Couch goes outside; Fugate an option inside?

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ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — As an incoming JUCO transfer last season, Maurice Couch did exactly what he was expected to do — play and contribute.

The Orlando, Fla., native saw action in all 12 of Tennessee's games, totaling 37 tackles and nine tackles for loss with a pair of sacks.

The former FOX Sports NEXT four-star recruit improved as the year went along as a defensive tackle in the then-4-3 scheme. He registered 11 tackles the final two contest combined.

With two years of eligibility to go, the coaching staff on The Hill has high expectations for the Garden City (Kansas) Community College product, including having him running with the first-team defense. Couch had been the top nose guard in coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 alignment, but he moved outside to end to make room for behemoth Daniel McCullers on Monday.

Couch touched on his role in this video interview InsideTennessee captured at Milligan College on Monday:

The Pick-6. It's one of the more momentum-shifting plays in all of football.

Last November, Eric Gordon returned an interception in overtime against Vanderbilt to give Tennessee its first Southeastern Conference victory of the season. Neyland Stadium blew up with excitement and the Volunteers appeared poised to finish off Kentucky the following week to finish strong and become bowl eligible.

The Big Orange faithful know how the rest of that tale went. What few recognized in the loss at Commonwealth Stadium that the previous week's hero, Gordon, didn't see the field for a single play.

Gordon admitted in the spring that his benching bothered him for a spell but the Nashville native isn't a grudge-holder, and he quickly got to work refining his craft under new cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley.

The STAR position for the Vols is one that adheres to a more physical cornerback, which is right up Gordon's alley. Fans may remember the 5-foot-9, 190-pounder running down Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell last October and tossing the former five-star to the Shields-Watkins Field turf a couple times.

Gordon is in competition to sure up a return to the field as UT's STAR. He talks about that spot and other items from training camp in this video:

Depth is something the Tennessee football program hasn't had much of during coach Derek Dooley's tenure due to attrition, injuries and other obstacles. One of the reasons for optimism with the 2012 season is how that is changing with the roster finally in upwards of 80 scholarship players.

In spite of modern advances in medicine, training and padding, football is as much a game of injury as its ever been and surgeons have logged numerous hours piecing the Vol linebackers back together time and time again.

Fifth-year senior Herman Lathers, freshman Kenneth Bynum, redshirt freshman Christian Harris and junior Greg King some of the many to go under the knife while in Knoxville, following suit of former players like Nick Reveiz and Kevin Simon.

With Bynum down already and King sporting a bulky brace, depth behind starters Lathers and A.J. Johnson is sparse.

Help is on the way in the company of former starting fullback Channing Fugate, who approached the Vol staff over the winter about moving to linebacker to better help the team. The progression has been slow and Dooley has been slow to say who would enter the game should a starter get hurt. But, the Breathitt County (Ky.) High product filled in for Lathers in Saturday's scrimmage and logged six tackles and a sack.

Fugate spoke with reporters about learning the linebacker position. See what he had to say in the HD video below:

After the latter portion of Monday's two-a-day back on the Milligan College campus, Tennessee takes part in just one practice Tuesday, which will be in Elizabethton at 2:30 p.m.

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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