Steve Stripling Shuffling the Deck
A strength can become a concern quickly in preseason camp. Injuries happen. Suddenly, coaches are scraping to find those that can step in for the fallen. Just ask UT defensive line coach Steve Stripling.
Because senior Jacques Smith (thumb) and freshman Corey Vereen (knee) are both expected to be out for approximately a month. While neither injury is serious, it gives Stripling a chance to see other players perform with the first team.
Senior Corey Miller could be one of the first reserves called to fill in for Smith and Vereen. While he was listed as a left defensive end, he could certainly step in on the right side if Stripling deems it necessary.
“Yes he has (been a leader) and I think that’s the advantage of my group right now,” Steve Stripling said of Miller. “I have six seniors. All six have done an outstanding job of being a leader. So, obviously when someone has to step up that really helps you that he has the maturity and it’s not a freshman.”
While injuries have depleted UT’s depth at end, the Vols have much more able bodies at defensive tackle. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Danny O’Brien has impressed coaches enough to garner strong second-string status. The Vols will play at least four defensive tackles regularly during games this fall.
“Danny O’Brien is a warrior,” Stripling said. “He’s probably got the best mental toughness of the group and I think now he’s just got to keep working his skills and his athleticism, which is better than the spring. He’s improved in those areas.”
Although freshman defensive lineman Jason Carr is far from establishing himself, the Memphis native has drawn praise from Stripling. The Vols beat out Alabama among other schools for Carr. Fundamentals are the key for Carr to get on the field this fall.
“He has the stature, he has the personality, and he has the ability,” Stripling said. “What he lacks is the training. He, typical, thinks he can get away with everything he got away with in high school and in college you can’t do that. So, for him it’s strictly a matter of soundness, of learning your techniques and applying them.”
Still, Stripling can’t help but gander over at his two injured defensive ends. After arriving in January, Vereen was the talk of spring practice and offseason work before suffering an MCL sprain.
“Well, he had a big smile on his face (when he had his black stripe removed),” Stripling said, ” would say this, like every other coach, I would’ve bet 100 dollars that he would have got his stripe off first and he would’ve had he not got injured. He’s injured but kids still respect him so much because now he’s approaching the injury just like he does football. Treatment ten hours a day, film study five hours a day, he’s nonstop.”
When asked about Smith, Stripling said, “Again, (despite his injury) he’s showing great leadership and energy, understanding what the other guys are going through, the grind. He’s out there doing a great job of leading.”
While that’s fantastic, one gets the sense that Steve Stripling hopes both Smith and Vereen do their leading from on the field as soon as possible.