Three weeks before opening night, Tennessee’s defensive line depth is getting tested.
Senior defensive tackle Mo Couch is out due to a calf muscle strain in his right leg, the third Vol defensive lineman bitten by the injury bug.
The Vols already know ends Jacques Smith (wrist) and Corey Vereen (knee) probably won’t be available for the Aug. 31 opener against Austin Peay and possibly beyond.
Couch, one of the Vols’ more experienced tackles, is listed day to day, according to head coach Butch Jones. Couch, in fact, appeared to make progress from Saturday morning’s practice, when he was on crutches, to the evening scrimmage, when he was off crutches and walking fairly easily in a protective boot.
Senior linebacker Channing Fugate was away from the team Saturday. Jones said the Jackson, Ky., product is pondering whether or not to play this season for the Vols. A transfer to a lower-division school is a possibility.
Fugate has played in 37 career games. His six career starts came early, at fullback. He recorded 18 tackles last season, his first at linebacker.
He wasn’t listed on the two-deep depth chart at the start of camp.
Jones praised the quarterback play in the evening scrimmage, saying he was pleased with all four: Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson.
“They’re coaching each other and taking advantage of their reps,’’ Jones said.
The second-team offensive line paved the way for an impressive length-of-the-field drive — all on the ground — against the second-team defense. Jones singled out true freshman Dylan Wiesman, saying, “He’s playing his way into the rotation.’’
One of the backs involved in that time-crunching drive was all-but-forgotten sophomore Tom Smith, who redshirted last fall.
“Tom Smith really showed up today,’’ said center James Stone. “He stayed in the game, getting hit run after run. I really applaud him for that.’’
Alden Hill and Justus Pickett also shared carries in the drive.
“It was 13 plays, all runs, 98 yards,’’ said starting tailback Rajion Neal, who was a sideline cheerleader during the drive. “That sent the whole scrimmage to a different level. They were coming downhill with it.’’
The Aug. 31 opener against Austin Peay will be televised at 6 p.m. on a pay-per-view basis, UT confirmed Saturday. Cable subscribers will use VideoSeat to purchase the game. Subscribers to Dish Network, DirecTV and AT&T U-verse may also purchase the game.
Mike Keith and Pat Ryan will handle the call. Outside the state of Tennessee, the game will be available on ESPN’s GamePlan and ESPN3.
Alton “Pig” Howard might have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed Saturday morning. It was not his finest practice.
Early on, Howard dropped a medium-range pass from Worley, which earned a private audience with Jones. Later, in a hurry-up, goal-line drill, Howard dropped a pass in the end zone. “Dropped passes cost games,’’ Jones announced in his microphone.
Shortly, Howard was chastised by Jones for calling for a fair catch with the No. 2 punt-return unit.
Senior linebacker Greg King has battled injuries throughout his career. He’s getting heavy use on a variety of special teams. One of his duties is being the back-line protection for the punter, along with 291-pound Trevarris Saulsberry and 265-pound Corey Miller.
Oops. Freshman defensive back Cameron Sutton was singled out for “blocking the wrong guy” in a punt-coverage drill Saturday morning.
Said Jones: “102,000 just went ‘uhhhh.’ You just made SportsCenter.’’