Who'll play center?

Tennessee's youthful offensive line may be getting even younger. Unless junior Cody Pope makes a speedy recovery, sophomore Darin Gooch will start at center Saturday against No. 10 Florida.

Pope suited up for Wednesday's practice but did not participate. Head coach Derek Dooley described him as "day to day," adding: "He didn't practice today, so we'll try to get him ready for tomorrow."

Pope, a 6-6, 290-pounder, started the first two games but suffered a concussion in Saturday night's loss to Oregon and has not practiced since. Still, there's a chance he'll play vs. the Gators.

"If he shows up Saturday (he'll play)," Dooley said. "That doesn't mean he'll start but eventually you run out of guys.

"He's getting better. I don't know how long it'll be (till he's ready).... We're preparing to play without him. If it works out that he practices tomorrow, then we'll play with him."

If Pope can't go, the starting job falls to Gooch, a 6-3, 305-pounder who spent 2009 at Butte (Nev.) Junior College.

Asked how Gooch is handling the snaps as the No. 1 center in practice this week, Dooley replied: "He's doing good. Snaps aren't the problem."

Gooch played at around 285 pounds in junior college but reported to Tennessee considerably heftier.

"He was a little heavy," Dooley noted. "Darin was a pretty good player when he was light, and all of a sudden he goes, ‘Uh-oh, I'm going to the SEC, so I've got to get to 300 pounds.' Then he can't move. So we're trying to lean him up."

Gooch saw mopup action in Games 1 and 2 but did enough to earn Dooley's confidence.

"He's competing hard," the head man said. "We're not afraid to put him in a game."

Should Gooch go down, the No. 3 center is Carson Anderson, a 6-2, 280-pound sophomore. Option No. 4 is freshman James Stone, who also doubles as the No. 2 left guard.

"We repped James a lot," Dooley said earlier this week. "We just feel like James is better backing up left guard and left tackle. It's hard. It's hard. We don't have a center."

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is a little more optimistic. Asked how concerned he is about the uncertainty at center, he replied: "None. It doesn't bother me a bit. Injuries are just part of the game. You go to the next guy, utilize his skills to be as successful as we can.

"Our playbook's big enough to move around and accommodate his physical skills - whoever is playing the position."

Asked for his assessment of Gooch's practice performance this week, Chaney said he is "doing fine. He's doing a real good job. He's watching a lot of film. I think he's excited about the opportunity - if it comes his way - to play."

Because he makes the line calls, center is the most complex position in Tennessee's offensive system. Chaney said that's pretty much standard procedure throughout college football.

"I don't think our system is unique to anybody else's," the coordinator said. "The center is usually the brains of the operation. At the end of the day, the center's in the middle of two guys on the left and two guys on the right, so it's a pretty important position."

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