No moping for Mapu

Leaving the University of Tennessee for a two-year Mormon mission hurt J.T. Mapu's football career but leaving the Vols' starting lineup for a four-week backup stint helped it.

Demoted to second-team defensive tackle following Tennessee's Game 1 loss to Cal, Mapu didn't mope or pout. He worked harder and regained his first-team job in time for Game 5 against Georgia last Saturday.

"He's become a better technician. That was the key," head coach Phillip Fulmer noted, later adding: "His pride was hurt and he took the challenge. He's done what he should've done, turned it back around."

Mapu is not the player he was in 2003, just prior to going on his church mission. Still, he is far better than he was when he returned to UT in 2006 and somewhat better than he was when the 2007 season started.

"I can't say the two years off didn't bother him because it has. It would any of us," Fulmer said. "But he has really gotten back into playing fast and being aggressive, using his hands and reading blocking schemes. When he was a freshman and sophomore he was going to be special. He's getting closer to that. His fundamentals have really gotten better and he's playing better."

Defensive coordinator John Chavis agrees.

"He's playing like he needs to play," Chavis said. "It doesn't mean Dan (Williams) is playing bad. It means J.T. is playing up to the standard he needs to be playing at, and we're excited about that. It makes us a better football team."

Williams, who started Games 2, 3 and 4 in Mapu's place, continues to make strides even after surrendering his first-team job. Walter Fisher is progressing nicely, as well.

"There's still an ongoing competition there," Fulmer said. "Walter Fisher is playing a little bit better and Dan is doing better. I like that."

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