Early duck hunting

Don't tell the game and fish commission but Tennessee's coaches did a little duck hunting before the season officially opened.

During preseason camp back in August, they briefly shifted their focus from Game 1 foe UT Martin and took a sneak peek at Game 2 foe Oregon.

"We actually prepared for Oregon back in camp for a little bit," junior linebacker Austin Johnson said this week. "We'd look at the zone-read stuff just to make sure we knew what we need to do."

As a result, the Vols already had some idea of what to expect when they began game-week preparation for Saturday night's visit from the 11th-ranked Ducks.

"It's not like this is going to be completely new and we're all coming in not knowing what's going to happen," Johnson said. "We all know what to do; we all know what this is going to look like. We should be ready."

Even if the Vols are ready mentally, you wonder if they are ready physically. Do they have enough raw speed to match electrifying Oregon running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, two guys who double as sprinters for the Ducks' track program?

"These guys are going to be extremely fast, and they hit the holes hard," Johnson said. "But, as long as we close down the gaps between us, we should stop it. We have a lot of speed, too. It's not like we're coming in slower than them. We're an extremely fast defense, so we'll be able to match their speed."

Johnson, a 6-2, 231-pound junior from Hickory, N.C., is not one of the Vols' faster defenders, yet he seemed to be all over the field in last Saturday's 50-0 Game 1 blowout of UT Martin. He recorded 5 stops, 1.5 tackles for loss, an interception, a pass breakup and a safety. That's a pretty good night's work for a guy who isn't even starting. Clearly, he has made a quick transition to linebacker after playing fullback his first two years on campus.

"It didn't take me too long to pick up the speed of the game," said Johnson, who played both fullback and linebacker in high school. "The main thing that took time was learning a defensive scheme in college. I hadn't really been in one of those, so learning that is completely different."

Besides, switching from fullback to linebacker wasn't THAT much of a change ... at least in terms of approach.

"I played fullback, so the mentality I had was to go in there and kill somebody," he said. "Being at linebacker, I still have that mentality."

Of course, there are some significant differences between fullback and linebacker: Job description, for instance.

"Mentally, the game is completely different because I have one thing to do at fullback - block my guy or run a route," he said. "On defense, I have a lot more assignments and a lot more adjustments to make, plus I'm managing the defense. Being at linebacker, I love being in control and being able to run the defense."


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