Fighting on two fronts

Signed as a Junior College All-American, he was supposed to take Tennessee fans' breath away. First, though, he must manage a health condition that tends to take his breath away.

Vol sophomore Maurice Couch admitted following today's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium that asthma has limited his progress as he competes for playing time at both nose guard and defensive tackle this preseason.

"I got real bad asthma. It's like a genetic thing," he said. "They always tell me to be careful with it, so I make sure everyday that I take all of my meds and stuff. "

Although he conceded that his breathing problem was a hindrance "running and stuff" in early August, Couch hastened to add: "It's under control now, so it's really not too much of an issue."

Packing 305 pounds on a 6-2 frame, he looms large in Tennessee's defensive scheme. Even if he doesn't start the Sept. 3 opener vs. Montana, he could be the Vols' No. 3 inside option — perhaps doubling as the first sub behind both Daniel Hood at nose guard and Malik Jackson at tackle.

"I'm rotating in and out at the nose and the 3-technique (tackle)," Couch said. "I feel very well with my conditioning. And, as far as being comfortable running the plays, I feel way much better."

Asked whether he's better on the nose or at tackle, Couch shrugged.

"Actually, I feel very comfortable playing both," he said. "It was tough at first learning both — I made a lot of mistakes in practice — but coach (Lance) Thompson told me there's no such thing as a perfect player. I learned from a lot of mistakes."

Tennessee's defense apparently made a lot of mistakes in the early stages of today's scrimmage, then finished strongly.

"The defense, we started a little bit slow," Couch said. "But we turned things around and made a lot of plays."

Because Tennessee's defense lacks heft, stopping the run is a concern. Couch suggests that concern wasn't evident today as the defenders did a pretty good job of containing ball-carriers.

"We did very good," he said. "There's more plays we could've stopped at the front of the line but that's something we're going to watch and improve."

Linebackers John Propst (seven stops), Curt Maggitt (four stops) and Austin Johnson (four stops) paced the scrimmage defensive effort. Freshman safety Brian Randolph added four stops and a pass breakup. Cornerbacks Marsalis Teague and Prentiss Waggner chipped in three stops apiece. Linebacker Shane Reveiz contributed three stops, including a tackle for loss, and Dontavis Sapp added three stops with a pass breakup. Freshman end Jordan Williams contributed three stops, including 1.5 tackles for loss totaling 14 yards. Freshman cornerback Justin Coleman registered three stops, as did Couch.

Even slowed by asthma, Couch believes he has improved significantly in several areas.

"I feel I'm much better as far as my hand placement and disengaging off blocks," he said. "I'm still working on my pass rush but I've gotten a lot better from the beginning of camp."

Overall, he's encouraged with his progress.

"It's a very big thing," he said. "Plus, we have great offensive linemen. With us going against each other every day I think I'll be ready to go come Montana."

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