going to win the East guys but I honestly think that everyone we play will know they have been in a football game. I know for a fact that some teams laughed at us last year

Maybe. But maybe they felt a little pity as well.

Ok you're right they were laughing at the D and afraid a bit of our offense. Their laughter won.

Last year's gone forever! let's begin to turn it around!!! IN the GAME! I like it.

laraccoon writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Well, the cupboard isn't exactly bare, but it is a bit thin in some essentials. I think the team will look better this year, but they have a monster schedule and little experience of winning against decent competition. I think we have a fine staff, and they should make a noticeable difference, but there is still work to be done to raise the talent level. They would seem to be working on that already!

when the vols stack a couple of recruiting classes like the ones Jones is putting together for 2014 i think us fans wont be so jittery bout opening day . i see why these players/recruits like coach Jones so much. He never seems to bad mouth them but only refers to them with praise or encouragement , very fine qualities that will surely go along way to minimizing the tension that seems to have been hanging over the team the last few years .

johnlg00 writes:

Good post; agree with all. I am occasionally concerned, however, that some of us might be ascribing almost magical powers to Jones. We think of all the shortcomings of Dooley and staff, think that no intelligent person would allow those shortcomings to continue, and then assume that because Jones isn't Dooley, he will automatically do all the right things. That may BE true, but we can't ASSUME it is true. Having said that, I agree that Jones and staff just seem a lot more comfortable and positive in everything they do and say than we have seen at UT some time, and some of that is bound to rub off on guys who probably need a good deal of that.

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