With Marcus Jackson (upper extremity) out of practice the past two days, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has been forced to shuffle his offensive line around even more than he would like. Tennessee is already moving players around to find its starting five on the line heading into the regular season, and Jackson's absence in practice Monday only enhanced it.
“We’re getting a lot of guys reps. (Brett) Kendrick went over there, Coleman Thomas has been swinging around a little bit," DeBord said. "We’ve got a few guys banged up here and there, so right now a lot of guys are getting opportunities. When you get opportunities, you’ve got to produce."
Injuries happen, and DeBord knows the physically demanding position of offensive line will go through its fair share of knocks throughout a grueling SEC season. While he wouldn't comment specifically on the extent of Jackson's injury, deferring to coach Butch Jones, DeBord understands his unit will have to be prepared for whatever it faces in 2015 as he searches for his starting five.
“A lot of that has to do a little bit with injuries, when guys come back and all that stuff," DeBord said. "Whoever’s practicing out there, that’s who we’re playing with and those are the guys getting evaluated. No set time (on setting the starters), but obviously we want to do it as fast as we can do it.”
Talking tight endsThe announced departure of A.J. Branisel Monday brought up the question of tight end depth, where Tennessee has lost two recent additions at the position to both Branisel and freshman Kyle Oliver leaving the program.
“Those guys have been practicing, going hard and all that. They’re getting better," DeBord said. "They’re working on it and all that. We’re working on a lot of different personnel groupings, which you have to do and which every team does.”
Johnson, who made the switch earlier in fall camp, is still learning the intricacies of the position but is starting to grow into becoming a tight end.
“(He's a) really smart guy, tough, just doesn’t know tight end yet, as you can imagine, playing defense and then coming over," DeBord said. "He’s just got to learn the position. (Special teams coordinator/tight ends coach) Mark Elder has done a great job of working with him and improving him.”
Two percent tomorrowDespite a solid practice day Saturday, DeBord was not pleased with how his collective unit performed Monday after an off day Sunday.
“Today, I just did not feel — and I told the offense — we did not improve one percent today," he said. "We’ve got to have better intensity all the time. We’ve got guys that have it and other guys that don’t, so they’re learning that right now and they know they’ve got to learn it fast.”
Nickel for your thoughtsRaShaan Gaulden turned heads at the nickel position before a hand injury forced him to leave spring practice to have surgery. After recovering and coming back onto the field for fall camp, defensive coordinator John Jancek was impressed with how he has picked things back up.
"Rashaan has made some great plays. He's still learning. There's still a lot of little nuances and things that he has to figure out and adjust to, but I like the way he's playing," Jancek said. "I like Rashaan's game. He's a physical player. He doesn't say a whole lot, he just goes out and puts his body of work on film and that's what I love about him."
Jancek said he wants Gaulden to play exclusively at the nickel right now while he continues to learn the position.
"You don't want to mess with a guy like that. He's trying to learn the nickel spot and it's a very complicated position," Jancek said. "There's a lot of things that he has to know: receiver splits, he's involved heavily in the run game as well. He has the physical ability to play a lot (of positions), but let's just leave him alone and let him play nickel."
Dropping poundsMuch has been said about the sheer massiveness of incoming freshmen Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, but on Monday Jancek discussed the ways the pair are losing weight and getting in better shape.
"Kahlil's a hard worker. He's dropped some weight just since he's been here. You can see his body start to tone up. It doesn't happen overnight," Jancek said. "Shy showed up a couple of times today. I'll get in there and watch the film and really get a feel for it, but he's working hard ... I think we're going to be able to play more guys, the problem is that they're all freshmen so the learning curve is going to be a lot for them, but I think we're building something special."