Coker's back, Mayo will play

TAMPA, Fla. - The Tennessee football team officially began its local preparations for the Outback Bowl on Tuesday, taking to the practice field at the University of South Florida under cool and overcast conditions. UT players and staff convened here Monday evening and shared a Christmas dinner together.

"It has been the most fun year of coaching that I've actually had, and that includes some great years," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "This team, from where we started back in January to where we are at this point, has really improved. Our leadership has grown during the course of the year. The attitude and unselfishness of this team has been fun.

"We have some really good players, but more than anything it's been because we've played well as a team."

Linebacker Jerod Mayo returned to action Tuesday. The sophomore suffered a knee injury Nov. 18 at Vanderbilt and missed the Vols' regular-season finale against Kentucky. Mayo did not practice during UT's bowl preparations in Knoxville.

"Jerod Mayo will play," Fulmer said. "He and Rico (McCoy) will compete during the course of the week but in all likelihood, Rico will start because he's been starting, playing well and Jerod hasn't been out there in awhile."

Redshirt freshman tailback LaMarcus Coker also returned to practice Tuesday, while senior receiver Bret Smith was absent because of flight difficulties. Fulmer said Smith is en route to Tampa.

"LaMarcus has done what he was supposed to do," Fulmer said regarding the reason for Coker's missed practice time. "He's here and ready to go."

Fulmer also announced that the Vols, who worked in full pads for two hours Tuesday, expect to conduct a 20-play scrimmage Wednesday in preparation for Penn State.

"The guys have done well over the holidays," Fulmer said. "I'm expecting us to have a good time here, but our main focus is to get ready for this football game. Penn State is certainly one of the top two or three teams we have played during the course of the year."


Head athletic trainer Jason McVeigh added a couple of notes on the injury front.

McVeigh said defensive back Ben Greene is not practicing and will not play because of illness. Greene is tied for the team lead with seven special-teams tackles this season. The Outback Bowl would have been his final collegiate game.

And junior defensive back Inquoris Johnson was released from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Sunday. He and his family returned to Atlanta and Johnson said he is considering joining the team here by this weekend.

Johnson sustained what McVeigh called a traumatic injury while making a tackle late in the Vols' Sept. 9 win over Air Force. Initial surgery was performed the next day at UT Medical Center. Since then, Johnson received daily physical therapy by the UT Sports Medicine staff prior to undergoing his most recent surgery last Thursday.

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