Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon admits he's looking for bigger linebackers. Sirmon wants linebackers who are in the 6-2 range and over 230 pounds. Sirmon's unit isn't blessed with those body types so the first year linebackers coach is playing the hand he's been dealt.
One of those cards is senior Daryl Vereen, who feels like he has the best hand of his career. A career that has seen him play running back, safety and now linebacker.
"It's definitely an opportunity this year for me to be a starter," the North Carolina native said. "I'm really just trying to embrace it and just be that starter that everybody wants to be, really.
"Spring is really where you get your spot. It's where you earn your job at. It's where it's hard knocks. It's every day battling, competing, I mean because when it comes to August, it's pretty much set so really this is the time to try to do it."
Vereen finished last year with 18 tackles and was a surprise starter in last years Ole Miss game recording 3 tackles. Vereen has spent the spring working as the starter and Sirmon said while Vereen is not the prototypical linebacker size wise, he can cause an offense problems.
"Darryl can do a lot of good things. He's undersized, but he does a good job in pressuring for us and he's got some man-to-man skills," Vereen said. "So, there's definitely a position that Darryl can play just because of what his skill set is it's a little bit unique to everyone else's. We don't have a guy that's identical to Darryl right now."
Saturday Vereen and his teammates will have their second major scrimmage of the spring and Vereen knows it's another opportunity to play his hand.
"My focus points are just ... I know it's hard to be perfect but I try to be a perfect player," Vereen said. "I hate making mistakes, I hate embarrassing myself, I hate embarrassing my teammates. I'm just really trying to be the leader for the defense and the one they can count on to make that play when it's time.
"I feel like I'm having a pretty solid spring. I know I can be better. You can never be a perfect player but I feel like I'm doing all right this spring."
Last Saturday the Vol defense did alright dominating the first half of the scrimmage. Vereen said the challenge this week is to finish the drill.
"I feel like defensively the offense beat us down last week and we ended up...we didn't finish the scrimmage," Vereen said. "We came out strong and the offense kind of finished the scrimmage for us. Right now I'm just looking for the defense to compete the whole scrimmage and really I'm...I don't know. I just want a good scrimmage, a good, safe scrimmage."
GOINS GETS GOING
For the first time since his eighth grade year, former Tennessee hoopster Melvin Goins is putting on the pads and participating in spring drills. The 5-11 defensive back said he had always hoped of playing football again, but he was never able to find the time.
"I always wanted to play football again and just had the opportunity that I never really had going through the season with basketball and I figured it would be a good deal for me to go out and just give it a try and see if I still have the ability to do it. I feel like overall it would be a good thing for me."
After spending four years grinding on the hardwood, the muscular Goins said the challenge has been more mental than physical this fall.
"Mental, it's all mental right now. Because I'm used to basketball and you know your plays and you know where you're supposed to go so you react off instinct and out here it's all mental and now I'm thinking a lot. And that's not really good. You want to be able to get the plays down and know your zones and just know where you're supposed to be at on the field. So, it's like 89 percent, 90, mental for me right now."
Justin Hunter was mostly a one-trick pony this past season on the football field mostly being utilized in the long ball and rarely seeing anything underneath. But, the 6-foot-4, 182-pound sophomore receiver has been double dipping this spring with his exploits in the high jump.
Hunter finished eighth at the NCAA Indoor Championships jumping 25-4 1/2 in March this year and said it's been a busy spring for him because of participating in both track and field and football for the Vols.
"It's hard because I didn't do last year because I didn't come in the spring, but it's been a real test and it's been a wear and tear on my body a little bit, but I can do it," Hunter said. "It's physical, everything is physical. I can do it, but it's fun,"
YES, WE'RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE
Hunter wants to come out after last Saturday's underwhelming scrimmage for the passing game and turn it around. He's hoping a better performance through the air by the Vols quarterbacks and receivers will forego some unwanted work.
"We need a better scrimmage or he's going to work us hard if we don't. We've got to come out focused and ready to play," Hunter said. "That's real motivation because I don't want to be out there all night."
The Virginia native said the key to turning around the passing game is simple; practice.
"We just need more practice, that's all. We just need more confidence in the receivers because we didn't have these starting receivers last year and we've just got to get used to it," Hunter said.