Vols practice, Sunday, Aug. 4
Secondary coach Willie Martinez talks Saturday about the depth at safety.
Coaches on UT's first preseason practice
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.