Tennessee's Curt Maggitt returns to practice, could be on track for return to action Saturday

Troy wide receiver Chandler Worthy (16) is hit by Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt (56) at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Tennessee defeated Troy 55-48. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Troy wide receiver Chandler Worthy (16) is hit by Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt (56) at Neyland Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Tennessee defeated Troy 55-48. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt has spent most of the Butch Jones era in green — the jersey color reserved for players who are rehabbing injuries or barred from contact.

On Tuesday, Maggitt joined the rest of his teammates in orange, and he could be in position to do the same Saturday against Western Kentucky. Jones said Maggitt’s return to practice represented a “significant” step forward in his recovery from offseason ACL surgery.

Jones didn’t confirm that Maggitt would play when the Vols (1-0) face the Hilltoppers (1-0) at Neyland Stadium (TV: MyVLT, 12:21 p.m.). But Maggitt went through practice without limitations.

“We’ll see how he progresses throughout the course of the week to see if he’s game ready by Saturday,” Jones said.

As for how Maggitt did in practice, Jones said he “made his presence felt.”

Maggitt would join A.J. Johnson in what the Vols hope will be an imposing linebacking corps.

A native of West Palm Beach, Fla., Maggitt started alongside Johnson when both were freshmen in 2011. He battled a toe injury last year and then sprained his ACL in the season’s second-to-last game.

The recovery from the injury has been slower than expected, but could be nearing an end.

“Curt brings a lot of energy to practice, to the team, whether he’s in green, orange, yellow or red,” said redshirt freshman defensive end LaTroy Lewis. “It was exciting to see him out there.”

Maggitt might not be the only Vol returning soon. Defensive ends Jacques Smith (thumb) and Corey Vereen (knee) are on pace in their rehabs.

Vereen won’t play against WKU, but might be ready a week later against Oregon. Jones said Smith would have the screws removed from his thumb this week, and his return shouldn’t be long after that.

It’s unclear how coaches plan to use Maggitt, who hasn’t gone through a single practice since Jones became coach last December.

Maggitt has the size to be a hybrid linebacker/defensive end and coaches might be creative to maximize his snaps. In nickel (five defensive back) sets, Tennessee frequently uses only two linebackers. Seniors Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer are currently starting with Johnson.

Jones even offered another wrinkle on Tuesday night that might give Western Kentucky coach Bobby Petrino something to think about.

Johnson worked out of the Wildcat package in short-yardage situations last year. Jones said Maggitt could be an option on offensive as well.

For good measure, he also mentioned Alton “Pig” Howard and Justin Coleman as Wildcat quarterback options.

Is this merely gamesmanship? Perhaps.

But judging by the reaction of teammates, Maggitt’s return seems very real.

“It is a big boost,” said running back Rajion Neal. “Curt is a part of this team. He’s been a part of us for three years now. We’ve all played with him and know his style of play and we miss him. We can’t wait for him to get back out there and contribute.”

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

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments » 8

wigmeister writes:

What a great sign. Hopefully he will be able to stay healthy the rest of the year.

johnlg00 writes:

Goodness knows, the Vols need all hands on board, healthy, and hungry to make the improvement we all expect this year. If Maggitt, Smith, and Vereen all get back in time to suit up against Oregon, the Vols' slim chance of pulling the upset will be significantly enhanced, if only by increasing the number of bodies they can rotate onto the field for the purposes of quality depth against that helter-skelter Oregon offense.

ewoodbery (staff) writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Goodness knows, the Vols need all hands on board, healthy, and hungry to make the improvement we all expect this year. If Maggitt, Smith, and Vereen all get back in time to suit up against Oregon, the Vols' slim chance of pulling the upset will be significantly enhanced, if only by increasing the number of bodies they can rotate onto the field for the purposes of quality depth against that helter-skelter Oregon offense.

My radio colleague Vince Ferrara has said this before and I agree with him: Curt Maggitt is important because he's a playmaker and a difference-maker, and Tennessee desperately needs those type of players on defense.

-- Evan

micseavers#1423681 writes:

Build the line and blow them down!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to ewoodbery:

My radio colleague Vince Ferrara has said this before and I agree with him: Curt Maggitt is important because he's a playmaker and a difference-maker, and Tennessee desperately needs those type of players on defense.

-- Evan

That is for sure! I suppose my emphasis on everybody doing all the routine things right all the time has seemed to downplay the importance of great players making great plays, but there is no question that big games often turn on great plays. Every good team needs guys to step up BIG when possible. I don't know how many of these Vols could be that kind of player at some point, but no doubt that they will need some MORE of them to reach the "next level".

spyfish007#225503 writes:

I want to know who is coming out of the game if Curt is able to go.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to spyfish007#225503:

I want to know who is coming out of the game if Curt is able to go.

Good question. As this article and others suggest, the Vols will go with three LBs at times and two LBs at others. In the 2-LB sets, it may come down to who is the better pass defender, whether in coverage or on the blitz. One would assume that they would go with the 2-LB/5-DB sets in obvious passing situations and go with three LBs when the opponent seems to want to grind it out on the ground. However it works out, it has to be an advantage to have Curt back, if only to give the others a better backup and to give the coaches more strategic and personnel options.

ewoodbery (staff) writes:

in response to spyfish007#225503:

I want to know who is coming out of the game if Curt is able to go.

Good question and not sure we find out for sure until Saturday. (Or maybe next Saturday, if Maggitt doesn't play much this week).

It might depend on the down and distance. They may use Maggitt only in a specialized role as he gets his feet wet. They may find a way to use him as a fourth lineman of sorts during third-and-longs. Or it may be Johnson and Maggitt alone in nickel situations, with Sapp or Brewer coming in only when they need a third linebacker.

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