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November 13, 2012Curt Maggitt played through injuries all season. First it was a nagging turf toe. Then it was a stinger.
But the torn ACL Maggitt suffered in the fourth quarter against Missouri won't give the sophomore linebacker a choice in trying to play through more pain.
The task of filling the void left by Maggitt won't be an easy one for Derek Dooley or Tennessee's struggling defense.
"A lot of it depends on what package we are in," Dooley said of who will fill in. "We have Jacques (Smith). We have Jordan (Williams). We have Willie-Bo (Bohannon) at outside linebacker. And then (Raiques) Crump gets in the mix a little bit. But really right now between Jordan, Jacques and Willie we have three guys for two spots, if that makes sense."
"It changes only knowing you don't have Curt there so you have to be careful what you ask those other guys to do," Dooley added. "Certainly, it will change a little bit because of who we are playing and what they run."
Three guys available for two positions doesn't mean Maggitt's absence won't be felt.
"It's going to be hard because I'm used to him being there," Bohannon said. "He's used to me being out there ... We both know our positions, and we know it, it's just for the past year, we've been out there together. It's kind of crazy now that he's out."
Smith replaced Maggitt at strong-side linebacker on the Tennessee depth chart that was released Monday, ahead of Crump. Williams is listed as the starter at JACK with Bohannon as the second man on the two-deep.
Smith and Bohannon didn't say who would start and where, but they hinted Tuesday that a rotation will be used in picking up the slack without Maggitt.
"We switched around a little bit," Smith said, "and you'll see the surprises Saturday."
Smith wouldn't elaborate on the 'surprise' in store for Vanderbilt.
"I don't know, we'll find out," Smith said. "We'll see."
Smith started the first three games of the season as the JACK linebacker before being benched in favor of a combination of Bohannon and true freshman Jordan Williams.
"I'm going to do what I've been doing when we had to rotate," Bohannon, who has 17 tackles in 10 games this season, said. "Really, there's nothing different now because we've been doing this the whole season.
"I don't know how it's going to go. We're just having to work out kind of him (Maggitt) being totally out. It's always been we either rotate or something. I guess it's going to be a game-time decision. I don't even know."
Smith, Bohannon and Williams have all worked at the different linebacker positions on the practice field all season. They said Tuesday the learning curve, if any, won't be a big one when and if a change in position is made.
"We all have learned both sides, and that's one of the reasons we learned both sides since training camp," Bohannon said. "Right now I think Jacques and Jordan are going to start at the outside, then we're just going to rotate from there."
Bohannon, a fifth-year senior, knows better than anyone what coaching changes mean to a college football program.
He was a true freshman in 2008 when Phillip Fulmer was fired after a loss at South Carolina. Lane Kiffin left in the dark of night for Southern California after Bohannon's redshirt freshman season in 2009.
Bohannon said the questions around Dooley's future haven't affected this Tennessee team too much.
"I think they're just thinking about playing for each other and sticking together, and staying in it for (Dooley)," the fifth-year senior said. "We don't think about the fact of him possibly losing his job. We just think about the fact that we need to play for him because that makes it good for us in the future."
Bohannon, who noted he's played for five different position coaches in his five seasons in Knoxville, said yesterday's team meeting was emotional, but not something he hasn't been through already.
"You could imagine how it was. I mean, who knows what's going to happen next year? I've been around all these coaches who have been out and in," the Mobile, Ala., native said. "It's a really difficult situation. I feel sorry for (Dooley's) family having to go through this.
"I know (Dooley) doesn't really want us to think about him and his situation, but think about winning these games. But it's kind of hard because I saw Coach Fulmer have to leave, and he cried and then all the assistant coaches who left (last season).
"It's just a hard situation to be in."
There's been a difference in the defense since Derek Dooley and safeties coach Josh Conklin took on more prominent roles on the practice field and in the Saturday gameplans.
The changes haven't been limited to just those two coaches, though. Graduate assistant Brandon Staley, who helps with linebackers, has brought more positive feedback to the 3-4 scheme.
"Coach Staley is a real upbeat, emotional type of guy," Bohannon said. "Like whenever you make a play, no matter how small of a play you made, if it's just being where you're supposed to be, he's going to congratulate you on it.
"I think for a few of the younger guys that are playing, that's good motivation for them, because they feel like anytime they do something good they're going to get a pat on the back - and you don't always look for that, sometimes it helps, especially on defense."
It was Dooley and Conklin working with the defense Tuesday during the open portion of practice while defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri worked on the side with outside linebackers.
"It's always been positive feedback," Bohannon added. "We always keep each other up and everything. Coach Staley is just that type of person. (I'm) not saying Coach Sal (doesn't) motivate us. Whenever we do something good, he congratulates you on it.
"It's just, that's the type of person Coach Staley is, a very motivational person. You feel it different from him than you feel it from other coaches."
Bohannon said another difference felt Saturday against Missouri was Sunseri's move to the coaches' box.
"I think everything was cleaner. We still made a few mistakes, but that's the SEC for you. Even if Missouri is only in the SEC for one year, they been through all these games now," he said.
"Any big college game, you can't make not one mistake, and that's what kind of happened last week. Those few plays that hit big, and ended the game for us."
There was nothing unusual about the way Tennessee celebrated an overtime win over Vanderbilt last season. Expect that video of the postgame locker room scene made it to YouTube.
"The video was never supposed to be on YouTube, and that's the first statement I would like to make," Jacques Smith said Tuesday. "That's just our normal celebration after every single game and every single win. That's how we celebrate, and that's probably how every other team celebrates.
"That's just misused media that got posted and we don't know who did it, it just got leaked."
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin took the exception to the video of Tennessee's 'normal' celebration last year after it was posted on the Internet, but Franklin said in a press conference Monday that he wouldn't use it as motivation this week as the two teams prepare to meet again Saturday in Nashville.
Smith said Tuesday neither team needs any extra motivation.
"I don't expect anything less than what usually happens," the junior linebacker said. "It's a big game. Everyone know what's on the line, the bragging rights (for) the team of Tennessee.
"They're going to work as hard as we do and we're going to have a great game with them like we do every year."