The Vols were counting on Nelson, a junior, to provide solid play behind The Big Three of Dan Williams, Demonte Bolden and Walter Fisher. With Nelson sidelined, the task of providing depth at D-tackle suddenly fell to sophomore Victor Thomas and redshirt freshman Donald Langley.
Fortunately for Tennessee, Thomas and Langley played well in Saturday's first full-scale scrimmage of the preseason. Langley recorded four stops, including two tackles for loss. Both of Thomas' tackles resulted in lost yardage, with one being a sack.
"It looked like Langley showed up a few times," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "But it's hard to evaluate those (front four) guys unless they're getting sacks."
Thomas' sack was one of only four recorded during the scrimmage. End Robert Ayers registered one and linebacker Nevin McKenzie recorded a pair. The sack total might've been higher except that Fulmer ordered a slow whistle on several occasions.
"There were probably three or four sacks that I didn't give them during the scrimmage," he said, "because I wanted to see the rest of the team manage it and see our quarterbacks work."
Fulmer also was encouraged that first-team tackles Bolden and Williams "showed up a couple of times" each in the scrimmage.
With Nelson out of the mix, Tennessee is down to five scholarship players at defensive tackle. The obvious question: Might one of the heftier ends – 6-3, 270-pound Robert Ayers or 6-2, 260-pound Andre Mathis, for instance – be moved inside to bolster depth at tackle?
"We really don't have a defensive end that can move in there," Fulmer said. "We can move somebody in there just on third down to get the pass rush like we've done before (or) we can play three down if we need to. We'll manage. We need five guys at end and five guys at tackle.
"There's not really anybody right now that I can say we're going to move in there and fix the depth problem."