The Swim King

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At the onset of training camp, Justin King's role as a Tennessee Volunteer appeared both confusing and daunting, even from an outsider's perspective.

Donning an orange jersey and working at outside linebacker under coordinator Sal Sunseri, King looked natural in his progression having played 'backer (as well as safety and quarterback) at Dunwoody (Ga.) High School.

A student manager comes running across the field turf inside the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center: "Justin King! Justin King!"

The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder double times it from the checkerboard-painted north end zone to the opposing 20-yard line. Waiting on him is an offensive huddle with 10 others and the task of running the Wildcat offense. Splitting reps with sophomore Marlin Lane, King shows second-nature command and savvy.

Defense to offense to special teams, the Volunteer freshman is quickly becoming coach Derek Dooley's jack of all trades.

"(King)'s doing good," Dooley said during training camp in Knoxville. "I feel bad for Justin. We've got him on four phases of special teams. We've got him playing fullback. We've got him playing tight end. We're doing some other stuff with him. The poor guy is swimming and every coach is yelling at him and it's not his fault. So, we've got to try to figure out where to lock him in and help us and phase him into this thing. We threw everything at him."

Jalen Reeves-Maybin is a verbally committed prospect in the Class of 2013 that may have a similar college career to King. It's also a victimization of athleticism. They plug holes throughout the roster because they are so multi-dimensional.

Without a set role, it looked like King may be destined for a redshirt. That no longer is a possibility with his being the glue at so many spots. That doesn't bother Dooley at all.

"The poor guy is swimming and every coach is yelling at him and it's not his fault."

Derek Dooley on King

"You play better as a sophomore when you played as a freshman, even if you stunk as a freshman," said Dooley, who has played 32 freshmen the past two seasons combined. "Your development as a player improves when you play as a freshman for a lot of reasons: 1. You're learning what it means to prepare each week, 2. Your developing your position skills, 3. More than anything, you realize 'Holy smokes I'm not very good, I've got to go to work,' so it helps you all offseason."

The tight end spot has been absolutely hammered by injuries this summer. Dooley said they are having to "create" depth and the widespread use of crutches is "a problem." Mychal Rivera (knee), Brendan Downs (knee), Joseph Ayres (leg) and Justin Meredith (hamstring) are all hurt or injured.

"We don't have enough," the head coach said. "We came in feeling good. We're coming out going, 'We're in trouble.'"

To offset the banged-up unit, a total of six players have been added to assistant coach Charlie Coiner's group, including King.

"Nobody wants to move there anymore," Dooley said. "I went to three guys, 'Hell no I'm not moving to tight end!'"

The Peach State product has a role on four special teams units and added another spot to his utility title recently.

"We're trying to hone (King) in at fullback," Dooley said. "We don't have a backup fullback either."

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney continues to stress a fast-paced style. The fourth-year assistant is also blending the fullback position with the tight end, which is more up King's line of experience of coming out of the backfield. Working alongside him is fifth-year senior Ben Bartholomew, who Dooley calls the offense's "putty guy."

"He's doing well," Bartholomew said of King. "Justin, he's the new guy up here. He was learning the defense and then suddenly switches to offense. It's a crazy world for him but I think he's doing really good. He's got a lot of potential, great player."

Coming out of Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Bartholomew first started has career at linebacker before switching to fullback. Like King, he has also logged time at tight end and on special teams.

"Anyone that comes in when we've already installed the offense is going to be behind," Bartholomew said. "I think with all the help and the coaches' extra time, I think you can learn it very fast. It's kind of hard to keep your aggressiveness when your'e just trying to learn the plays. But, once you learn the plays and you're comfortable, you can really excel at the position."

Learn more about the Tennessee offense by viewing the video interview with Bartholomew below:

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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